The Post interviewed Jim Peterman in Findlay, Ohio about the true and false input he gets about Barack Obama and it’s effect on him.

I. The Marketplace of “Facts”

They see Peterman as an “open-minded” voter, and ponder the deluge of lying “information” about Obama that Peterman faces in his community and on the internet.

Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service.

But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor’s house, at his son’s auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate’s background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

“It’s like you’re hearing about two different men with nothing in common,” Peterman said. “It makes it impossible to figure out what’s true, or what you can believe.”

II. Pervasive Acceptance of Obvious Slander

The awe-inspiring thing is the total coverage the false version achieves in Peterman’s environment.

Here in Findlay, a Rust Belt town of 40,000, false rumors about Obama have built enough word-of-mouth credibility to harden into an alternative biography

Born on the Internet, the rumors now meander freely across the flatlands of northwest Ohio

And one of the major goals of a campaign of bold falsehood is achieved — people are no longer free to choose between Obama and McCain. First they have to choose between the Obama that so many Americans know and are delighted with and the evil fantasy twin invented by propagandists and circulated by hate – or paranoia or laziness.

First, he must pick the version of Obama on which he will stake his vote.

III. Choosing Between Friends and Facts

Does he trust a local newspaper article that details Obama’s Christian faith? Or his friend Leroy Pollard, a devoted family man so convinced Obama is a radical Muslim that he threatened to stop talking to his daughter when he heard she might vote for him?

Does he choose to trust a TV commercial in which Obama talks about his “love of country”? Or his neighbor of 40 years, Don LeMaster, a Navy veteran who heard from a friend in Toledo that Obama refuses to wear an American-flag pin?

That hurts my head. How can you go with a second-hand rumor from someone in Toledo that contradicts all the factual information you could quickly find on-line or in a library or with a few phone calls?

Sorry to say, you do that if you don’t really place too high a priority on getting the straight scoop. You’ve decided that getting the truth about one of the most important decisions of your life is not worth the slight effort it would take – or, more likely, is not worth the discomfort that comes from disagreeing with old neighbors or friends or relatives.

Thus Peterman earns some respect from me when he says that, even though he doesn’t want to support McCain, it’s all so confusing that the best option for him might just be not to vote at all. If you are that confused – and a lot of folks are – then step aside and let those who have done their homework also do the voting.

III. Maybe the Real Problem is Moral

From the article, Findlay does not come across as a microcosm of the USA, but as a very comfortable long-time white community that has not paid a lot of attention to what’s going on in our country and in our world. It’s not where you go to find out what America really thinks. But it is a strong illustration of the serious work the lies are doing.

with their pride came a nasty undercurrent, one that Obama’s candidacy has exacerbated: On College Street, nobody wanted anything to change. What was the story behind the handful of African Americans who had moved into a town that is 93 percent white? Why were Japanese businessmen coming in …

Said Jeanette Collins, a 77-year-old who lives across the street: “All I know for sure about Obama is that we’re not ready for him.”

What’s THAT supposed to mean? “Not ready” for the real man? Or not ready to surrender uninformed comfort and poke the paranoid fantasies?

In the community in which he lives and moves it’s not too surprising that “everyone” is believing the hateful rumors. We all have a strong tendency to please the audience around us, especially if it’s composed of old friends. It’s easier, or at least less difficult to just go with the flow.

But it is still wrong. You are entitled to your own opinions; but you are not really entitled to your own facts, especially on matters that will so directly affect the lives of my grandkids and yours.

Maybe it’s true that one of the greatest freedoms of all is the freedom to seek the truth, and to speak it unashamed if you find it.