Thursday, January 13, 2005

Debunking Internet Legends

Yesterday, I decided to take a quick break from my usual duties perusing tens of thousands of Confidential AEO documents, when I simultaneously received two emails. The first from my wife (jawbitch) and the second from the Librarian announcing that the Lexis research representative was here to offer free research assistance. My wife's email contained a popular Internet legend concerning the so-called "Stella" awards, named after the elderly woman who burnt the soft tissue between her legs with a hot cup o' joe from some other famous clown's store. You probably heard of it.

First, I tracked down the source of the story from jawbitch's Cali friend to this Ventura Co. Star article reproduced on Google

Then, I visited the Lexis rep and hit the keys. We researched, and here's the result, in an email to the columnist:

Dear Chuck:

This email is an invoice for $310 -- the time I spent researching the purported cases you published in the subject Ventura Co. Star article. I received an email containing your article, and I could not believe that journalists would not even bother to check whether the stories they hear are true. I researched the plaintiff's listed in your article on Lexis. There are no jury verdicts attributed to any of the plaintiff's you list in your article. There are no published decisions containing these litigants.

Furthermore, I took the extra step of checking whether there was any court dockets in any judicial forum anywhere in the United States for any personal injury cases involving any of the plaintiffs you name. I assure you, there are none. It took me a single hour to learn all this, but I don't come cheap, as the $310 the rate my firm bills me out per hour.

You should know that the First Amendment empowers the people by providing for a free press, but in light of recent events, journalists should at least check their sources. Whether they choose to divulge them or stay in jail is their choice, and not the subject of this correspondence. As I have done the checking for you, you should pay my bill. That would be an appropriate punishment for your irresponsible behavior.