Some years ago, when I was a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, one of my conservative readers wrote me an e-mail calling me a “crybaby.” This, by itself, was not remarkable. My in-box filled with right-wing invective whenever I wrote a column that had anything positive to say about a Latino immigrant. I’d been called a lot worse, and threatened with physical violence, too. But this missive also came with a forwarded e-mail that contained a list of ten “facts” about illegal immigration. They had been gleaned, the writer said, from the very pages of the newspaper for which I worked. The list began by declaring, “If this doesn’t open your eyes, nothing will.”

The list portrayed California as a state being overrun by criminal “aliens” who were filling up the state’s prisons and hospitals, draining its public-health funds, and transforming the California economy into an unregulated bazaar of cash-earning “illegals.” But it was a work of fiction, and its “facts” had never appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The author, or authors, had assembled the list from a series of widely inflated statistics (numbers doubled, tripled, and in one case multiplied by a factor of three hundred), along with the conjectures and musings of a conservative writer and a completely fabricated “statistical report on undocumented immigrants” credited to a defunct government agency.

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