When the Legend Becomes Fact, Print the Legend.

Maureen Dowd does not read Talking Points Memo. Exhibit A is today’s column, in which she uses the confrontation between President Obama and Jan Brewer to support her thesis that Obama has a “penchant for getting in tangles with blond politicians on airport tarmacs.” Her evidence:

On Wednesday, Obama had another bristly tarmac moment with Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, who met Air Force One when the president landed in Phoenix. The toxic dominatrix of illegal immigration, the woman who turned every Latino in her state into a suspect, was flustered and gesticulating at the president as he put his hand on her arm to chill her out. Brewer complained afterward that she had felt “unnerved” and “a little bit threatened” by Obama and that he had walked away while she was in midsentence.

The problem is, by Thursday this narrative was already shaky. Mayor Scott Smith, who accompanied Brewer on the tarmac, told Nick Martin that contra Brewer, Obama “simply began talking to the other two elected officials who were there to greet him.”

Then on Friday, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (who was also on the tarmac) confirmed Smith’s story. Obama not only wasn’t “bristly”, per Dowd, “[h]e wasn’t tense at all.”

Why do I bother pointing this out? Particularly during Presidential campaigns, this nonsense so easily metastasizes into a factoid, Norman Mailer’s term for “an item of unreliable information that is repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.”

Al Gore is a notorious cautionary tale. By the time George Bush took office, this was accepted wisdom:

…Al Gore said he’d invented the Internet; announced that he had personally discovered Love Canal, the most infamous toxic-waste site in the country; and bragged that he and Tipper had been the sole inspiration for the golden couple in Erich Segal’s best-selling novel Love Story (made into a hit movie with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal).

Of course, none of this was true. But thanks in no small part to an unquestioning press — led, in fact, by Dowd herself — voters swallowed it whole. There’s no reason to make the same mistake twice.