[FOUNTAIN]Rumor mill in overdrive

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[FOUNTAIN]Rumor mill in overdrive

"What's behind it?" Koreans often say whenever there is a suspicion raised about an incident or political news. It doesn't matter whether the news is about a domestic incident or an international one. Rumors of conspiracy concerning the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York still continue after more than a year.

Some say the U.S. government set up the whole situation to increase the popularity of President Bush. Others say the event was a result of pressure from the U.S. munitions companies, or an action designed to force a U.S. takeover of oil resources in the Middle East. "An organized war," they say. The rumors are crazy, but they persist.

Locally, suspicions about bribery and sex scandals always intrude, even in announcing "top-10" lists of books, films or songs. Rumors of conspiracies in politics just a month ahead of the presidential election are rife.

From statements of doubt such as "How can that be possible?" to strong denials like "How can he do such things?" or affirmative attitudes like "I knew he would do that," rumors of conspiracy provoke many different responses.

The X Files are at work. The popular TV program makes the impossible seem plausible. Small pieces of evidence lead to amazing truths.

One of the best examples of rumors of political conspiracy was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are hundreds of suspicions related to his death, one of them including an argument by the supporters of the president's brother Robert Kennedy. They say it was conspirators paid by Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, who shot Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Johnson's supporters had other, equally wacky theories.

Rumors of a conspiracy are always sweet. Anybody can be seduced by a story. If a person holds power and is a leader, others raise new suspicions to check his power. And since there is no substance, the stories often spread fast and get blown out of all proportion. Nobody gets punished for them, so new rumors are produced and enhanced. Rumors spread quickly when the country is in turmoil and the Internet has been blamed for fueling the rumor mill.

Recent conspiracy theories related to Korean presidential candidates are difficult even to tally up. Politicians who spread these rumors think the citizens have insufficient intellectual ability to gauge the truth. It is difficult to avoid getting angry when we see them underestimating the intellect of our voters.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Choi Chul-joo

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