There are serious logical problems posed by any attempt to prove conclusively that a person does not (or did not) exist. No matter how many searches fail to prove the existence of someone, that failure does not negate the person’s possible existence. However, when a specific person’s specific occupation or background are made relevant as they are here, it is possible to disprove such a person’s occupation or background, simply by the absence of official records. (For example, if someone claims to be a Navy SEAL, that claim can be verified or debunked, and there are websites devoted to doing just that.)
The burden of proof, though, normally falls on those asserting that the person exists. In the case of George Harleigh, virtually all quotations and references to him originate with Doug Thompson, a self-described journalist ["newspaperman"] who runs the Capitol Hill Blue web site. — Eric –Where’s George? And Where’s Doug? (Classical Values)
I was looking in my server logs and noticed this post from Classical Values is driving some traffic to an old blog entry of mine, about Doug Thompson (of Capitol Hill Blue) admitting that he has been mistakenly publishing quotations — for 20 years — from a well-placed source (Terry Wilkinson) that he says turned out to be a hoax. At the time I applauded him for admitting that he made a mistake, though questioned the ethics of erasing the tainted stories (rather than leaving them up with a disclaimer, or at least a notice that says they’ve been edited to remove references to an unverified source).
Now it seems that another of Thompson’s sources, “George Harliegh” might be a fake too. I used Google to search Capitol Hill Blue for “George Harleigh,” and found scores of hits; but I clicked on a handful of those links and found no reference to Harleigh on those pages. Capitol Hill Blue’s main search engine returns zero hits for “Harleigh,” but a search of the Capital Hill Blue forums returns nine references to “Harleigh”.
Commenters on Thompson’s website report that they found no reference to a George Harleigh in academic databases.
Harleigh, who has been identified by Thomson as a retired political science professor who worked in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, has been providing quotes that are deeply critical of George W. Bush. Quotes that originally appeared on Capitol Hill Blue are reproduced all over the internet (Google returned over 30,000 quotes), but Thompson seems to be the only source for quotes by Harleigh.
Did you hear that Bush called the Constitution “just a goddamned piece of paper”? I’ve seen that all over the blogosphere. But the only source for that claim is Capitol Hill Blue, as Thompson notes in an article called “In the end, all we have is the truth.”
One of things that make you go “hmmm…”
Update, 22 July: Doug Thompson apologizes and quits Capitol Hill Blue.