Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"Look at this," I said, pointing. "Pregnant dachshund gives birth to three singing chipmunks, two of whom claim to be Elvis Presley."
My friend, the King of Rational Thought, took the bait and actually glanced in the direction of the supermarket tabloids as we made our way through the line.
"Hmm," he said as he read the real headlines, "I think you may need glasses. However, your creativity is admirable."
"OK, I made it up," I said, paying for our mid-afternoon snack of crackers and cheese. "But you'll have to admit, it's not all that different than those headlines or some of the rumors that circulate around these days."
"An interesting subject," he said thoughtfully as we headed for the door.
"Pregnant dachshunds?"
"No," he laughed. "Rumors. Consider this. How do you know something is true?"
I looked at him. "Like how do I know this marvelous repast just cost me $6.43? Because I paid for it."
"True," he said. "You got the information through your five senses. Call that primary information. But what about information from an external source? What if someone came to you and told you something? Like your headline. What would you have to do in order to determine whether it was true?"
"Well, I'd have to check it out. I'd have to ask the person questions. I'd have to determine if he or she is reliable, trustworthy, and accurate about reporting events. I'd have to gather outside facts, look for corroborating information, ask others who may have seen the dachshund."
"To be perfectly honest," I concluded, "I'd probably have to interview the singing chipmunks in order to be satisfied."
We took refuge from the supermarket bustle at a nearby park table and began the delightful process of consuming my recent expenditure.
"So you would need to do a thorough investigation if you received information from an outside party?" he said, spreading brie on a cracker.
"Of course."
"And you'd need to look at all the available evidence before reaching a conclusion?"
"And you wouldn't leap to a conclusion until you had done all of that?"
I finished a bite and said, "I hope not. I suppose it would depend on how important the information was or whether I was interested. But in important matters, I would certainly do that."
"And would you classify criminal trials as important matters?"
"Well of course."
"How about national ones involving famous people?"
I started to take a bite and my teeth stopped in mid-air as I saw what he was saying.
He didn't wait for a reply. "You see, most people make conclusions on insufficient or unreliable information. A bit of gossip here, some loosely reported information there. Pretty soon, people decide - sometimes vehemently - that so-and-so is innocent or guilty. Yet if someone did not witness a crime - be it murder, alleged sexual misconduct, or whatever - and has not objectively and rationally examined the evidence, how can he or she have any opinion about it at all? The 'opinion' is nothing more than a fantasy, probably emotionally-based. But emotions don't count. It's the facts we need."
"By the way," he concluded, "this need to thoroughly investigate applies to gossip as well."
I ate quietly, thinking about what he had said.
He ate for awhile too, then asked, "So. Do you think he's actually innocent or guilty?"
I spread one final chunk of the creamy ambrosia onto a cracker. "I think," I replied carefully, "that I don't have enough facts to pretend to know."
He smiled.