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Debunking The Debunkers?
September 6, 2003 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Debunking The Debunkers? A few days ago I had posted a piece asserting that the Saudi royals, along with members of Bin Laden's family , were given hasty approval to flee the U.S. directly after 9/11, with the highest clearance from top govt officials. That post was "shot down" by comments stating that Snopes noted the falsity of that claim. Now it seems Snopes has reneged and Google has removed cache items about the story. See for yourself what seems to be taking place.
posted by Postroad (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Sir, here is your permalink.
posted by muckster at 5:03 AM on September 6, 2003


http://www.snopes.com/rumors/flight.htm

The U.S. government allowed bin Laden family members to fly within the U.S. during a general ban on air travel: True.

The U.S. government allowed bin Laden family members to fly out of the U.S. during a general ban on air travel: False.

The flights carrying bin Laden family members out of the U.S took place over the objections of the FBI: False.

The FBI was denied any opportunity to question departing bin Laden family members: False.
posted by republican at 5:15 AM on September 6, 2003


"Palestinian President Yasser Arafat accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday after a power struggle between the two, senior officials said."

Hey, great link, and great follow up to your previous aborted thread. I look forward to your next follow up in a couple days.
posted by Outlawyr at 5:24 AM on September 6, 2003


Outlawyr, scroll down the page.

Out of interest, why do we all accept snopes as the authority on if something is a legend or not?
posted by twine42 at 5:30 AM on September 6, 2003


Outlawyr's pathetic trolling aside, I'm glad this was posted because it's a fairly gigantic update.

I noted on my own site the other day what Agonist noted to: that Tom Tomorrow has a fantastic analysis of this.

I don't know how google caches work- do they get expunged if too many people look at them or something? If not, I find the evidence that Snopes blatantly covered its own ass and hid it to protect its self-generated credibility suddenly being removed a very big coincidence.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:56 AM on September 6, 2003


twine: re "why do we all accept snopes as the authority on if something is a legend or not?" I wrote about this too a few days ago, basically here's my opinion on it:

Generally, moreso in the political realm, websites are not sources of credible factual information. What websites reference are sources of sometimes-credible information. This is an amplification of American political debate in other media, which nowadays is mostly debate shows- televised opinion columns that, again, structure their statements on actual news items located elsewhere by factual news organizations.

Snopes is second only to SpinSanity in this error that countless web surfers make. The fact that these sites have an archive of facts and recorded information doesn't mean everything they say is true just because of the URL in your address bar. Nice as they are, SpinSanity is just three guys and their website. What holds water is the news articles with tangible proof that they reference in their exposes.

If the Smoking Gun announced tomorrow that George Bush and Bill Clinton were gay lovers, a significant portion of people on the web would actually believe it because they have attuned themselves to the concept Smoking Gun=true. However, one should really wait to see the photos. Which frankly I never hope to because I'd get ill.

Snopes is a fantastic site that has, for years, been a valuable resource in filtering the overwhelming river of bullshit that flows through the internet. But the "corrections" Snopes has made to a section of their site that was notorious for its aplified invective against Michael Moore is striking in light of its complete lack of ackowledging such.

I know we've been using the rhetoric a lot lately, but Snopes really was somewhat fair and balanced... I remember over a year ago writing Snopes and asking why this one page about Michael Moore contained so much unnecessary personal attacks against Moore- their only response was, of course, the insist that what they wrote was true, which makes their attempt to hide the fact that it wasn't even more insulting to a reader such as myself.

What Snopes is trying to do, at least in my opinion, is protect the faulty image I mentioned in the beginning of this comment: that they have the power to indicate the validity of anything by posting it on their site and infusing their opinion. The Saudi flight story was not a mere correction, but as the google cache proved a complete and total rewrite that essentially destroys an image Snopes thrives on: that's it's never wrong.

Snopes was wrong. They fucked up, they got caught fucking up, and they're trying to hide the fact that they fucked up to prevent people from thinking that (gasp!) they're just another website.

It hurts Snopes' credibility because this inaccurate information was on Snopes for over a year- more than long enough to mesh into public (or at least online partisan) discourse. Right-leaning bloggers will be saying "Moore is a liar, Snopes said so" for at least another year even with the story corrected because Snopes refuses to clarifiy that what they had there for so long was wrong.

That's why Snopes is destroying its own credibility with this memory hole. As a site devoted to clarifying incorrectly-percieved notions, it's choosing to ignore the incorrectly-percieved notion they made themselves.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:15 AM on September 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


From a snopes.com article:
<meta NAME="robots" CONTENT="NOARCHIVE,INDEX,FOLLOW">

From google.com's faq (here):
How can I prevent Googlebot from following links from a particular page or archiving a copy of a page?

Googlebot obeys the noindex, nofollow, and noarchive meta-tags. If you place these tags in the head of your HTML document, you can cause Google to not index, not follow, and/or not archive particular documents on your site.

posted by duckstab at 6:20 AM on September 6, 2003


republican - the rumor you've quoted on the Snopes site has been changed and expanded from the original version. See this article for the details. Obviously, Snopes is trying to change the record to something less embarrassing.
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 AM on September 6, 2003


The "why" of snopes' trust from the internet is simple: the Mikkelsons' earned it. They earned it back in the myst-shrouded pre-web history of the internet on Usenet's alt.folklore.urban newsgroup. They earned it by diligently backing up what they said against the continuous scrutiny of a community that placed finding truth among rumor at the top of their priorities.

They earned it by not pulling this shit.

Where things go from here is hard to tell.
posted by NortonDC at 7:18 AM on September 6, 2003


it's a fucking conspiracy, man.
posted by angry modem at 7:50 AM on September 6, 2003


The Agonist has managed to find and save a copy of the March 19th update of the "Flight of Fancy" item -- and note that the name of the item itself is a large bias against the story. The item is still titled "Flight of Fancy", and worse, the item, as of 04-Sep-2003, doesn't mention Michael Moore at all.

Funny. It's perfectly acceptable to name Mr. Moore when you are claiming that his assertions are completely wrong, but when it turns out that his statement is substantially right, suddenly, he isn't quote worthy?

Everywhere else, they cite the original rumor before they disprove/prove. Not here.

Fie. Snope's credibility was based on one thing -- a ruthless bias towards the facts. They've shown that there is no such bias -- which automatically puts every other post they've made into question.

They could have done this in a way that kept their credibility intact, by issuing a retraction notice, and by keeping Moore's statement and name on the page, since that, supposedly, was the reason they investigated.

It turns out, however, they only wanted to smear Moore. Once the facts came out, having Moore's name on the page didn't serve their interests -- couldn't show Moore to be right, can we?

Well, at least we know, now. And anybody citing Snopes as an authority better learn to do research themselves. They are, as of this issue, no longer such in my eyes.
posted by eriko at 7:53 AM on September 6, 2003


websites are not sources of credible factual information

No, humans are not sources of credible information, and humans are bad judges of information, and humans are bad decision-makers.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:53 AM on September 6, 2003


I remember in my last job one of my (daily) tasks was debunking virus myths but then I often found people would come to me asking me about other implausible items in their inboxes too. This is where Snopes is great, being used as a source for logical arguments as to why that rumour is false (because people would never believe me, dishonest face don't you know).

And often they'd just be based on simple common sense, you know the sort of thing: "do you honestly think that if Colin Powell had admitted on Oprah Winfrey's show that he was really a robot built by the KKK to infiltrate the White House the first place you'd hear about it would be in your e-mail?"

I think Snopes have been too quick to call false on this one, after all they're not journalists and they don't really have the resources to attack something like this properly.
posted by dodgygeezer at 8:04 AM on September 6, 2003


Snopes' last paragraph in the update is what does it for me:
This page should be read for what it is: an analysis of some of the commonly-circulated claims about a complex issue (many of which are factually correct or misleading), not a denial of the larger arc of the story. Clearly bin Laden family members were indeed allowed to leave the U.S., with government approval and assistance, shortly after the September 11 attacks (an event which was reported in major newspapers within days of its occurrence), but issues such as whether the decision to let them leave was appropriate are subjective political issues outside the scope of this page.
Great. Snopes is now LYING.

They originally declared the story as flat-out false, and launched an attack on Moore as "having an axe to grind." How the hell is that NOT "denying a larger arc of the story" and NOT "inserting subjective political issues outside the scope of this page?"

btw, great peice of into, duckstab, and NortonDC's comment sums much of this up for me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2003


Question: Why does this matter? Why are we concerned about this when the bin Laden family has disowned bin Laden (many years ago) and has repeatedly criticized them? Why should we hinder their travel inside the United States when it's quite possible that they could be in danger by the people that don't realize that they don't like Osama either? Is this just an "I-told-you-so" post? And if so, why don't you stop being bitter?
posted by cyphill at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2003


I want to second the claim that the Mikkelsons had earned our trust, and that's why they were considered an authority. When something seems sketchy, I frequently check snopes because they have had a track record of getting this stuff right.

Weirdly, the snopes page on the Saudis has a long, long section answering a question that noone asked explaining why they felt the bin Ladens wanted to leave the USA.

However, there's another issue that was alluded to in this thread, and, interestingly, it ties into Spinsanity, as well. Both sites, neither particularly conservative (and Spinsanity rather liberal) seem to exhibit a real loathing for Michael Moore. They'll take him down for the equivalent of forgetting to dot an i or cross a t and treat it as a major outrage equivalent of the much more egregious errors propagated by others that they address.

It's almost as though these writers feel the need to take town Moore at every opportunity because criticizing Moore is a means of showing conservatives how "balanced" they are. Some could complain about how Spinsanity picked on George Bush for delivering deliberately misleading statements about the budget, but then Spinsanity can say, "ah... but look how we also critcized Michael Moore for claiming that he forgot to mention something that would have put it in more context!
posted by deanc at 8:36 AM on September 6, 2003


Cyphill asks: why does it matter since Osama disowned by his own family. Yes. But that not only the Bein Laden clan left in a big hurry, but also a number of important Saudis when in fact American planes were being grounded because of the 9/11 incident but two day previous to this flght suggests helping hand to the Saudis, whether or not they were in any way connected to the terror attack (and the new Posner book makes a very good case that a number of Saudi Princes were connected to terrorism)...if you were in charge, would you allow Saudis to flee in a hurry when half (at least) of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were Saudis?
posted by Postroad at 8:41 AM on September 6, 2003


This is depressing, and I think less of Snopes as a result. They even seem to have lost their ability to write coherently:
"Secret" is something of an objective term, because everything is known to some people and unknown to others.
Say what?
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on September 6, 2003


So the upshot is that the government apparently had more important priorities -- to wit, helping its wealthy pals avoid embarrassment and personal risk -- than investigating this huge crime against America. For comparison purposes, imagine for a moment that most of the hijackers had been, say, Albanian. Do you suppose the government would have assisted Albanians in fleeing the country, thereby allowing any support network the hijackers might have had to escape investigation and discovery?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:58 AM on September 6, 2003


Question: Why does this matter? Why are we concerned about this when the bin Laden family has disowned bin Laden (many years ago) and has repeatedly criticized them?

Because, gasp!, it appears as if the bin Ladens, and Ossama, and Saudi Arabia, have been less than honest and forthright about their interrelations.

Abu Zubaydah, the al Qeada mastermind, let slip during a sodium pentathol interrogation had been working closely with members of the Saudi government/royal family and the Pakistani government.

When questioning stalled, according to Posner, cia men flew Zubaydah to an Afghan complex fitted out as a fake Saudi jail chamber, where "two Arab-Americans, now with Special Forces," pretending to be Saudi inquisitors, used drugs and threats to scare him into more confessions.

Yet when Zubaydah was confronted by the false Saudis, writes Posner, "his reaction was not fear, but utter relief." Happy to see them, he reeled off telephone numbers for a senior member of the royal family who would, said Zubaydah, "tell you what to do." The man at the other end would be Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a Westernized nephew of King Fahd's and a publisher better known as a racehorse owner. His horse War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby in 2002. To the amazement of the U.S., the numbers proved valid. When the fake inquisitors accused Zubaydah of lying, he responded with a 10-minute monologue laying out the Saudi-Pakistani-bin Laden triangle.

Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden "personally" told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high-ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (isi), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was "blessed by the Saudis."


Simply put, sometimes giant, ancient, creepy billionaire families aren't honest with the people secretly attacked by their relations. If the FBI needs my library records, it ought to at least ask some questions to many of the most powerful individuals in the nation that bankrolled the most horrific terrorist attack in history. But the reason it grates me, personally, is it is just one more piece of evidence that our government has expended exponentially more resources investigating our past President's dalliances of the dong than they have looking into the how and why of 9/11.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2003


pssst... Postroad:
That link above is to an article about the Posner book.

posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:25 AM on September 6, 2003


This whole thing stinks ... According to a poll in today's Washington Post, 69% of USAians now blame Saddam (rather than the Saudis) for being involved in 9-11 in some way. The whole "Let's not blame the Saudis but rather blame the Iraqis and have ourselves a nice war with them" is weird as hell and hopefully will unravel in interesting ways in the future.

poll | story | administration quotes

And thanks, Postroad, for tracking this.
posted by carter at 9:31 AM on September 6, 2003


Oh crap. Apologies for the bum links (I'm on a public library terminal and for some reason can not c+p links). Let's try again (otherwise go to the WP front page ...).

poll story quotes
posted by carter at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2003


The funny thing is that 78% already thought Saddam was personally involved right after Sep. 11. That tells you that roughly 80% of people don't build their opinion on information at all, but purely on personal feelings (which in turn are created by media images). You don't need to tell people explicitly that Saddam was responsible -- you just need to broadcast the right images to create the feeling that he was.
posted by Eloquence at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2003


Has anyone asked the Snopes people about this issue? I'd be curious to hear their response.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:37 AM on September 6, 2003


Another reason to worry about special treatment for bin Ladenses is the relationships between that family and the Bush family, such as their mutual involvement in the Carlyle group.
posted by xian at 12:43 PM on September 6, 2003


Trolling? No, http://www.agonist.org/ was a great fpp.
posted by Outlawyr at 3:46 PM on September 6, 2003


Has anyone asked the Snopes people about this issue? I'd be curious to hear their response.

MegoSteve, several people, myself included, have noted their attempts to e-mail Snopes... as far as I know, no one's recieved a response yet.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:50 PM on September 6, 2003


What the hell has happened to snopes? I've noticed more POV into their articles as of late and this Moore bashing is beyond me. Now they edit the page and don't even make notice? Are their egos so fragile that they can't even admit a mistake?

If snopes is dying, its by its own hand. This is unexcusable, assuming what has been reported so far is accurate. So what's next? A snopesfilter?

If the Mikkelsons want to play "objective information cleaninghouse" then they better damn learn to leave their political baggage at the gate and discover the magic of revealing revisions.

Here's the Moore bashing. Just amazing they have to resort to this.
Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they've an axe to grind, however, and in Moore's case his axe is "the dastardly Republicans and how they're responsible for every ill ever visited upon the USA." In this case, inventing a bin Laden jet that secretly flew out of the country while the rest of us were barred from the skies, and peopling it with folks who were spirited out of the FBI's grasp by a U.S. president intent upon paying back some unnamed (but darkly hinted at) favor, is a handy way of reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans as callous and greedy politicians whose paramount values involve money, not people.
via tom tomorrow

"Some folks play fast and loose with the facts when they've an axe to grind,"

Please stop. The irony is killing me!

Would it kill the Mikkelsons to start a political blog. Last I heard blogger is still free. News vs. opinion, give it a try sometime.
posted by skallas at 5:48 PM on September 6, 2003


This looks like a job for "MoJo", 'cause if Snopes is imploding, there is definitely more of a need for "fact-checking everybody's ass". Of course, Agonist had his own credibility problems (about plagiarism, not accuracy), which leaves us with Tom Tomorrow, who naysayers will point at as "just a comic strip artist". Me, I'm waiting until this story is verified by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The irony is not killing me, but I do feel a spit take coming on.
posted by wendell at 6:16 PM on September 6, 2003


It's almost as though these writers feel the need to take town Moore at every opportunity because criticizing Moore is a means of showing conservatives how "balanced" they are.

Or perhaps they just can't stand the self-righteous jerk and are naturally inclined to disbelieve him, though he may happen tell the truth.

Web sites are actually built by people who have their own opinions and those opinions may occasionally be stated or color one's interpretation of a story sometime. It's not necessarily all about pandering to either the right or the left.
posted by clevershark at 9:01 PM on September 6, 2003


Snopes has apologized as of Saturday evening.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:08 PM on September 6, 2003


Well, I'm an old-time afu'er, so I knew David and Barbara online, back from before they got married. I can't say how they might vote -- likely Democratic, but that doesn't mean you have to like Moore or treat him with kid gloves, and a grandstander like Moore is just the type of personality that afu likes to grind into meat. He's often been fast and loose with his facts, as even supporters acknowledge, and anything he says should be checked against other sources. He's less journalist than political agitator, which isn't by itself all bad, but requires caution, nor is it commendable to consider Moore above criticism, or all those who criticize him to be currying favor from Fox News, already.

Now that they've officially apologized (over Barbara's inscription), I hope all the above hand-wringing and motive-attribution can be forgotten. Can we recognize that Snopes.com, the site, has generally scrupulously avoided politics [in afu, there is a theoretical Ban On Politics, designed to protect that little greenspace from the tragedy of the commons], and in issues like this, have bravely (albeit perhaps unwisely) breached a minefield -- and when information changes, as with anything written (e.g. by CNN, the NYT), what they have written becomes obsolete. They have chosen a permanent-URL structure (at one point I tried to persuade them of the virtues of a database-driven site; they finally did jigger the menus and searches around to a more Nielsen-compliant form, and now use at least some ASPs), and a kind of authority by permanence in their pages, which is a choice that in this case left them vulnerable. I'm not sure how I would have responded, myself (personally, I think the Moore stuff belongs in a footnote). This goes far beyond their usual one-note analyses, with parts true, parts false, parts exaggerated, and the whole commingled by political agitators from both sides including Moore. Clearly, this whole thing caught them off-guard, and they've had to play catch-up, with unfair allegations and imputations banging pots and pans along the way.

Snopes has a very good reason for using the NOARCHIVE tag; they don't want OLD versions of their debunkings to be used, especially when information changes. The situation is bad enough with their material being illegally republished hither and yon, let alone sites such as the CDC using their debunkings with full permission. There's no intent to deceive by keeping the old version under wraps, that I can confidently say.
posted by dhartung at 11:39 PM on September 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


"There's no good excuse for my having gotten vitriolic about Michael Moore as I attempted to address the substance of what he said. I regret having done that because it's just flat-out the wrong thing to do under any circumstance."

That's right Barb, lick the boot! Yes, even the dirty part.

Sounds like you were sorry you got caught.

dhartung: and a grandstander like Moore is just the type of personality that afu likes to grind into meat.

Okay, so why would a site that purports to deliver facts and debunk myths take time off to write a rant regarding ANYONE and give a crack-pot analysis about "left vs right" that makes Moore's own diatribes sound like a Rhodes Scholar's phd thesis? Dave and Barb need to learn the difference between fact and opinion. I don't care how much they dislike someone, the fact is they chose to attack Moore instead of simply stating he was wrong. Well, it turns out he was right so now they owe him an apology? The attack on him alone regardless of Moore's accusations was shameful and had no place on a site that's about clearing myths. Its like Amazon.com telling me how I should vote.

Dave and Barb have their big ass soap box and have graduated well past the nobodies in afu, but somewhere the power got their heads. Snopes has lost a tremendous amount of credibility this day and deservedly so. Hopefully they'll learn from this mistake or someone else will put together a real debuking resource free of rants and personal attacks, not to mention some decent looking HTML. Sheez, hey Barb is ain't 1994 anymore!

Also, did the Mikkelsons even bother to ask Moore what his source was or did they just want to write that rant so badly that it didn't matter? Just fucking embarassing for them, this is.
posted by skallas at 1:24 AM on September 7, 2003


This is a great thread, the kind that attracted me to MetaFilter (thanks, Postroad). I had encountered this also, over at Tom Tomorrow's site, and checked the Google cache and immediately assumed something sinister when there wasn't one for this page. dhartung's explanation for this being standard practice there makes sense, though. Still, even the current version of the page (as of today) plays fast-&-loose with recorded reality, implying that they trashed Moore, then it turned out he was right, so they apologized. It conveniently leaves out the version of the page some of us saw and commented on, that completely ignored Moore and pretended they hadn't trashed him. For any quasi-journalistic site, this would be somewhat of an embarrassment, but for one based on sorting out truth from lies, they're gonna have a big uphill climb back to Authority status.

Oh, and for anyone who's still on that "who cares about the bin Laden family - they're all estranged from him" tip - isn't it odd that the domain of the family business's Web site - www. saudi-binladin-group.com - expired on September 11, 2001 - having been registered (for just one year) on September 11, 2000? Add that to the niggling coincidences.
posted by soyjoy at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2003


23
posted by Dagobert at 2:35 AM on September 8, 2003


23?
posted by stevis at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2003


23?
Illuminatus!
posted by syzygy at 12:24 PM on September 25, 2003


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