Snopes speaks, but so what?

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For what it's worth, the folks at Snopes.com have declared false the notion that writer Anne Jacobsen encountered a band of rehearsing terrorists on her Northwest flight into L.A. last month. I happen to agree with the conclusion, but a look at the site's sources (scroll down) on the story should make you wonder about Snopes's outsized rep for authority. In this case, and others when I've consulted the site, the husband-and-wife team in Thousand Oaks that is behind Snopes just did a cursory check of traditional media. Some of the blogs I've read on the Jacobsen brouhaha considered more (and more varied) sources. I find Snopes entertaining and think that Barbara and David Mikkelson do a great service aggregating rumors and sifting the media reports, but their weak spot is the conclusions. Unfortunately, too many reporters cite Snopes as the authority on whether a rumor is true, instead of just another opinion based on reading the Web (i.e., no special expertise or sources). On many topics, their judgment doesn't seem any more informed than a typical journalist or blogger (and as Cathy Seipp showed in a recent CityBeat column, Snopes — like everybody else — sometimes lets political bias color its take.)

And: Tomorrow's New York Times has yet another piece recounting the incident, a column by Joe Sharkey that now says the Syrian Wayne Newton wasn't on board. If that makes no sense, click here.


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