WASHINGTON — The moderator of yesterday’s New York debate between
U.S. Senate candidates Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton asked a question
based on a
long-running Internet hoax — and both candidates fell for it.

Well into the debate, WCBS-TV political reporter Marcia Kramer turned
first to Clinton to get her reaction to what she described as a bill
that would let the U.S. Postal Service charge a 5-cent tax on e-mail.

“I’d like to ask you how you stand on federal Bill 602P,” Kramer said.
“Under the bill that’s now before Congress, the U.S. Postal Service
would be able to bill e-mail users 5 cents for every e-mail they send,
even though the post office provides no service.”

“I’m wondering if you would vote for this bill,” Kramer said.

Clinton replied: “Well, based on your description, Marcia, I wouldn’t
vote for that bill.” She added that it “sounds burdensome and not
justifiable” for the government to charge for e-mail.

Lazio, who has spent the past eight years in Congress, was even less
cautious when plied with the same question, saying unblinkingly: “I am
absolutely opposed to this.”

Lazio went on to say that “this is an example of the government’s greedy
hand in trying to take money from taxpayers that, frankly, it has no
right to.”

Only, the government is not trying to charge e-mail users, and isn’t
considering such a bill.

In fact, there is no such thing as a “federal Bill 602P.” It’s not even
a valid bill number. Bills carry four digits and don’t end in letters.
And they begin with either “HR,” for House of Representatives, or “S,”
for Senate.

The CBS moderator appears to have been the victim of a hoax started last
year by an unidentified spoofer who spread it across the Internet by

In asking her question, Kramer repeated key sections of the text of the
phony e-mail, which has been sent to scores of news organizations,

WorldNetDaily, which has disabused concerned readers over
and over
about the authenticity of the report.

Post office officials “want this to help recoup losses of about $230 million a year, because of the proliferation of e-mails,” Kramer said. “But if you send just 10 e-mails a day, that would cost consumers an extra $180 a year.”

That’s nearly identical to what’s said in the bogus e-mail.

“The U.S. Postal Service is claiming that lost revenue due to the proliferation of e-mail is costing nearly $230,000,000 in revenue per year,” the e-mail says. “Since the average [user] received about 10 pieces of e-mail per day in 1998, the cost to the typical individual would be an additional 50 cents per day, or over $180 per year.”

“Note that this would be money paid directly to the U.S. Postal Service for a service they do not even provide,” the wise guy adds.

Juliana Silva, CBS spokeswoman for the New York news station where Kramer works, was asked about the moderator’s misstep and the amount of research that went into her question. She said she had to check into it, but never called back.

The e-mail offered other clues that it’s a hoax.

It states that one of the bill’s backers is a “Congressman Tony Schnell.” There is no Tony Schnell among the 535 members of Congress.

The e-mail also states that “Washington, D.C., lawyer Richard Stepp” is lobbying against the bill. Such a lawyer does not exist.

Messages left Sunday morning at the New York campaign headquarters of Lazio and Clinton were not returned.

Related story:

Congress befuddled on Internet taxation

Related columns:

Internet folklore

New Internet taxes and old hoaxes

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.