It’s hardly breaking news that the internet is not a 100% reliable source, but when a rumor seems just perfect for the point you want to make … be suspicious. (More)

I find lots of information on the internet. Some of it is important, some of it useful, some of it fun. I mean, who would have guessed that a sea otter can play basketball?

I know, I know. I otter have known. And you otter get a better joke.

For example, you could send an email to a staffer for a Republican senator who is claiming Chuck Hagel may have taken money from terrorist-related organizations and ask for specific names and dates. You might include a joke, such as asking if the senator has evidence that Hagel gave a speech to the “Junior League of Hezbollah, in France” or the “Friends of Hamas.”

Your none-too-veiled point being: you’ll write about evidence, but you won’t join in a baseless smear campaign because you’re a principled, professional journalist. Then a day or two later you discover that your pointed joke is the hottest new element in that baseless smear campaign. Oops.

It’s not your fault. You’re dealing with the kind of people who – when you see what’s happening and say “Um, I made that up. That group doesn’t exist. It was a joke!” – will then say you confirmed their story.

The logic goes like this. Their smear didn’t actually allege that Chuck Hagel took money from a group called “Friends of Hamas.” Instead, their smear said people were asking if Hagel took money from “Friends of Hamas.” And you just admitted that you asked that exact question – skipping the part where you said you made up the group as a pointed joke – so you confirmed that … people were asking.

If that logic seems as twisted as that otter swimming, you’re being unfair to the otter. If he twisted himself as much as that logical chain, his trainers would need weeks to get the knots out of his spine.

There’s also a rumor flying around Twitter and elsewhere that NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre avoided the Vietnam War with a diagnosis of mental illness. Most of the claims refer to a website reference that purports to give details: “Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association – did not serve (apparently pulled lottery #97 in 1969 as a campus radical at SUNY-Albany, but weaseled out by getting a family doctor to claim he had a nervous disorder).” But there is no other evidence that LaPierre ever attended SUNY-Albany, as a campus radical or otherwise. He received a BA in education from Siena College, then went to Boston College for an MA in government, and then into lobbying.

Other claims cite to this Joy-Ann Reid article at the Miami Herald, but she gives no source and claims only that LaPierre “allegedly” received a “medical deferment,” with no mention of mental illness. The Belleville News-Democrat‘s Roger Schleuter wrote in February that LaPierre received college deferments, but he gave no source either. Snopes.com judge the mental illness rumor “undetermined” and are still researching it. Did LaPierre avoid the Vietnam War? Yes, absolutely. But I’ve found no evidence that he was ever diagnosed with a mental illness.

It took me most of the morning to find these sources, in part because I had to sift out all of the sites parroting the rumors. That gets frustrating. At one point Chef told me to break my diet and eat a macadamia to calm down. Or maybe that was breakfast. I don’t remember. The point is, it’s not always easy to fact-check internet rumors.

But we should do it anyway, especially if a rumor seems just perfect for the point we’d like to make. Like Chuck Hagel, nominated for Secretary of Defense and pilloried for a negative comment about Israel, giving a speech to a group called “Friends of Hamas.” Or Wayne LaPierre, who says our problem isn’t guns but mental illness, getting a Vietnam deferment for a mental illness.

When a rumor is that rhetorically convenient, I want to play basketball with that otter. At least then if I smell something fishy, I’ll know it otter be food.

Good day and good nuts.