Commentary: Media climate made Sparkman's hoax easy

The Lexington Herald-LeaderNovember 25, 2009 

In a media environment where the public seems to prefer ideology, opinion, speculation and outrage over fact and reason, Bill Sparkman seemed to think he could find plenty of suckers.

He was right.

Authorities said Tuesday that their investigations had determined the part-time Clay County census worker committed suicide in an elaborate ruse to cash in two life insurance policies worth $600,000.

Sparkman wanted to make it look as if he was murdered by an anti-government zealot, authorities said. So he stripped naked, hanged himself from a tree, taped his Census badge to his head and wrote "FED" across his chest with a black marker.

News reports of Sparkman's death in September were quickly seized upon by the national media's talking heads. Not many facts were available, but that didn't matter.

To left-wing bloggers and talk show hosts, this seemed like the perfect example of what can happen when right-wing bloggers and talk show hosts — not to mention public officials — preach anti-government rhetoric.

Even some reporters, who should have known better, used speculation about Sparkman's death as an opportunity to exploit other themes and stereotypes. If it wasn't anti-government crazies who killed Sparkman, maybe it was drug dealers or moonshiners.

To read the complete column, visit The Lexington Herald-Leader.

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