I’ve always been fascinated with urban myths and folklore — those
timeless and fascinating tall tales that have little or no factual
basis, but sound wholly plausible.
The advent of the Internet and the widespread use of e-mail
communications have elevated this phenomenon to a bizarre new art form
— but one with a vast potential for disinformation and time-wasting,
misguided political activism.
The most recent example, yet one that has been kicking around the
Internet for months, is the political alert disseminated by a countless
number of well-intentioned activists regarding “Bill 602P,” which
purports to mandate a 5 cent Post Office surcharge on every e-mail — an
“alternate postage fee.”
The communication claims the bill is sponsored by Republican
Congressman Tony Schnell and opposed by Washington attorney Richard
Of course, there is no bill 602P. There is no Congressman Tony
Schnell. And there is no Washington attorney Richard Stepp — at least
none listed as practicing in the District of Columbia directory.
Nevertheless, I would say, over the last four months, that I have
received hundreds of versions of this alert. Hardly a day goes by in
which I don’t get at least one inquiry about the validity of this
proposal or a condemnation for failing to expose this latest threat to
This myth is closely related to an earlier version kicked off by an
errant report by CNN late last year which led people to believe that the
Federal Communications Commission would be considering the approval of a
consumer access charge to phone bills equal to a long-distance charge
each time Internet users connected. WorldNetDaily exploded this myth
last November in a news report
responsive to the hysteria surrounding it.
The FCC was inundated with complaints about this non-existent
proposal, which reminds me of another hoax — at least 20 years old —
regarding the agency.
FCC officials have received more letters about petition No. 2493 by
atheist activist Madeline Murray O’Hair to prevent all religious
broadcasting on public airwaves than any other real or imagined issue
that has ever come to the attention of the panel. There is absolutely no
basis in reality for the concern. O’Hair never petitioned the FCC for
such action. Yet, the Internet has provided new life to this rumor —
even though O’Hair herself is apparently dead.
Another one of my favorites is a quote purportedly made by Attorney
General Janet Reno on “60 Minutes” June 26, 1994: “A cultist is one who
has a strong belief in the Bible and the second coming of Christ; who
fervently attends Bible studies; who has a high level of financial
giving to a Christian cause; who homeschools their children; who has
accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second
Amendment; and who distrusts big government.”
Again, though this rumor continues to circulate on the Internet,
there is no truth to any of it. Reno never made such statements — on
“60 Minutes” or anywhere else, though I have no doubt she may hold such
Have you received this one? A semi truck was stopped in the Las Vegas
area for a traffic violation and the cargo contained signs indicating
that the federal government has declared martial law. I hereby challenge
anyone reading this column to provide any factual evidence that this
incident — or anything remotely resembling it — actually happened.
Here’s another good one: It seems space scientists in Green Belt,
Md., discovered that a day was missing from time — thus proving
biblical references in Joshua 10:8 and 12:13 and 2 Kings 20: 9-11. Not
only is there no evidence that scientists have discovered a missing day
in the calendar, the scriptures cited do not make any such claim about
time standing still for a day.
I’ll tell you where time is standing still, however. Those who accept
the accuracy of everything they read on the Internet, in e-mails, in
newspapers, hear on the radio or see on television are wasting an
inordinate amount of time and energy.
People who disseminate such information without any thought to
verification ought to remember another timeless rural legend — the one
about the boy who cried wolf.