All lies lead to the truth. For over 20 years, Snopes.com has been the Web's primary bullshit detector and debunker, from death by Pop Rocks to political lies. We need Snopes more than ever. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned talented journalist Rob Walker to explore the history of Snopes and founder David Mikkelson's relentless obsession with, of all things, the truth. From the article:
In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on The Sean Hannity Show to talk about the Donald Trump he has gotten to know—a man defined by “stuff the public never hears.” So he shared an anecdote about the time the billionaire’s limousine broke down, and a random passing couple stopped to help. Later, these Good Samaritans got some surprising news: As a gesture of thanks, Trump had paid off the their home mortgage. “Pretty impressive,” Hannity declared.
But wait a second. Who exactly were these people, and why couldn’t the limo driver just call AAA? Impressive as this anecdote sounds, is it true? Well, what does Snopes say? Founded more than two decades ago, Snopes.com was originally devoted to researching all manner of just-so tales and urban folklore sourced to a friend of a friend, or to no source at all. These days, when readers “submit a rumor” they’d like confirmed or debunked, it’s likely to be a tale tied to current events. And yes, Snopes founder David Mikkelson recognized that “impressive” Trump anecdote immediately.
“That same story had been told for years,” he says. In fact, there’s a Snopes entry—first posted in 1998 and updated as recently as this past May—about its permutations. These rumors of roadside assistance and a generous (but curiously publicity-free) financial “thank you” involve not just Trump (on various routes, sometimes with his first wife Ivana, others with his second wife Marla Maples), but Bill Gates and even Henry Ford, among others. There’s never any corroborating evidence, and nary a peep from the actual do-gooders.
In other words, it’s a classic example of a durable myth—judged “False” by Snopes—-repurposed to fit the moment.
Read more: "How the Truth Set Snopes Free" (WebbyAwards.com)