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The Hoax Museum Blog
Hoaxes, mischief, and misinformation throughout history
Status: HoaxA reporter for Inside Bay Area (I don't know his name... it's not given with the article) recently recounted how his granddaughter told him that the bear on the California flag was originally supposed to be a pear. Back in 1846, Capt. Jedediah Bartlett, leader of a band of rebels fighting against the Mexican authorities in California, supposedly drew up a flag for the future state. He thought a pear, as a symbol of the region's agriculture, would be a fitting symbol. But his instructions were misread and the flagmaker inserted a bear on the flag instead of a pear. The error was never rectified.
The Inside Bay Area reporter was a little suspicious when he heard this story, but he did some fact-checking, discovered the story was true, and shared this with his readers. What he should also have told his readers was that his fact-checking consisted simply of finding the story listed as true on Snopes and therefore assuming it had to be true. Two weeks later he was forced to admit his error. The story is not true. The California bear was not originally a pear.
In his mea culpa the reporter offered this excuse: "I decided to recount it when I checked a Web site that purports to investigate urban myths to determine their validity. The Web site pronounced it 'True.' So I passed it along. Bad idea."
In other words, he seems to be blaming his error on Snopes. What the guy doesn't seem to realize is that the Pear/Bear story is one of a handful of deliberately false stories that Snopes has on its site (it calls them Lost Legends), placed there precisely to trip up people who are too lazy to do thorough fact-checking. Snopes explains this if you click on the "More information about this page" link at the bottom of the Pear/Bear story (something the reporter evidently still has not gotten around to doing). Journalists should be proud to call this guy one of their own.