A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Why We’re Not Called FutureCheck


We’ve received countless e-mails about a rumor that Joe Biden is planning to step down from the Democratic race, to be replaced by Hillary Clinton. Here’s the chain e-mail in question:

Anonymous chain e-mail: Let me share some info with you that I have gotten from excellent sources within the DNC:
On or about October 5th, Biden will excuse himself from the ticket, citing health problems, and he will be replaced by Hillary. This is timed to occur after the VP debate on 10/2.
There have been talks all weekend about how to proceed with this info. generally, the feeling is that we should all go ahead and get it out there to as many blog sites and personal email lists as is possible. I have already seen a few short blurbs about this – the “health problem” cited in those articles was aneurysm. Probably many of you have heard the same rumblings.
However, at this point, with this inside info from the DNC, it looks like this Obama strategy will be a go. Therefore, it seems that the best strategy is to get out in front of this Obama maneuver, spell it out in detail, and thereby expose it for the grand manipulation that it is.
So, let’s start mixing this one up and cut the Obamites off at the pass – send this info out to as many people as you can – post about it on websites and blogs – etc etc

Another version of this e-mail says that “I checked this out on Snopes, and it says the status is ‘undetermined.’ ” This could, of course, be because the rumor is about something that’s supposed to happen after October 2, and it’s only September 30. Snopes is a powerful tool for demolishing urban legend, but the authors of the site are not psychic. Neither are we. And if anyone tells you they are, send ‘em our way — if we can’t debunk them, we’d like to put them to work.

While we can’t speak with certainty about something that may or may not happen in the future, there’s a few things we can say for sure. First, we can point out that this is an anonymous, unsubstantiated rumor, and we’ve talked about those before. Our default rule when a source’s credibility can’t be determined: Assume it’s zero.

We can also note, with Snopes, that this is not the first time a presidential campaign has been marred by the rumor that the v.p. candidate would be ousted. It wasn’t true about Dick Cheney, it wasn’t true about Sarah Palin, and there’s absolutely no evidence that it’s true about Joe Biden.

Finally, the original rumor-monger claims to have gotten his or her information from the Democratic National Committee. What’s the likelihood that DNC insiders are leaking info about dastardly switcheroos to anonymous anti-Obama e-mailers, but saying nothing to the press? Even if these “excellent sources” had excellent reasons to appeal only to the Internet underground, we can’t see the headline-hungry professionals letting this one go if there were so much as a shred of evidence.

We can’t see the future, but the present course of action looks clear: Hit delete on this e-mail.