[FOUNTAIN]Truth and Its Three Impostors

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[FOUNTAIN]Truth and Its Three Impostors

While Koreans were visiting their hometowns during the Chuseok holidays as if pilgrims, the rest of the world remained busy. The United States has made full preparations for its war with Afghanistan and NATO formally invoked its mutual-defense clause Tuesday for the first time in its history. On the same day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair bluntly warned Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, "Surrender the terrorists or surrender power."

Still, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, remain unknown. After a Pakistani newspaper reported Tuesday that Mr. bin Laden seemed to have hidden in the Pamir Mountains, the Guardian, a British paper, reported that he had been witnessed in Kabul. Previously, there had been reports that he had already escaped from Afghanistan. Nobody knows which of these reports may be true. Still, the media continue to produce eye-catching news every day. There is no big difference between tabloids and prestigious newspapers.

There is a saying that truth is the first victim of a war, meaning that as speculation and rumors fly, the truth disappears. In particular, information is manipulated in order to turn the war to one side's advantage.

True information is always surrounded by three kinds of pseudo-information: misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.

Misinformation is wrong or faulty information. Disinformation is deliberately manipulated falsehood. The two may sound similar, but they differ in that misinformation is based on erroneous or wrong knowledge and is value-neutral, while disinformation is produced with clear intentions to mislead.

The original meaning of propaganda was the systematic spreading of ideas and information based on truth. Today, the word carries a negative connotation suggesting demagogy because of Paul Joseph Goebbels, the master propagandist of the Nazi regime.

Now, as the United States is readying itself for a war against terrorism, citizens across the world are inundated with the three sorts of pseudo-information. The more they are exposed to it, the more confused they will get.

Koreans, moreover, are distracted by rumors and misinformation concerning the so-called "Lee Yong-ho-gate," a financial scandal involving a businessman, politicians and ranking government officials. As soon as the Chuseok holidays are over, new suspicions are said to be cropping up. Most rumors about Mr. bin Laden are turning out to be wrong or misinformation. In contrast, it does not take long before most of the talk of the town in Korea is confirmed as truth.

The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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