By DICK POLMAN
In recent weeks, a great number of e-mailers have excitedly sought to inform me about a particularly juicy entry in “The Reagan Diaries,” a recently published volume of the late president’s private jottings. They have quoted the entry, and urged me to post it forthwith; after I declined to do so, I was duly informed, by some of the e-mailers, that I was clearly a right-wing stooge/Republican apologist/censor/killjoy.
Here’s the passage. Supposedly, the juice factor is high because the writer is Reagan, the “George” is Vice President Bush, and the “son” ... well, you know who that is:
“May 17, 1986. A moment I’ve been dreading. George brought his ne’er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I’ll call Kinsley over at the New Republic and see if they’ll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.”
For those of you who might find this passage in your e-mail box, and might be tempted to forward it, be forewarned: It’s fake.
This verdict is apparently a revelation to many of my e-mailers, who seem to assume, in our new communications era, that anything rocketing through cyberspace automatically has the ring of truth — or, more specifically, that anything that squares with their partisan views should be treated as true. Certainly, in the mid-’80s George W. Bush was a notoriously underemployed adult, so perhaps that was sufficient for those who greeted the purported entry with delight.
My first reaction, when I read it, was puzzlement. How had this not been highlighted last May, in the initial news stories about the diaries?
So I went to a bookstore, pulled “The Reagan Diaries” off the shelf, leafed to the date ... and there was nothing about a shiftless ne’er-do-well son. Then I went online, and within seconds, the truth emerged:
Columnist Michael Kinsley learned last spring that he would surface on page 400, where Reagan briefly mentions enjoying an off-the-record lunch with Kinsley and several other journalists. Amused by this news, Kinsley then proceeded, in the New Republic in July 2007, to write a satire in which he made up several Reagan entries, with himself playing a cameo role in each. The Bush passage was one.
Which brings me to the point about slippery factoids on the Internet. There’s an old saying in journalism, and it needs to be honored anew: “If your own mother says she loves you, check it out.”
X Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.