Arizona Blogger Fingered as Source of "Persistent Falsehoods" on Healthcare Reform

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An Arizona blogger is having a "Joe the Plumber" moment.

He's not quite Joe the Plumber -- but a local blogger named Peter Fleckenstein is still in the midst of something akin to his 15 minutes of fame. And as Joe the Plumber would learn, that's both a good thing and a bad thing.

For one thing, he's famous.

For another, he's getting attacked.

Now, we'd never heard of Fleckenstein (despite being a regular reader of some of the bigger conservative blogs in town). But he's apparently a Phoenix-based father of two with close to 7,000 followers on Twitter -- and the New York Times thinks he's responsible for some of the most "persistent falsehoods" in the health care debate.

The Times story, which you can read online here, ran in its hugely influential Sunday edition. It basically accuses Fleckenstein of being at the center of a vast, public-option hating conspiracy.

As reporter Michael Mason wrote,

Ever wonder how some of the most persistent falsehoods about health care legislation keep re-incubating? Look no further than a scary memo that's been landing in e-mail inboxes nationwide. Apparently based in part on the colorful tweets of a conservative blogger in Arizona, the e-mail purports to be a page-by-page, section-by-section dissection of the House health care bill. But according to two independent fact-checking organizations, most of its allegations are false.

Ouch!

As it turns out, Fleckenstein's fame comes, in part, from a story in the Denver Post called "One Man's Criticisms of Health Reform Stir the Debate." (The Times linked to the story in its online edition, though it didn't name Fleckenstein in print.)

But while Fleckenstein mostly liked the Post story (you can read his response here), he's already being subject to the kind of scrutiny that turned up the-Joe-the-Plumber-doesn't-have-a-plumbing-license story. A reporter at the Houston Chronicle wrote a story claiming that Fleckenstein is not really a Marine, despite his claims. That story, it now turns out, is demonstrably false; the Chronicle was forced to correct it.

We were curious to get Fleckenstein's take on his newfound notoriety, but couldn't find a property listing anywhere in Maricopa County or a phone number anywhere, even using the expensive service we use to find people who don't want to be found. (Odd, yes, but not unheard of.) As best we could tell, Fleckenstein's Web site doesn't have a "contact us" function; other reporters appear to have contacted him through Twitter. Sadly, we're the last reporter in America who refuses to Twitter, and while we may eventually break down and set up an account, we're not quite there yet.

Based on his Web site, though, we suspect Fleckenstein is still having a pretty good time of it. Our first clue? Right there on the front page is an "Inform on Me" button that lets you rat out anything about Fleckenstein's message that "seems fishy" directly to the White House. These are angry times; we're happy to see someone is having some fun around here.

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