Blogs Unearth Dubious Sources

Theories Finger Military for Earthquake, Illness, but Who's Behind these Stories?

by David Kopel

Jan. 3, 2004

Web logs are transforming the media world.

It is because of Web logs that Trent Lott is no longer Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and it is Web logs that are now providing important checks and balances against distortions and errors in the major national media, such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. Here in Colorado, Web logs haven't reshaped the media landscape - yet. Even so, Colorado's best Web logs provide a very useful supplement to your media diet, providing you with news you may never find in the Denver dailies.

So it's time to announce the winners of Colorado Best Web Logs, 2003.

At the top of the heap is Walter in Denver ( ). A good example of Walter at his best was his Dec. 27 item tracking down the current claims that the recent earthquake in Iran was caused by the U.S. military. Walter provided a link to another Web log ( ) that explained that the source of the crackpot earthquake theory (which the Denver dailies wisely ignored) is also the source of another crackpot theory that the Denver dailies have foolishly disseminated.

The second theory, which appeared repeatedly in the Denver dailies last year as if it were an actual fact, involves "depleted uranium" (DU) weapons. "Depleted uranium" (DU) is a form of uranium that has a tiny amount of radioactivity. DU adds density and penetrating power to U.S. army tank ammunition and other ordnance. Conversely, the use of depleted uranium in American armor makes American tanks much less vulnerable to enemy projectiles.

Depleted uranium, being depleted, very slowly emits infinitesimal amounts of radioactive energy, and even that tiny amount of radiation nearly vanishes a few inches away from the DU.

People opposed to use of American military force against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 have claimed that use of depleted uranium is a war crime, and that DU causes Gulf War Syndrome. In 2003, the News ran seven stories involving depleted uranium, and the Post ran 10.

A few of the items - such Penelope Purdy's April 3 column in the Post, and a March 16 article on Gulf War Syndrome by the Post's Kevin Simpson - acknowledged that the toxicity of depleted uranium was scientifically questionable. An April 22 Associated Press story in the News provided the pros and cons on the health controversy.

The papers also ran many stories which included only one-sided allegations against DU, such as an April 4 AP story in the News baldly stating that, "Heavy bombing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War left large deposits of depleted uranium over the (Basra, Iraq) region. Basra and its environs have one of the highest cancer rates in the world, aid agencies report."

The claim about Basra was a bald-faced lie invented by the Saddam propaganda machine.

Actually, there have been many studies of DU - not just from the Pentagon, but also from groups that are hardly supportive of American foreign policy, such as the European Commission and the World Health Organization. The studies have found unanimously that there is no evidence that very small and very weak radioactive energy in DU causes health problems under plausible exposure scenarios.

So what is the source of the DU hysteria - and the source of the equally ridiculous claim that the U.S. military causes earthquakes? The Classical Values Web site traced the theory to Dr. Rosalie Bertell, a Canadian nun who is a preeminent junk scientist specializing in inventing wild claims against the military.

In the News and the Post last year, readers were exposed to fourth-hand accounts of Dr. Bertell's pseudo-science. Thanks to Walter in Denver, readers could follow the chain of Web links, and learn the rest of the story.

Another link by Walter in Denver took us to a Dec. 22 FrontPage Magazine ( interview with U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, in which Tancredo claimed that five towns in the southwestern United States are run by corrupt governments under the control of the drug-smuggling Mexican Mafia. The towns included Compton, Calif., and Douglas, Ariz.

Walter in Denver argued that Tancredo's allegations were plausible, but that Tancredo was dead wrong in blaming the problem on immigration, rather than on drug prohibition. FrontPage Magazine is a major national Web site, and is now run by David Horowitz, the right-wing activist who was the subject of several stories this year in the News and the Post. You might think that the Denver dailies would jump on the story of Tancredo's comments. But you would be wrong to think so, since conservative political magazines simply do not exist on the radar screen of Denver's news editors.

It's not very often that a congressman accuses local governments of being run by foreign organized crime, so whether Tancredo's comments were courageous or preposterous, the Denver dailies should have informed the public about what he said.

Runner-up for best Colorado blog is the aptly named, run by criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt. TalkLeft provides excellent summaries and links to national news stories about the criminal justice system - from the perspective of people who believe that we need more civil liberties and fewer people in prison.

The site provides a consistent critique of the War on Terror, particularly the civil liberties infringements such as the Patriot Act.


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