A vibrant example of how the political rumor mill has led to false legitimacy from the fair & balanced news media to the halls of Congress and made its way across the country. It is truly amazing how inaccurate statements, or outright lies, can morph into accepted, yet unchecked, fact. This is a disappointing commentary on the state of journalism and public acceptance of anything without verification.
It was a blood-boiler of a story, a menacing tale of government gone too far: The Environmental Protection Agency was spying on Midwestern farmers with the same aerial “drones” used to kill terrorists overseas.
This month, the idea has been repeated in TV segments, on multiple blogs and by at least four congressmen. The only trouble is, it isn’t true.
It was never true. The EPA isn’t using drone aircraft — in the Midwest or anywhere else.
The hubbub over nonexistent drones provides a look at something hard to capture in American politics: the vibrant, almost viral, life cycle of a falsehood. This one seems to have been born less than three weeks ago, in tweets and blog posts that twisted the details of a real news story about EPA inspectors flying in small planes.
This is the part that’s true: For more than a decade, EPA inspectors have flown over farmland in small private planes — the traditional kind of aircraft, with people inside them. The inspectors are looking for clean-water violations, like dirty runoff or manure dumped into a stream.
The EPA says the flights are legal, under a 1986 Supreme Court decision. And they’re cheap: An on-the-ground inspection might cost $10,000, but it costs just $1,000 to $2,500 to survey the same farm by air. An agency spokesman said these flights are not happening more frequently now than in the past.