Internet is a great tool for gathering information, and nonsense

I love the Internet. It’s an essential part of my day. Every day. I can’t remember what life was like without Google. It makes life more efficient. It makes us smarter faster. At least most of the time.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t serve us well at all. It is, after all, nothing more than whatever we put in it. The old saw “garbage in, garbage out” still applies.

A reader a couple of weeks ago spotted some garbage, in the Letters to the Editor section of He’s an intelligent guy, a successful businessman who’s been an acquaintance for years. He was blunt in his assessment of a missive from a Montrose resident who claimed, among other things, that there are “twice as many limousines leased by the federal government today as there were when George W. left office,” and Michelle Obama has “20 some personal staff” compared to Hillary Clinton’s three and Laura Bush’s one. Also, the letter writers said, Obama has spent more money traveling than all previous presidents combined.

My friend said such claims were the product of a “right-wing nut-case.” I don’t really know if that’s the case. I’m pretty sure, though, they all found a home on the Internet, that wonderful invention that can, on one hand, make our lives so much better while on the other can prove without a doubt the awesome power of exponential growth.

The Internet doesn’t make this stuff up. People do. But once the Internet gets its hand on it, erroneous information takes on a life of its own.

I did some checking on the letter writer’s statements at, a non-partisan project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Two of those statements are incorrect, and one is, at best, half true.

The government does have a lot more limousines now than it did. Most of them are for the State Department and the justification is to protect diplomats from terrorists. That sounds like a pretty good justification to me. Also, many of them were ordered during Bush’s last year and delivered during Obama’s first year. The GSA, the agency in charge of procuring them, says it doesn’t have a hard and fast definition for a limousine, so it really doesn’t know how many it has now or how many it had under Bush. I know, that’s hard to believe. But that’s what they said.

The other two claims, though, are downright laughable.

Laura Bush may have run a very efficient East Wing of the White House. But she didn’t do it with a single staffer. Nor does Michelle Obama do it with a mere 20. In fact, Michelle Obama has 22 staff members and Laura Bush had between 24 and 26.

And no, Obama has not spent more money traveling than all of the other presidents combined. In fact, for his first two years in office, Obama didn’t travel on Air Force One as much as his predecessor. Obama logged 89 missions on Air Force One during his first two years; Bush 148.

I can’t help but think that the origin of that comment isn’t somehow related to the misstatement earlier this year by none other than Michele Bachmann (who else?) that one of Obama’s foreign trips was costing $500 million a day.

It’s not just the right-wingers who have trouble with accuracy. But it seems to me they have more trouble with accuracy and facts than the other side. But then, they have Bachmann on their team and that gives them an unfair advantage when it comes to winning the misinformation battle.

But back to the Montrose letter writer. He began his letter to the editor by saying he was about to enlighten all of us with some information we’d never see in newspapers or on television.

He’s right. There’s a reason you won’t see that kind of stuff in the mainstream media. It’s because the mainstream media, as far from perfect as it is, tries its darndest to make sure you don’t see stories with no basis in fact.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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