Truth Or Fiction?

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By: Charles Bowen

Cyberspace has always had paranoid tenancies. However, since the start of America’s war of international terrorism, everyone’s e-mail has become swamped with warnings about everything from new viruses to anthrax in the holiday candy. Not only that, anyone who answers a newsroom telephone knows that frazzled readers are wanting to know if whatever they’ve just heard is a hoax or a legitimate concern.

So, how can we sort out the truth from the fiction? Go online. A site called can be your first stop after getting a scary e-mail about something that sounds like a new urban legend or a phony plea for money. The site is dedicated to checking out rumors, inspirational stories, virus warnings, and all the rest. Think of it as your personal Truth Squad.

And the man behind the site is an expert in the world of hoaxes. For more than 30 years, Dr. Rich Buhler has been tracking down urban legends and widespread rumors. He is best known as host of a nationally syndicated, daily radio talk show that was broadcast from Los Angeles for 15 years. He also held positions with CBS and Westinghouse in California and his articles on urban legends have appeared in assorted magazines and newspapers. Online, his site offers quick information on warnings, offers, requests for help, and related material that is frequently circulated by e-mail.

Visit the site at, where you will find summaries of the latest stories researched by the staff, each classified in one of several categories:

* Truth, meaning the staff has found reliable, first-hand sources willing to vouch for the validity of the story.

* Fiction, signifying the staff found reliable sources who know the story is false. It also can mean the site classifies a story as a long-standing, well-known urban legend with a conspicuous lack of evidence.

* Reported to be Truth (or Fiction). This means the staff found a source for the story whose credibility is either not known or is questionable.

* Unproven. For stories in the category, the staff has found no satisfactory source to confirm or deny.

* Truth & Fiction. This means part of the story is factual, but other parts are not.

* Previous Truth Now Ended (or Now Resolved). In this category goes stories that were once true — such as an urgent request for help — but now are outdated, such as with the end of a project.

* Disputed. This classification means there are, says the site, “good people on both sides of a controversy or claim” and the site makes no judgment as to who is right.

Accompanying most of the capsule summaries of the stories is a “click here” link for retrieving more details.

Other considerations for using Truth or Fiction in your writing and editing:

1. A Search button on the top of the site’s pages provides a quick way to sift through the extensive resources. In a resulting data entry box, type a word or two as a search query. Don’t use quotation marks. Keep it simple. Single-word queries worked best.

2. A navigation bar along the left column of the introductory page provides other ways to research the material. A useful “New and Updated” link at the top takes you to the freshest queries. Lower on the column are specific topics you can browse, such as animals, aviation, celebrities, education, food and drink, government, insects and reptiles, inspirational, Internet and computers, military, politics, viruses, and warnings

3. And for columnists looking for ideas, check out the link to the site’s “Anatomy of a Rumor,” a fascinating insight into where “eRumors” come from and how they spread.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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