Thursday, December 13, 2007

Urban Legends should not be reported as fact...OR opinion

This is the text of a letter to the editor of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice which I wrote in response to a letter which appeared on December 13, 2007.

The lead letter in the "Your Voice" pages on Thursday, December 13, 2007 tells (in great detail) the story of eleven-year-old Patricia Harrington, who successfully thwarted a home invasion thanks to her father's handy (and, apparently, loaded) shotgun. It asks the question, "Ever wonder why good stuff never makes NBC, CBS, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, or ABC news..."

Well, the answer to that question is probably, "Because they use fact checkers before they publish urban legends as true stories."

A quick check of "patricia harrington" on the Urban Legends Reference Pages ( will reveal that this has been known to be an false story since at least April 2007. It is getting a lot of mileage, and is being passed around, by certain groups and individuals who feel that it helps make whatever point they are trying to make. Unfortunately, it's a lot of hooey. And now that it has appeared in the pages of the Citizens' Voice, it's a lot of hooey that people will mistake for truth.

In September we saw a business in Schuylkill County destroyed by another urban legend, the old "foreign-born storekeeper refuses to serve U.S. Servicemen." Even though this was soon shown to be an urban legend and a maliciously-planted lie, the damage was already done and the owner closed his store and left the state. (

I believe that there exists a responsibility for all news outlets to verify the veracity of any information printed in their pages, whether it is news stories, editorials, advertisements, or letters to the editor. Otherwise there is a chance that they will be used as vehicles for spreading false and malicious information.


Michelle D said...

Yet another reason that I prefer the TL to the CV :)
Its called SNOPES, people. Use it!!

anne said...

You know, it makes one wonder what the attraction to these types of stories is.

I think in the cases of "why the good stuff never makes the big meida news", people are really desperate for something other than the usual depressing fare. I guess so much so that they are willing to believe anything.

I have a real issue with the "news as entertainment" concept to begin with. I just can't tolerate mainstream media in that sense. I really don't care what Brittany did or how much the Olsen twins weigh. I can't stand that America allows its collective head to be filled with that crap.

Oops. I'm rambling waaaaay off topic there. Sorry.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I love I've used it to debunk many emails.

Cheri Sundra said...

Oh, so maybe the Citizen's Voice should have verified that Bertha was real! ;-)

Call me silly...but I am bothered by this "Bertha" scam....