4,000 Jews, 1 Lie

How an idea spread and grew on the Internet.
Oct. 5 2001 8:30 PM

4,000 Jews, 1 Lie

Tracking an Internet hoax.

(Continued from Page 1)

No other media outlet that can be searched through Nexis or Google has confirmed the Information Times claims about Sharon and the five Israelis.

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Within days, the story appeared in newspapers around the world. A remarkably similar version appeared under the byline of Irina Malenko in Russia's Pravda on Sept. 21. Pravda removed the article from its Web site a few hours after posting, calling it a "great and foolish mistake," but it can still be accessed here. On Sept. 21, the Chicago Tribune reported that a Pakistani paper, which it did not name, had published a similar account. In his Sept. 23 Slate "Dispatch" from Islamabad, Peter Maass reported that a local pro-Taliban politician repeated the 4,000 Jews claim at an anti-U.S. rally. On Sept. 26, Pakistan's Business Recorder printed the story about 4,000 Jews in language almost identical to the original Al-Manar article as a letter to the editor under the name "Hakeem." The same day, the New York Times reported that the allegation had appeared in a newsletter published by an Islamic charity and in lesson plans prepared by Egyptian middle-school teachers. On Oct. 4, the Chicago Tribune spotted the allegation in a Saudi paper, which it did not name. In the Oct. 8 issue of Time, Tim McGirk reported from Pakistan that the story had swept through the country's mosques and Urdu newspapers.

On Sept. 28, USA Today repeated the claim in the context that "Muslims the world over" had tried to pin the attack on Israel. USA Today did not explain the origin of the charge. The Village Voice did the same on Oct. 2. The hoax-debunking site Snopes.com assailed the story, as well. With the Web as a weapon, a lie spreads quickly and easily. With the Web as a corrective tool, the same lie becomes much easier to bat away.

Bryan Curtis is a staff writer for Grantland. Follow him on Twitter.

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