Information or allegations reflecting negatively on individuals or groups seen less sympathetically by the intelligentsia pass rapidly into the public domain with little scrutiny and much publicity. Two of the biggest proven hoaxes of our time have involved allegations of white men gang-raping a black woman– first the Tawana Brawley hoax of 1987 and later the false rape charges against three Duke University students in 2006. In both cases, editorial indignation rang out across the land, without a speck of evidence to substantiate either of these charges. Moreover, the denunciations were not limited to the particular men accused, but were often extended to society at large, of whom these men were deemed to be symptoms or ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ In both cases, the charges fit a pre-existing vision, and that apparently made mundane facts unnecessary. Another widely publicized hoax– one to which the President of the United States added his sub-hoax– was a 1996 story appearing in USA Today under the headline, ‘Arson at Black Churches Echoes Bigotry of the Past.’ There was, according to USA Today, ‘an epidemic of church burning,’ targeting black churches. Like the gang-rape hoaxes, this story spread rapidly through the media. The Chicago Tribune referred to ‘an epidemic of criminal and cowardly arson’ leaving black churches in ruins. As with the gang-rape hoaxes, comments on the church fire stories went beyond those who were supposed to have set these fires to blame forces at work in society at large. Jesse Jackson was quoted was quoted in the New York Times as calling these arsons part of a ‘cultural conspiracy’ against blacks, which ‘reflected the heightened racial tensions in the south that have been exacerbated by the assault on affirmative action and the populist oratory of Republican politicians like Pat Buchanan.’ Time magazine writer Jack White likewise blamed ‘the coded phrases’ of Republican leaders for ‘encouraging the arsonists.’ Columnist Barbara Reynolds of USA Today said that the fires were ‘an attempt to murder the spirit of black America.’ New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said, “The fuel for these fires can be traced to a carefully crafted environment of bigotry and hatred that was developed over the last century.’As with the gang-rape hoaxes, the charges publicized were taken as reflecting on the whole society, not just those supposedly involved in what was widely presumed to be arson, rather than fires that break out for a variety of other reasons. Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam said that society in effect was ‘giving these arsonists permission to commit these horrible crimes.’ The climax of these comments came when President Bill Clinton, in his weekly radio address, said that these church burnings recalled similar burnings of black churches in Arkansas when he was a boy. There were more that 2,000 media stories done on the subject after the President’s address. This story began to unravel when factual research showed that (1) no black churches were burned in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was growing up, (2) there had been no increase in fires at black churches, but an actual decrease over the previous 15 years, (3) the incidence of fires at white churches was similar to the incidence of fires at black churches, and (4) where there was arson, one-third of the suspects were black. However, retractions of the original story– where there were retractions at all– typically were given far less prominence than the original banner headlines and heated editorial comments.