Those who worked at a newspaper before the dot-com era will remember the barroom bets.
Usually on weekend evenings, often in sports, the phone would ring with someone on the other line wanting to settle a bet before last call. “Who got the final out of the 1967 World Series?” Answer: “Bob Gibson struck out George Scott.”
“Was Babe Ruth Black?” This was a perennial favorite. As far as we can tell, the Babe’s origins are shrouded in mystery, and some of his facial features and social interactions with Black celebrities fueled debate.
Here’s the thing about these bets. They always handed phone to the youngest, most ill-informed and inexperienced person to resolve. The voice on the other line often sounded intoxicated, so it really didn’t matter what you said. All in all, it was a pretty good precursor to today’s internet.
America, right now, resembles an unruly barroom where patrons seem to buy into every tall tale about election maleficence. Here’s a sample of what’s come into our newsroom since Nov. 3:
Real Clear Politics took Pennsylvania out of the Joe Biden column and now considers it a toss-up. This story might originate from a tweet from Rudolph Giuliani. It is false. Tom Bevan, the president of Real Clear Politics, said the website never “called” Pennsylvania for anyone and never changed anything. As of Thursday, Pennsylvania is blue on its dynamic map.
Wisconsin found 112,000 ballots at 3 a.m. that were all for Biden. This is false. Reid Magney, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said all of these were valid ballots received by 8 p.m. on Election Day and were not “found.” Results from a batch of mail-in results were reported at once at around 3 a.m.: 149,520 for Biden and 31,803 for Donald Trump.
In Arizona, Republicans were given Sharpie pens that caused the ink to bleed through and the ballot to be rejected. The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency said this rumor is false.
A “source” inside Dominion Systems, a maker of voting software, claims 100,000 fake ballots were manufactured for Biden in Michigan. This is from a tweet from former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. This is thinly sourced but may originate from an error in the reporting of results on election night, but not the counting of ballots, regarding local voting data in one Michigan county. It was quickly corrected.
Look, this election was heated enough, and close enough, that President Trump and his supporters are entitled to recounts and legal challenges. Some patience is merited as it plays out.
But some common sense and skepticism is also necessary. If you buy into every internet conspiracy, you become less an advocate for the truth and more like a modern equivalent of the foolish guy trying to settle a bar bet at closing time. He never notices that everyone but him is laughing.