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« False Implication | Main | Crank Email Du Jour »

Setting The Record Straight

This is pretty funny. Or it would be if it wasn't so pathetic.

Some reading-challenged columnist at the San Diego Union Tribune has accused me and Fox News of a "forgery" in the satire that I did last summer on post-war Iraq/Europe.

Thanks to my Internet friends, I can now identify the source of the bogus 1945 Reuters news dispatch I wrote about Monday. That forgery likely served as the basis for White House and Pentagon comparisons of Iraqi resistance to German resistance in 1945, part of its sorry attempts to compare Iraq to World War II.

The source for the bogus news (one should have known) is Fox News.

A Fox contributor named Rand Simberg, described as "consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security" made up the Reuters dispatch for Fox on July 30 (posting it on his own Web site two days later). This was only a week before the first Bush references were made to German "werewolves" in one of several inept comparisons to World War II.

OK, so much for his fevered fantasies. Here's reality.

Weary of all the handwringing and historical ignorance of the handwringers about how Iraq hadn't been converted to Iowa only three months after the end of major combat operations, I wrote the piece and published it on my blog on July 28, as anyone can see who goes to read it. I didn't write it "for Fox News."

To indicate clearly that it was satire, I attributed it, as usual, to the mythical WW II news agency, "Routers," and I incorporated my own 2003 copyright at the bottom. Subsequently, it was picked up by emailers, the copyright was stripped, "Routers" was misspelled to correspond to a more familiar (and actual) wire service, and it quickly found its way across cyberspace. These fake versions were debunked by Snopes a month later.

Anyway, two days after I wrote and published it (not before), I decided to submit it to Fox as my weekly column, and they decided to run it, with a new title, on July 30, as can be seen here. They also made it very clear that it was fictional satire, by using an introduction, and attributing it to me. So again it was neither a "forgery" or "bogus news."

Next, he writes:

Rice claimed German werewolves "engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces" and cooperating Germans, "much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld embellished the story still further. Werewolves, he said, "plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings. Does this sound familiar," he asked?

Only in Rice's and Rumsfeld's minds. The total number of post-conflict U.S. combat casualties in Germany was zero. In Iraq, that number is, so far, 357. Some comparison.

Well, neither Rice nor Rumsfeld claimed that there were U.S. casualties (though in fact the number was not zero--I think it was seven deaths, and there were many Russian ones in their zone), so this is a non-sequitur. The point was not a quantitative one about casualties, but about the fact that there was indeed a post-war resistance, however ineffective. (I should add that I suspect that part of the relative effectiveness has to do with the technologies available then and now, and the vast stores of weaponry available in post-war Iraq, relative to a post-war Germany that had been totally drained by a long war.)

Now, it is apparently true that, as a result of it being retransmitted as an authentic document, some in the administration were fooled, and it seems to have ultimately found its way past the firewalls even into the five-sided building itself. When I talked to the Pentagon correspondent for the Dallas Morning News about it last fall, he told me that he had attended a dinner at which someone sitting next to Rumsfeld told the SecDef something to the effect that "...and did you know that Truman was almost impeached over the situation in post-war Germany?"

Frankly, I doubt if all of the quotes this guy has in his article can be attributed to this piece, in either its original or plagiarized form. There was plenty of discussion of the Werwolf at the Command Post and other sites before I wrote my piece (and in fact, such discussions were what partially inspired the piece). We know that CNN and Fox were monitoring that site, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if the White House and Security Council were as well. There's no reason to think that my piece was the only, or even the first time that they had heard of the situation in the ex-Third Reich.

Anyway, I just thought I'd set the record straight, and I might suggest that the editors at the SD UT give their columnist a remedial lesson in vocabulary, date order, and perhaps a little refresher legal course in libel, lest he accuse any other innocent people of "forgeries" and "bogus news."

[Thanks to emailer Robert McClimon for the tip]

[Update at 4:24 PM PST]

I should also note that this is old-school hackery. He didn't bother to provide links to any of this (as I did). If he had, anyone who chose to follow them would have been able to figure out the reality, even if he couldn't.

I suspect that this is partly because it was a dead-tree column transferred to the web, but I also suspect that even if he was a cybercolumnist, we wouldn't have seen the links, because then his readership would have easily realized how foolish he was. I wonder how much longer these so-called journalists are going to be able to (or at least think they're going to be able to) get away with this kind of scurrilous nonsense?

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 15, 2004 11:14 AM
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Congratulations to you are in order on two counts.

First, your original "Routers" piece is a fine example of American satire as political commentary, comparing well to the works of Mark Twain and Will Rogers.

Second, in publishing the current piece you have produced a study in modern media communications and meme creation and transfer that merits serious consideration. I'll be presenting it to my fellow Communications Management grad students as soon as possible.

Posted by Michael Sargent at January 15, 2004 11:33 AM

Maybe the weirdest "translation-of-post-to-real-world" to come out of the blogosphere last year.

I stand by what I said then: the problem wasn't that the press did not expect resistance - it was that the administration failed to expect resistance.

Posted by Duncan Young at January 15, 2004 12:06 PM

Not to mention that the intellectual level of anyone who could possibly have taken that artcle for anything other than satire is indeed impressive.

Posted by Michael at January 15, 2004 12:42 PM

The main reason the Werewolf resistance fizzled was that the Germans in the American sector were terrified that the US might hand the sector over to the Russians. Maybe we should threaten to pull out of the Sunni Triangle -- and turn it over to the Kurds.

Posted by Jim Bennett at January 15, 2004 01:12 PM

Maybe we should threaten to pull out of the Sunni Triangle -- and turn it over to the Kurds.

Bad bad idea.
Turkey and Iran would invade in a heartbeat.

Posted by Duncan Young at January 15, 2004 01:42 PM

Argh! That stupid rag threw *three* popups.

Posted by Rick C at January 15, 2004 01:44 PM

He didn't say we should do it--he said we should threaten to do it. And I'd be more concerned about Turkey than Iran. I suspect that the Iranian army would revolt if the mullahs forced them into another Iraqi war.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 15, 2004 01:58 PM

Back in the ?80s, Byte magazine would do April Fool?s jokes in their April issue, small and large. Like the ?SED? ? Sound Emitting Diode, with the note that it runs on 1000 volts at 20 amps, and only works ONCE. Or a BHD (Black Hole Diode), with a schematic symbol like this: ->

Anyway, the joke stories kept appearing in major newspapers, even though the stories kept getting more ridiculous and more obvious ? the contact info would be something like ?Contact April Smith, Fool?s Gold, Arizona at 555-555-1110.? Byte finally gave up and stopped the jokes, because they simply could not make it obvious enough for some reporters. Byte would get dinged because it wasn?t the REPORTERS? fault ? they had merely reprinted what Byte had said.

I?ve run into the same problem myself, when I handled computer viruses in my department, and folks would waste time resending virus hoax warnings they had received. We asked people not to send this stuff, but they did it anyway. We told people how to recognize them, and they didn?t pay attention. My own manager resent one of these HOURS after I had told him the amount of time I was spending just responding to people who had been asked NOT to send these things.

The only thing that half worked was to tell people that any anonymous virus warning was to be considered a hoax. Many still were angry if you asked them not to send this stuff out, because they were ?just trying to be helpful.? It wasn?t their fault that they couldn?t spend five seconds to actually evaluate the hoaxes.

I?ve come to the conclusion that many people don?t KNOW how to be skeptical. and it isn?t a question of intelligence or knowledge so much as attitude. I automatically question whatever I read, many do not.

Posted by vr at January 15, 2004 02:12 PM

I think they both expected resistance, Duncan, but the administration may have underestimated it. However, the press dramatically overestimated the negative effects of the war, often parroting the nonsensical predictions of the anti-war types (e.g., many thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, deaths of American soldiers from WMD that the same people claimed Saddam didn't have, oil fields going up in flames, massive destruction of cities and infrastructure, house-to-house fighting in the cities to the last man and woman, etc.)

Overall, I'd say that the administration's expectations were vastly closer to reality than much of the media and those who opposed the removal of Saddam.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 15, 2004 06:07 PM

Sorry about the popups, Rick. I wouldn't know--I use Mozilla... ;-)

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 15, 2004 06:09 PM

Hey, the BBC's Spaghetti Tree is still making the rounds after what, a half century?

Posted by John S Allison at January 16, 2004 06:28 AM

What's really funny is that the History Channel did a program about the Werewolf resistance in early December, explicitly linking it to present-day Iraq. I think they owe Rand some royalties ... ;)

Posted by Jay Manifold at January 16, 2004 11:53 AM

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