"I don't normally pass these types of e-mails along, but..."
The "Silly Season" is upon us and so, too, are e-mail chains that begin with phrases along the lines of the one that started this post.
Growing up, I learned about Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. I even enjoyed the music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
But it was only when I started covering political races, in the early-1990s, that I was schooled in the Silly Season, also known as the final stages of an election campaign.
This phase was filled with all manner of dubious accusations, insinuations, and no-holds-barred mud-slinging. Along with my colleagues at The Courier News of Elgin, Ill., I would navigate this terrain with mounting skepticism of "breaking news" as Election Day approached.
Three or four days before the election, we'd halt any kind of "he said, she said" sniping and provide just-the-facts coverage reminding readers who was running, their basic positions, and where voters could cast their ballots.
Now here we are, three weeks away from choosing John McCain or Barack Obama as our next U.S. President, and the national dialogue (OK, "cacophony" is more apt) resembles a fast-paced contest of Ping Pong. Only the white ball has been immersed in so much cow dung.
So next time you get an e-mail that purports to bear actual news (you know, that stuff known as information that we haven't sifted through time and again for the past two years), be extremely leery of its contents.
By the way, one of the most effective ways to spread an untruth is to make it just credible enough, with names, phone numbers, email addresses and ancillary information that "check out" on the surface so that it disarms our skepticism.
Often, a trip to Snopes is all you need to screen a tale's veracity. Be careful, though: Snopes can't do it all, or report on it all.
If you want to help, not harm, the cause of truth, then it often takes time, effort and discernment to weed out the facts from the fiction. Sadly, all three commodities are in short supply, especially during the Silly Season.