MLK/Bin Laden Quote

[Update at end]

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quotation flashed across the internet yesterday, following the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden. It’s a neat quote. The first time I saw a friend post it on Facebook, I even “liked” it. The problem is that the Reverend King never said it.

Quote magnets, those people who tend to attract false quotations, are nothing new. I’ve mentioned them before here; follow the link to an interview with quotemaster Fred Shapiro on the subject. Mark Twain and Winston Churchill are classic quote magnets; anytime you see a quote attributed to either of those two, your skeptical-meter should peg out. But this false MLK quote is something new.

As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic points out, what’s new about this false quote is the speed with which it was created and circulated. I can find no examples of it before Bin Laden’s death. (I would not be terribly surprised if someone does find an earlier example, but it certainly was not popular at all before yesterday.)

Props must go to whoever created this one. It is a nearly perfect hoax. It certainly is something that King would have said, and the sentiment strikes a chord with those, me included, who firmly believe that this world is a better place with Bin Laden gone, but who get a bit queasy seeing the raucous celebrations of his death. About the only clue that it might not be true is, as McArdle points out, that there is no plausible context that would prompt King to refer to the “loss of thousands.”

(Tip o’ the hat to numerous friends on Facebook.)

UPDATE, 3 May 2011, 7 pm EDT:

McArdle has done some sleuthing and may have tracked the origin of this false quotation down.

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