Oct. 9, 2004
by David Kopel
Some people are so gullible that they believe the get-rich-quick e-mail that purportedly comes from relatives of deposed African dictators. Other people are so gullible that they've fallen for an e-mail hoax claiming that the military draft will be reinstated next spring. The media don't run stories that treat the African scam letters as possibly true, but the media have, unfortunately, not always been so accurate about the draft hoax.
For example, on Sept. 29, the CBS Evening Newsshowed its continuing disinterest in document authenticity by producing a story about a family that was worried about the e-mails.
CBS never vouched for the veracity of the lies contained in the e-mails, but neither did CBS debunk the e-mails. Instead, CBS brought forward a mother who was supposedly a Bush supporter from Philadelphia, but who was fearful about the draft. What CBS didn't tell the viewers is that this mother is actually an anti-war activist who has been part of the campaign spreading phony draft rumors. For details, including CBS' weak defense of the story, see Beldar Blog for Sept. 29 ( http://beldar.blogs.com/ beldarblog/ ), and the INDC Journal weblog for Sept. 30 ("INDC Interviews the CBS Evening News" at http://www.indcjournal.com/archives/2004_09.php ).
Covering the draft controversy in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News(Sept. 27) produced an excellent 45-paragraph story, showing how unlikely a new draft really was. The Denver Post'sarticle came two days later, was about half as long, and concentrated on college student reactions to the threat of the draft. The article provided a balance of credulous students who were fearful of the imminent draft, and others who knew better.
According to the Gallup Poll, 20 percent of the U.S. population doubts whether the Apollo moon landing happened. But just because there are a lot of lunatics on this planet does not mean that a story about lunar exploration should give paragraph after paragraph to people laboring under self-inflicted delusions. The same might be said about giving space to people who worked themselves into a dither over a draft bill with almost zero chance of becoming law.
Both papers, and CBS, would have done better to point out that the congressional draft bill sponsors were not really people who wanted a stronger military, but were 16 far-left Democratic representatives who wanted just the opposite. As the excellent rumor debunking Web site Snopes.com put it, the draft "bills were introduced not by legislators genuinely seeking to reinstate the draft, but by Democrats seeking to make an anti-war statement."
That even the sponsors did not really want a draft became indisputable on Oct. 5 when the draft bill, HR 163, was called up for a vote on the floor of the House, and was crushed by a vote of 402-2 - with most of its sponsors refusing to vote for it.
On Oct. 6, the Postdid the better job of informing readers about the vote. The Postput the Associated Press report at the top of Page 2, whereas the Newsran a much shorter version, in the middle of Page 32. The Post also ran an opinion column by Kathleen Parker deconstructing the draft rumors.
Rather than giving so much space to lies of e-mail hoaxsters, the Denver papers and CBS should have contacted the anti-draft, anti-war organization Alliance for Security. The group has written a report, "Debunking the Myths: Getting the Draft Story Straight," which refutes the e-mail claims that a draft was coming next spring because of HR 163.
And when doing stories about young people who are worried about being forced into government service, the Denver and national media should have pointed out that John Kerry is the only candidate who has proposed such coercion. As detailed in Kerry's proposal "100 Days to Change America," Kerry's "plan will require mandatory national service for high school kids . . . As president, John Kerry will ensure that every high school student in America does community service as a requirement for graduation." The plan appeared on Kerry's Web site at www.johnkerry.com/issues/100days/ . Like many other pages on Kerry's Web site, this one has disappeared without explanation, but you can still find the page by entering the original URL into the "search" box at www.archive.org .
The Colorado media have reported the claims made in Colorado by Kerry surrogate Max Cleland and by Kerry stepson Andre Heinz that a new draft may be on the way. So that voters can assess such claims, it would have been helpful for the media to inform Coloradans about Kerry's own shifting positions on forced labor. As the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft ( www.comdsd.org ) observes, Kerry's plan for mandatory national service could create the foundation for mandatory national military service.
Corrections to my previous column: My reference to "Ben Nelson" should have been to Ben Barnes. I also understated the culpability of CBS in the forged document story by failing to explain that before the story aired CBS had interviewed the widow and son of the deceased officer who supposedly wrote the documents. Both the widow and the son told CBS that the documents were obviously fake.