WASHINGTON - Import-brand car companies and their dealers are getting a painful lesson in the power of the Internet to disseminate falsehoods as well as truth.
Anonymous e-mail messages claiming most import-brand automakers did not contribute anything to Sept. 11 relief funds surfaced soon after the terrorist attacks. Seven months later, the messages continue to spread.
In at least a few instances, the claim has been repeated by traditional media outlets. The allegation has appeared in columns or letters published by newspapers in Shreveport, La., and Pottstown, Pa., and was mentioned in a radio advertisement by a Pontiac dealer near Charlotte, N.C.
Missouri state Sen. Harold Caskey, a Democrat, has cited the allegation as a rationale for his measure chastising the Missouri Department of Transportation for buying Toyotas.
"It has become more invidious over time," said Jeffrey Smith, senior manager of corporate affairs for American Honda Motor Co.
He said he has no evidence that the misinformation is affecting Honda sales but said it hurts the company's dealers and employees.