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Anatomy of a Rumor

Weekend must-read:Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post tells the intriguing tale of how a 36-year old egghead at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study tried to pierce the mystery of who launched the infamous anonymous email that Barack Obama is a Muslim. While Alex Doonsebury has signed on in the comics page to work for Obama's much ballyhooed website knocking down digital attacks,the Post piece offers the first fully reported case study of the modern political weapon of the viral smear.

The real-life Alex in Mosk's piece is Danielle Allen, a scholar and Barack backer at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, who received the email last January, falsely alerting her to Obama's Manchurian Candidate embrace of Islam. By that point, she discovered, the message had been traveling the far reaches of the Internet galaxy for over a year. And to good effect, at least for his political enemies: Between November 2007 and March of 2008, the number of Americans who believe the Christian Obama is secretly a Muslim increased from 8 to 13 percent, and became a not infrequent reason cited for voting against him in some spring primaries.

Says Allen: "Citizens and political scientists must face the fact that the Internet has enabled a new form of political organization that is just as influential on local and national elections as unions and political action committees. This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment. It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one's accusers."
The full story is here.

Cultural shift:Obama's campaign has remade the rules for political fundraising forevermore, hauling in nearly $300 million to date - much of it in small amounts from internet donors and positioning him to run actively in all 50 states. But two culture clash events this week the Supreme Court's anti-gun control decision and John McCain's formal endorsement of a constitutional ban on gay marriage in California could help the Republican if such issues start to push the shape of the fall campaign back into traditional red state-blue state form.

To be sure, Obama did his best Bill Clinton imitation in trying to finesse both issues, part of his recent ideological shape shifting act in a post-primary run to the center. On gay rights, Obama favors civil unions and equal rights for gays, but says that states should decide whether or not to allow gay marriages. That doesn't, of course, answer the question of where he stands on California's anti-gay marriage measure, which will be on the November ballot. Nor does it explain his head-scratching position on gun control, described as "Delphic" by the New York Times.

If McCain's campaign strategists, who so far seem more inept than any since the smug and smarmy geniuses who ran Michael Dukakis's Snoopy-in-the-Tank effort in 1988, are able to mobilize the gun rights crowd and ignite a modicum of passion for McCain - or at least against Obama -among evangelicals, the Grand Canyon Man could begin to narrow the geographic field of play for November. That would return sharper focus to Midwest battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, generating high anxiety among many Democrats and buyers remorse among those who recall how Hillary Clinton skunked the soon-to-be-nominee on that contentious turf.

DBI alert: Back before the Earth cooled, my seat mate on the Chronicle city desk was Carl Nolte, an old school newspaperman who knows everything there is to know about things like history, geography, weather, whiskey and marine navigation, not to mention writing and cartooning. Nolte dubbed my assignment, which was herding cats in the form of reporters covering Politics, Law and Government beats, as PLAG Editor, in charge, naturally, of the "Plague Desk." Working with his third hand in his spare time, Nolte wielded his editors pencil to dash off designs for covers of a fanciful magazine he called "DBI: The magazine of politics, law and government."

"DBI" stood for "dull but important," which pretty much summed up the stories I was handling. DBI featured headlines like: "Infrastructure: Threat or Menace" and "The Secret World of the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District," or "Up Close and Personal with Regional Planning Superstars" and "Why Everyone's Talking About Waste Water Management."

So here's PLAG Desk props to George Skelton, Sacramento columnist for the Los Angeles Times, whose hard-bitten, throwback style and focus on substantive stuff make him a favorite of the political cognoscenti. Skelton to date is the state's only political scribe to call attention to a terrific study by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council called "Gerrymandering the Vote: How a 'Dirty Dozen' States Suppress as Many as 9 Million Voters" found here. High on the dirty dozen list is the Golden State, where Democratic lawmakers, in league with self-interested incumbents of the other party, have tortured and twisted California's political landscape to the detriment of its governance and its voters. When the deal goes down in November, reapportionment will be the most significant issue on California's ballot.

Clip and take to the polls: Here's a quick rundown on the 11 measures on the fall ballot.

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