Snopes: Reliably Liberal and Liberally Unreliable

I'm not sure if I ever posted the German brothel story -- a story about women being told they might have to take jobs as sex-workers (i.e., whores) or lose welfare benefits -- but if I did, I guess I have to note that Snopes "debunks" the story.

But a sharp-eyed reader of NRO's The Corner debunks that debunking, and notes that Snopes is hopelessly left-leaning.

I think the same. I remember reading one "debunking." It concerned Hillary Clinton's volunteering to work for the criminal defense of a Black Panther accused, I think, of murder.

Snopes claimed, basically, that the story wasn't true. Except, when you read the "debunking," all the facts of the story were stipulated as being true. Snopes basically added "context," arguing how important it is to give murderers the best defense and all that jazz, and, on the basis of this "context," "determined" the story to be "false."

Except, you know, the story wasn't false. What Snopes was really claiming was that while the facts were true, it would be "false" to draw any negative inferences about Hillary Clinton from those facts.

Ummm, Snopes? Go F--- yourself. "True" means true and "False" means false. You're supposed to be fact-checking, not interpretation-checking.

Snopes does that with an awful lot of political stories. Time and time again, it brands stories "false" not because the facts alleged are proven to be untrue but because Snopes just sort of doesn't like the cause the facts have been enlisted in serving.

So, read Snopes at your own risk. For urban legends and email scams, it's a great site.

For anything having to do with politics, it's a lefty spin-site.

Thanks for both tips to NickS.

The Missing Link Update: Here's the Snopes non-debunking of the Hillary Clinton/Black Panther story. Decide for yourself if this is fact-checking or just liberal spin about uncontested facts.

Posted by: Ace at 12:08 PM


1 I think he used to hang out at lgf, btw.

Posted by: someone at February 15, 2005 12:20 PM (k7pM3)

2 I first came to that conclusion about 4+ years ago, after reading Snope's "debunking" of Algores claim to have invented the interweb.
Basically it made the same "It's false because its true in the context" B.S.

Everybody knows Jeff Gannon personally killed a pack of grizzlies with his bare hands and strung them together to form the true first interweb.

Posted by: HowardDevore at February 15, 2005 12:53 PM (I0qFL)

3 Snopes is good for email stories about kids with cancer selling used stamps or rocket powered cars, but useless for politics.

The authors have clearly shown themselves to be quite liberal. Oddly, this does not affect reporting when it comes to stories like using coca-cola as birth control but completely skewers it when it comes to politics.

Odd that the bastion of debunking cannot even pull their heads out of their political asses long enough to find the truth.

Posted by: Sharp as a Marble at February 15, 2005 12:53 PM (VxPRK)

4 They did the same with an email saying that John Ascroft thought cats were tools of the devil. They said it was undetermined even though the same story mentioned him wanting to cover naked statues, a story that they had debunked.

Posted by: monkeyboy at February 15, 2005 01:23 PM (BjFEm)

5 Another example is their handling of the Syrian Wayne Newton story. They pose the legend as "a reporter was on a flight with terrorists", and then quote Annie Jacobsen's story which doesn't claim that--she was careful to say that she was scared, she wondered if it was a dry run, and that the airline response was pitiful.

All of which is true. Even though we know who the band was now and most of us are pretty sure they're not terrorists, Snopes never bothered to update the story and it sounds like they're accusing the reporter of making the whole thing up. Which she didn't. other witnesses confirm they were scared and even people with the band admitted they were rowdy.

Again, they're interpretation-checking. I'm not sure if this is liberal bias or just sloppiness.

Posted by: See-Dubya at February 15, 2005 01:46 PM (PUZhO)

6 I think that Snopes "story" sets the "all-time record" for the "use" of "scare quotes."

It is pretty "juvenile", and "they" "should" "be" "embarrassed."

Posted by: David at February 15, 2005 01:55 PM (Hj9yW)

7 Who cares about this shit, man? THEY GOT GANNON!!!

Posted by: kgowen at February 15, 2005 01:57 PM (YI6Sc)

8 Sooo... Where else is there for urban legends?
What about I used to read them but I can't bring up the site today.

Posted by: Man of Substance at February 15, 2005 02:08 PM (5q578)

9 Lefty I'll give you, but at least they aren't actual Moonbats. In fact, I've used them to debunk some of the stuff popular with the latter.

You gotta take what you can get.

Posted by: Myopist at February 15, 2005 02:48 PM (ydiXX)

10 I had the exact same reaction when I checked the Hillary/Black Panther story at Snopes years ago. You want a laugh? Check out how Snopes "debunked" the Swift Boat vets.

Posted by: physics geek at February 15, 2005 02:52 PM (Xvrs7)

11 Honestly, it's strange to hear Snopes being labelled as a "reliably liberal" site when, at least until recently, the slam from some circles was that the site had a conservative bias. I remember over a year ago (well before Fahrenheit 9/11) when Snopes tore Michael Moore a new one over his claim that Bin Laden family members were able to fly out of the country in the days after 9/11 despite the existence of a travel ban. The site subsequently retracted some (but not all) of its original post on the subject (you can read the edited version at Snopes has debunked lots of erroneous, malicious claims about Bush (skim the listing at, which I wouldn't think a decidedly liberal site would do.

What Snopes DOES do, as you mention, is give acts "context." To me, this is extremely useful. The rightness or wrongness of acts/statements depends on their relationship with surrounding facts. Hillary's "defense" of the Black Panthers is much less outrageous (though probably still a bad thing) than the e-mail making the allegation portrays it to be once you understand the surrounding context. Perhaps it's erroneous for Snopes to label claims as "True" or "False" in certain cases, but it's certainly demonstrated a talent for proving claims to be not nearly as truthful as they purport to be.

Posted by: Mike at February 15, 2005 03:01 PM (f74q3)

12 Snopes claims that Go Ask Alice, a moviebased on a 'diary' that we were forced to watch over & over as teens, isn't even true. Now I don't know what to believe

Posted by: jeff at February 15, 2005 03:19 PM (U3BA0)

13 All you gotta believe is that Ace bagged Blossom and you'll be fine.

Posted by: Iblis at February 15, 2005 03:23 PM (9221z)

14 One other thing. The Snopes article on the brothel rumor ends with this final paragraph:

"This was another case where, like a game of 'telephone,' a story was...passed from one news source to the next, and somewhere in the rewriting and translating process what was originally discussed as a mere hypothetical possibility has now been reported as a factual occurrence."

I love ya, Ace, but I think you might be a bit guilty of this yourself. You link to a NRO post that you claim "debunks... [Snopes], and notes that Snopes is hopelessly left-leaning." I think most folks who read the NRO post(s) themselves can see this is an exaggeration.

The post you cite only says that the writer feels that Snopes has "a vague lefty bias," which is something considerably less than a "hopelessly liberal" one. Also, none of the NRO posts debunk the Snopes article; they simply suggest that because Snopes hasn't completely disproven the possibility that a German unemployed woman might be forced to work in a brothel, it hasn't completely debunked an article that alleges that unemployed German women are being compelled to work in brothels (a subtle but important difference). I don't think such counterarguments "debunk" Snopes's claim with respect to the content of the Telegraph article, anymore than I thought lefties "debunked" right-leaning blogs' coverage of Rathergate by arguing that the righties hadn't proven that the content of the (forged) memos was absolutely false, even if the memos themselves were.

Posted by: Mike at February 15, 2005 03:26 PM (f74q3)

15 It depends on what your definition of "is" is. We see this time and again. The lib SOP if you get caught doing (or not doing) something, is to spin the hell out of it till you have a headache, are barfing all over the place and have forgotten what the f you were doing in the first place.

Posted by: Cracka Jack at February 15, 2005 04:08 PM (hdlbI)

16 Providing context and debunking myths are two totally different things. If Snopes really intended to "provide context," they would rate them as "statements of undetermined or ambiguous veracity." In that way, it is left to the reader to determine if something is true or false. This is as opposed to outright debunking a myth.

To say that HRC didn't "defend" the Panthers, is an outright lie. To what extent she provided assistance can be debated among reasonable people. Whether that assistance rises to the level of "defense" is subject to interpretation. I would further submit that the interpretation would be influenced by which side of the aisle your party sits on.

Snopes has done a good deal of debunking 9/11 and Bush myths. But then again, so has and there is little doubt where they come down on issues.

Posted by: Steve L. at February 15, 2005 04:17 PM (hpZf2)

17 Totally OT, but Ace -- there's got to be something you can do with this. Both the Jordan/Stone hookup and the "Elisabeth Shue, idiotarian" bits are begging for some blog-treatment...

Posted by: someone at February 15, 2005 04:27 PM (k7pM3)

18 Mike,

I don't really get what you mean. Yeah, I said "hopelessly liberal;" those are my own words. I don't have a cite, except I guess that Hillary Clinton non-debunking.

It's my opinion that Snopes is hopelessly left-leaning and ever-eager to spin on behalf of liberals.

Status: True

Posted by: ace at February 15, 2005 04:35 PM (5qmzg)

19 With all due respect, it's pretty out there to claim that snopes has a political bias.

Next thing you know, will the Onion be targeted for bias?

Posted by: Ben F at February 15, 2005 04:36 PM (rtSQq)

20 The original story has turned into a classic "too good to check" snowball. If the information of the commenter here:

is correct, then the employment agency didn't initially know that the establishment in question was a brothel. The agency apparently quickly backtracked and apologized, and never insisted that the woman take the job. That doesn't excuse the
subsequent embroidery, obviously.

So let's see some of that self-correcting functionality that the blogosphere is supposed to be so good at.

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at February 15, 2005 04:46 PM (uw+0A)

21 I've been reading Snopes for a long time and they always struck me as pretty middle of the road despite my oversensitive and very weary liberal bullshit detector.

I can see them lean left every now and again, but even with that Hilary Clinton thing they're basically saying that "Gosh, you know people who e-mail these kind of screeds are pretty much full of shit."

Status on that: True.

They get hammered a lot from both sides from people wanting to believe or challenge the worst they get off their MoveOn e-mail lists. I've been impressed with how much of that they handle without showing even more of their personal opinions.

Posted by: Sortelli at February 15, 2005 04:47 PM (4Ija7)

22 Re: Ace

"I don't really get what you mean. Yeah, I said "hopelessly liberal;" those are my own words. I don't have a cite, except I guess that Hillary Clinton non-debunking."

I was making the point that when people cross-reference/repeat a claim, sometimes the meaning changes, just like in the old game of "telephone." Snopes makes this point with regard to how the Telegraph apparently mistranscribed a German newspaper story, and this is how the story got started that unemployed German women are being forced to work at brothels or face welfare benefit cuts (the original story only says that women are being offered positions at brothels as potential employment, not that there are any reprecussions for not taking the job).

Similarly, you link to an NRO post which you assert "notes that Snopes is hopelessly left-leaning." Reading the NRO post, it's clear the author doesn't go nearly that far (he says that he senses that Snopes is "vaguely left-leaning). But like the old game of telephone, messages (often unintentionally) change as they get repeated to mean something different.

My point was not that you are wrong to assert that Snopes is "hopelessly liberal," but that you can't base that opinion on an NRO post that doesn't go nearly that far.


Posted by: Mike at February 15, 2005 05:24 PM (f74q3)

23 I remember when the swiftvets' story first aired. The MSM keep repeating that the book Unfit for Command had been debunked. The only trouble was, I could never find out how. Beldar even challenged anyone to debunk any of the swift vets' claims. I checked Snopes at that time and they had the swiftvets listed as FALSE. They never debunked any of the stated claims to back up their judgment.

After the election I revisited Snopes to see if they had ammended their report. No. They had added a second page. Now it says "mulitple" whatever thats supposed to mean for quotes attributed to Kerry:

and False for his receiving his medals under "fishy" circumstances.

Also note the disclaimer regarding the finding which says the report is based on one Admiral's review of the records. Hardly a legitimate finding of fact IMHO.

Posted by: Opinionated Vogon at February 15, 2005 05:32 PM (oi7Fg)

24 The "isolated cases" that Snopes cites are not cases where it is claimed that German women would lose their benefits over refusing to work in a brothel, but merely cases where agencies had advertised such jobs on behalf of brothels.

Thus, Snopes bungles their own case.

Isn't it obvious, btw, that this story is as classic urban legend stuff as it is unlikely to be true?

I mean, come on. Such a practice would never be accepted. Not even by Germans, fun as it is to bash them.

The irony is that the original Taz article is likely a lefty attempt to raise suspicions about the toughening of German labour market laws that has been fought tooth and nail by the German left.

And ultra-conservative British Telegraph just mindlessly runs with it!

Posted by: stostosto at February 15, 2005 05:37 PM (rTMVd)

25 "Go f--- yourself?" When did you revert to being afraid of using naughty words?

Posted by: Beck at February 16, 2005 08:05 AM (pmSUH)

26 DATELINE: Baltimore, Maryland Feb. 15, 2004. Scientists here at the Johns Hopkins announced today the discovery of a previously unknownnerve.
In a press conference, Dr. John O'neal announced: "we have finally found the cause of the mental disease called Liberalism. Liberalism is caused by the anal-optic nerve which runs from the asshole to the optic nerve. Since they see everything through the prism of their own assholes, it gives them a shitty attitude outlook on life which colors everything they think and do. We are working on a cure and have confidence that someday the dreaded disease of Liberalism will be eradicated."

Posted by: 72VIRGINS at February 16, 2005 09:42 AM (dhRpo)

27 I read the entire Snopes Debunking. And argree with Snopes that the content of the letter is FALSE.

Here are the reasons.

"We'll begin with the last part, and it's simply ludicrous. Yale University was not "shut down" during the trial"

"To lay the entire responsibility for this massive, widespread protest on the shoulders of two Yale students is just silly, all the more so because nobody has offered evidence that either one of them led, or even participated in, any student demonstrations or protests in support of the Black Panthers. "

"So, what exactly did Mr. Lee and Ms. Clinton do to "defend" the Panthers in a legal sense? In Mr. Lee's case, he did absolutely nothing. He wasn't a lawyer, or even a law student; he was simply another Yale undergraduate who had nothing to do with the Black Panthers' trial. Ms. Clinton wasn't a lawyer then, either; she was a Yale law student. The sum total of her involvement in the trial was that she assisted the American Civil Liberties Union in monitoring the trial for civil rights violations. That a law student's tangential participation in one of the most controversial, politically and racially charged trials of her time (one that took place right on her doorstep) to help ensure it remained free of civil rights abuses is now offered as "proof" of her moral reprehensibility demonstrates that McCarthyism is alive and well — some of us apparently believe in rights but don't believe everyone has the right to have rights."

"Stripped of all the invective and blatant political ranting, the case here against Mr. Lee and Ms. Clinton comes down to nothing more than "We don't like their politics" and "They were there," so they must be as morally guilty as the Panthers themselves."

Posted by: PAUL at February 16, 2005 11:07 AM (RWD8I)

28 I posted on the realities behind the German prostitution story two weeks ago. It took this long for y'all to get back to it? Hartz IV Prostitution.

Posted by: Cal at February 16, 2005 11:35 AM (7ThMu)

29 I'm afraid I agree with Paul. " The sum total of her involvement in the trial was that she assisted the American Civil Liberties Union in monitoring the trial for civil rights violations. " That does not sound to me (a lawyer) that Clinton was "assisting with the defense" in any way. Much as I dislike Hillary Clinton and all she stands for, and much as I agree with you on the Swift Vets "debunking," I think Snopes is correct on the Clinton story.

Posted by: Mike Koenecke at February 16, 2005 03:48 PM (nPb/I)

30 If something is not blatantly rightwing then it has a liberal bias.

Posted by: mindless wingnut at February 16, 2005 04:07 PM (EKMxC)

31 Spank me!

Posted by: s&m at February 16, 2005 04:22 PM (dhRpo)

32 DEBUNKS THAT DEBUNKING? Are you kidding? The reader's post to the NRO Corner basically takes the position that an assertion is true until proven false. That's crazy!!!

The reader concludes, "I declare the German brothel story’s veracity 'Undetermined' . . . ." How about the more accurate word UNSUBSTANTIATED.

But the really interesting aspect of this criticism of Snopes is that the reader rails against Snopes' analysis that the brothel story "struck a chord in many readers as an example of liberal morality and bureaucracy run amok”. Was Snopes' analysis wrong? The NRO's reader concluding comment tends to prove Snopes point; the reader states,
"The only trouble is that I can’t decide whether I hope it’s [the story] true or hope it’s not…." Gee, why would one want to hope that it's true or not? Maybe so the reader can have something to throw about as another example of "liberal morality and bureaucracy run amok."

Posted by: Fluffy Bunny at February 25, 2005 10:17 PM (qHZfH)

33 I just read the Hillary Clinton piece on snopes, and I'm left wondering if you just didn't read it all the way through? Sure, it does provide a lot of context, but it also does the very thing you say it doesn't: it says that the core claim of the story in question, is actually false.

The story being debunked is not that so many of the Black Panthers involved in Rackley's murder got off lightly. What's being debunked is they story's suggestion that the reason they got off lightly may be that Hillary Clinton defended them, and that she did so by leading student protests that shut down Yale.

Snopes tells us that Clinton did NOT lead those student protests (and also that they didn't exactly "shut down" Yale, but that's beside the point).

Further, snopes tells us that the government simply never prosecuted most of those Black Panthers, and let them plead out for light sentences. Hillary Clinton had no involvement with that whatsoever, so she clearly is not part of the reason they got off so lightly.

Her role as an ACLU observer at the two trials that did happen, aside from not being part of the "defense", also seems to have nothing to do with the government's decision not to try any of the others.

Posted by: Cos at February 26, 2005 03:29 PM (nhFh1)

34 i find that snopes is a very liberal site, i have lost all confedancein its information about truth , snopes is very protective ofTHE LEFT AGENDA,NO MORE FOR ME,!

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