On Dec. 22, the Scottish newspaper the Daily Record published an article summarizing an interview its reporter Siobhan Synnot had with the superstar actor Will Smith. Near the end of the highly laudatory piece, the reporter wrote: "Remarkably, Will believes everyone is basically good" and immediately cited the actor saying: "Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'Let me do the most evil thing I can do today,'" said Will. "I think he woke up in the morning and, using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good.'"
What Will Smith said is probably true. Most of history's great evils were committed by people who somehow convinced themselves that the evil they did was really good. This is hardly a new problem. As the Prophet Hosea said 2,700 years ago, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Hosea 4:6).
Some years ago, I made a video on goodness ("For Goodness Sake") with the director David Zucker in which I said almost the same thing word for word, that few people who do evil wake up in the morning saying, "Ah, another day to do evil."
Yet, Will Smith, making the same point, was quoted around the world as saying that he thinks that Hitler was a good person.
Every Hollywood and celebrities Internet site I checked – about 30 – headlined that "Will Smith thinks Hitler was a 'good' person" (note that 'good' was put in quotation marks as if the headline was accurately quoting Smith).
And most then opened their phony report with this: "U.S. actor Will Smith has stunned fans by reportedly declaring that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was essentially a 'good' person."
A complete fabrication.
Smith reacted to what he correctly called "an awful and disgusting lie" and denounced Hitler as "a vile, heinous vicious killer responsible for one of the greatest acts of evil committed on this planet." At that point, Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, announced, "We welcome and accept Will Smith's statement that Hitler was a 'vicious killer' and that he did not mean for his remarks about the Nazi leader to be mistaken as praise." That was good and necessary. But, like the irresponsible blogs, the ADL leader characterized Smith's original statement this way: "Unfortunately, in citing Hitler in what appears to be a positive context, Smith stirred up a hornet's nest on the Internet, where hate groups and anti-Semites latched on to the remark and praised it."
What is to be learned? The lessons are simple:
1. Don't trust a website that doesn't cite a reputable source for a news item (opinions columns have different standards).
2. Then, check that source.
3. Don't trust headlines in newspapers – read the entire column.
4. When a person is quoted, read his original statement in context.
In the meantime, however, millions of people around the world will continue to believe the lie that Will Smith said that Hitler was a good man.
And the media will, apparently, pay no price.
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