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Truth limping after

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The Twin Falls incident that blew up around the world actually went something like this.

On June 2 at the city’s Fawnbrook Apartments, a five year old girl encountered three boys, ages seven, 10 and 14. The older two were natives of Sudan, and the youngest from Iraq. One of the younger two is believed to have physically touched the girl, but the incident mainly seemed to have centered around humiliating her. A video of the incident was shot, police were called and responded soon after. The two older boys were taken into policy custody. Not many more details were released by authorities because records in juvenile cases generally are kept under wraps.

It was a sad event, maybe traumatic for the girl. But compare the facts – laid out clearly by Twin Falls Prosecutor Grant Loebs and Twin Falls law enforcement – with the accounts many people first heard.

For many people, that first report came in the form of a Drudge Report headline, “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” Variations of that headline, with short unsourced stories to match, shot around the Internet for days before reality set in.

To underline it: There were no Syrians involved; no Syrians have even been settled in the Twin Falls area through the (highly controversial) refugee programs. Whether the boys were refugees is not clear (albeit possible). There was no rape. There was not even a knife. The only part of that headline that was true is that the incident purportedly referred to occurred in Idaho.

Since this was a Drudge headline, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected any better. But some actual news organizations picked up on the report and also posted it online, making the situation worse.

According to the Twin Falls Times News, some versions of the story had the boys’ parents celebrating the attack. That wasn’t true either, but it apparently was enough to get at least one of the families involved evicted from their rental residence. There were also loud claims that law enforcement was slow in responding and local authorities were engaging in a coverup. Also not true.

How did this happen? Loebs suggested that “There is a small group of people in Twin Falls County whose life goal is to eliminate refugees, and thus far they have not been constrained by the truth.” Based on the way the story developed and spread, that seems likely.

But let’s expand this a little, because we may be back in this area again.

Please: Don’t be too quick to believe what you hear – especially if it supports your bias.

Or, in the old cautionary aphorism of the professional group Investigative Reporters and Editors: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Okay, maybe the second one was a little harsh: You may already have plenty of good evidence for believing that proposition. But the point is reasonable. At least pause to ask what sources there are for a given piece of information (in the case of at least some of the early articles on the assault, none were cited).

Too much of what you see online, or hear on radio or television simply isn’t true but does have the primary effect of tearing communities apart and turning neighbor against neighbor. Don’t let that happen. Again.

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