by | Dec 11, 2016 | The Writer's Life | 7 comments

by Sonja Stone


CIA image: Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images
The truth, like sex, is found in shades of grey.
My blog sisters have mentioned in recent days that as fiction writers, we rigorously research our topics before putting pen to paper. If we include a plot point that seems contentious, as responsible writers we do our best to explain to you, our reader, why you should feel comfortable suspending belief. If we fail at this task, our books are subject to the dreaded deus ex machina, aka, a person or thing that suddenly appears in a novel to provide a convenient solution to an insurmountable problem. For example, if my hero kills her would-be assassin in the final scene of my novel by clubbing him over the head with a bronze bust resting on the entryway table, I better have mentioned the bust in act 1. Makes sense, right?
Every so often, I hear a story that’s so outrageous I’m sure it’s a lie. My go-to fact-checking site is snopes.com. They investigate widely circulated internet headlines, well-known rumors, urban legends. More than once I’ve directed a distraught child to snopes to research some horrific story overheard at school (I remember one in particular: something about Spongebob and a butcher knife). Why do I use snopes rather than research the facts on my own? Because I care about the truth, but I’m also very lazy. 

On the radio yesterday, I heard an interesting comment issued by Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager. At a Harvard University forum, he said, “You guys took everything Donald Trump said so literally. And the problem with that is the American people didn’t. They understood that sometimes when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or it’s at the bar, you’re going to say something – and maybe you don’t have all the facts to back that up.” The journalist reporting the story then described Trump as the first president operating in a “post-factual world.”
Something about this turn-of-phrase struck me. A post-factual world.
Not everyone holds themselves to the stringent standards of my sister thriller writers. In fact, not all writers feel beholden to their audience. I often find myself thoroughly agitated while watching certain TV crime shows that feature medical impossibilities (yeah, Criminal Minds, I’m looking at you).
In any case, here’s a recent lineup of snopes.com investigated facts (followed by their verdicts). To read the full stories, go here: www.snopes.com (most of the headlines and descriptions are poached directly from their site. Or plagiarized, if you really want the truth).
1. CIA: Russia Interfered With U.S. Elections
Politicians and pundits are calling for further investigation into the matter.

CLAIM: The CIA has determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the express purpose of securing the presidency for Trump.


My take: Cyberterrorism is alive and well. How long till someone takes down the grid?
2. Bloods and Quips
Are ‘Blood Type Diets’ Actually Rooted In Any Science?

CLAIM: Diets tailored to one’s specific blood type are capable of reducing myriad ailments, improving digestion, enabling weight loss, and providing increased energy.


My take: I, for one, am thrilled that this claim remains unproven, as someone with my blood type should supposedly eat okra, dandelion, and alfalfa sprouts (ugh), and avoid black olives, mushrooms, and peppers (all of which were conspicuously present on the pizza I had for lunch).
3. Stoutbucks
Starbucks is testing a new ‘beer latte.

CLAIM: Starbucks is testing a new “beer latte,” designed to mimic the distinctive flavor profile of Guinness. 


My take: Coffee and beer, what’s not to love? In retrospect, this is pretty obvious. How do you get those coffee house hangers-on to stay through lunch and into happy hour? Serve booze.
4. Topiary Cats 
The digital artwork of Richard Saunders is often shared with the inaccurate claim that they are “real” topiary cat sculptures.

Topiary Cats by Richard Saunders
Topiary Cats: as useful as real, live cats.

CLAIM: Images show several large topiary cats created by a retiree and artist named John Brooker.


My take: I warned you not to trust cats(FYI, the images are digital art, not actual topiaries. And created by Richard Saunders, not John Brooker. But it’s nitpicking.)
5. Santa Laws 
A story that the former Alaska governor called for the boycott after discovering that the mall had hired its first black Santa Claus is a hoax.

CLAIM: Sarah Palin called for a Mall of America boycott over its hiring a black man to play Santa Claus.


My take: Yes, the woman hunts wolves from a chopper. That doesn’t mean she’s racist.
6. Lord of the Donuts
An image purportedly showing a donut with “Muslim writing” on it actually depicts a pastry with Orkish writing in frosting.

Orkish, not Arabic. I know, I know. Potato, potahto.

CLAIM: A photograph shows a donut with “Muslim writing” on it.


(As an aside, apparently this translates to: One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

My take: Delicious pastries AND J.R.R. Tolkien? Sign me up!

There you have it. 
This is Sonja Stone, reporting from our Post-Factual World. 
What’s your favorite fake headline? Have you ever heard a story you knew to be false, but later found out was true? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

CIA image: Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images
All others: from snopes.com

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  1. Jack Getze

    Snopes is all that remains of America's once proudly impartial news industry. I have the site bookmarked.

  2. S. Lee Manning

    I agree. Use Snopes all the time. You listed my favorite rumor, by the way, the one donut to rule them all. Personally checking out rumor whether eating said donut turns one into the dark lord.

    Well done blog.

  3. Karna Bodman

    How about a story that everyone THOUGHT was true – but years later discovered their premise was completely false? I remember when there was a fierce debate in the nation's capital about building the Alaska Pipeline. All the opponents pointed to the elk, saying that if we built the pipeline (that would bring much needed crude oil from northern Alaska) — it would disrupt the migration of the elk which then numbered around 3,000 (they count them from helicopters) and the herds would dwindle and that would be terrible. The proponents of the pipeline won out. Several years later they discovered that the elk actually liked to snuggle up to the warm pipeline that was above ground — they hung out, had babies and a decade later officials counted over 13,000 elk – there were so many they had to be shooed off the runways at airports. Of course, Snopes couldn't have checked that one out — it did take time. Now thanks for your great post, Sonja – it made us all think about this whole "fake news" issue.

  4. Sonja Stone

    Jack, I totally agree. There's an article on snopes that features complaints from readers: Liberals accusing them of being Republican, Republicans claiming all the articles are skewed in favor of Democrats… It's funny how we, as individuals, interpret news.

  5. Sonja Stone

    Sandy, I was partial to the donut, as well. 🙂

    Karna, your story is so cute! I want to see the little elk babies snuggled against the pipeline!

  6. Chris Goff

    Beer lattes?! Yuck!

    There is nothing more embarrassing than to be the one to perpetuate a hoax or falsehood. Thank heavens for Snopes.

  7. Sonja Stone

    Chris, I totally agree! Then the obligatory excuses: "Yes, I forwarded the email but I didn't actually READ past the headline…"