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    Have you heard the latest about the secret ingredient in Coca Cola? Whatever it is, the Chinese have found it superior to ground rhinoceros horn for stimulating virility in men over 90. Never mind if what you hear doesn’t fit the facts, a robust lie can make or break reputations and can affect the operations of an entire corporation.

    The history of business is littered with incidents in which the truth was flattened and forgotten under the steamroller of a juicy lie. If you doubt the potency of “pertinent information”—-the heady stuff that distorts and disguises, with moral certitude, anything that even resembles the truth—-remember what Norman Mailer said, “Facts are worth nothing without the nuances.”

    Even before the recent Russian micro-targeting of lies on social media, the softest whispers caused agony to such corporate giants such as McDonalds and Wendy’s, who had to deny accusations that they used worms and kangaroo meat fillers in their burgers. That story was quickly quashed when the public was informed that both worms and kangaroos are costlier than beef.

    Shortly thereafter, K-Mart had to convince customers that although their sweaters were imported from Taiwan, they were not laced with hatching baby snakes, and no one had been bitten by anything worse than the price. Hot on the heels of those rumors, Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to assure patrons that neither regular or crispy rats had been added to the menu. Any logical person would recognize that no corporation would add a new product line without proper advertising.

    Of course, all of this pales with the barrage of politically shady divisive untruths seen by over 10 million people on Facebook. It is now certain that  these ads had been placed  by Russian linked accounts to affect our election. In recent years, gossip and downright lies have gone viral on everyones’ electronic devices. Audiences have been targeted by fabricated news, and many people have trouble digging the truth out of the muck.

    On the bright side, both electronic and paper subscriptions to newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have gone way up, because people still trust those news stories and reporters. This is helpful in urban areas. Unfortunately, rural audiences get most of their news from radio, television and Facebook.

    Happily, the truth always has a way of coming out in the long run, but sometimes that is a pretty long run especially when the technological cloud bursts and we become drenched with bogus information.

    So, it behooves all of us to be wary. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify.”  I would add, “Be careful who you trust.”

    Esther Blumenfeld (Based on “Rumor Takes All,” Coffee Break Column, Blumenfeld and Alpern, Business Atlanta Magazine, June 1986) c. Blumenfeld

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