Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is what happens

Yesterday, I was shooting the sh-t with a gal friend of mine about some politics and whatnot. She was saying how she didn't really like Hillary Clinton all that much and gave me some fairly perceptive reasons.

I asked her what she thought about Barack Obama. She said she liked him but had reservations...

Like what?

"Did you know that he's a practicing Muslim?"

I died a little bit on the inside as she finished the question.

How could this happen? How could this lie have gone so far?

My friend is not stupid. She's not exactly politically inclined or informed, but she's not stupid. She's rational and capable and smart. She's also extremely good looking but that's neither here nor there.

She saw that her comment upset me.

"It's not like it's a big deal. I think it would make a great statement to elect a Muslim President."

So so frustrating. I kept my cool and explained that the "Obama is a practicing Muslim" line was a lie perpetuated by the right that has festered on the internet for a real long time.

Mr. Obama, rather, is the most spiritual Christian amongst the Democratic contenders. In fact, he probably invokes the Bible more than any other candidate for President on either side of the aisle, save Huckacrazy.

Yet, not long after Mr. Obama announced his candidacy, one usual suspect tried out an unsubstantiated and vile attack strategy:

I know, I was SHOCKED too. The story dropped a year ago. Here's another transcript of Fox News coverage.

Their reports cited Insight Magazine, a subsidiary of the Washington Times, which is in turn owned by the Unification Church. The Unification Church is a sect founded in the 1940s in Korea. It has a conservative agenda and, again, have acquired the Washington Times and its subsidiaries.

This New York Times piece described how the story spread quickly to other popular conservative media outlets.

Now Insight Magazine has pointed out that the crux of their piece was not an investigation into Mr. Obama's childhood. Instead, they were merely reporting what was dug up by Hillary Clinton's dirty tricks team.

Mrs. Clinton, for her part, virulently denied that allegation, saying the story was a hitjob on both candidates.

I tend to believe her, given that Insight got its start slinging muddy allegations against her husband. But it doesn't matter, I'm not discussing that angle.

CNN, amazingly, saw the story reported on Fox News and actually sent a reporter to the school in Indonesia that Mr. Obama attended as a young boy:

But reporting by CNN in Jakarta, Indonesia and Washington, D.C., shows the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa to be false. CNN dispatched Senior International Correspondent John Vause to Jakarta to investigate.

He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971.

"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."

Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.

Meanwhile, both Senators Clinton and Obama condemned the Insight story and its subsequent coverage as a hit job, etc.

Fox "corrected" the story later. Insight Magazine did not:

In an interview Sunday, Mr. Kuhner, 37, said he still considered the article, which he said was meant to focus on the thinking of the Clinton campaign, to be “solid as solid can be.” But he declined to say whether he had learned the identity of his reporter’s sources, and so perhaps only that reporter knows the origin of the article’s anonymous quotes and assertions. Its assertions about Mr. Obama resemble rumors passed on without evidence in e-mail messages that have been widely circulated over the last several weeks.

And so the media world turned and turned. Britney Spears threw a baby against a wall or something, John Edwards got a hair cut for an unelectable amount of money, and a good-looking white woman went missing.

The various incantations of the lie that Senator Obama is a Muslim or a terrorist or something went back to the cesspool that is the right-wing online rumor mill.

And then we all went on and had a glorious campaign season, right?

Unfortunately, no.

Fanatical whisper artists continued to perpetuate totally make-believe stories about Mr. Obama's childhood, his connection to Islam, etc. One even left a comment on this little website. If they were here, they were everywhere, spreading the lie on bulletin boards and as comments on mainstream sites all over the internet. Those rumors, of course, never were given any kind of caveat explaining that it was just opposition research from the Clinton team or that the rumors were false...

Obama, after his original debunking of the Insight story, largely let the thing languish. I imagine his rationale must have been something along the lines of:

If I bring it up to deny it, it'll give the story more traction than if I just let the whack jobs waste their breath...

Unfortunately, that clearly was an inoperable strategy.

The lie has persisted in its existence. The lie has grown in size. The lie has spread in reach.

At a few campaign stops, Mr. Obama has addressed the rumor, but clearly did not want to keep bringing it up for the news. There were signed letters on from clergy testifying to Obama's faith in Iowa.

Now, in South Carolina, with just days before the big Feb. 5th primary that could determine the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama has been forced to confront the lie campaign forcefully.

But for every rational explanation he gives about the sincerity of his commitment to Christian faith, there is another headline that says

"Obama confronts Muslim rumors"


"Obama says he's not a Muslim"

Headlines which, though I have no way of knowing, are probably just as damaging as the original malicious chain emails that have perpetuated all this.

Dick Polman ran a piece today about a mostly unrelated line of attacks against Barack Obama that this time have come from the Clinton campaign. It has to do with this thing he said about Ron Reagan having good political timing. Oyster debunks it as well as anybody.

I bring up that article because Mr. Polman closes it with a famous story about Lyndon Johnson's early political career:

This is the grist of politics as usual, and it brings to mind the old story about how Lyndon Johnson clawed his way to a Senate seat back in 1948. While systematically tarring his rival, fellow Democrat Coke Stevenson, the young LBJ said it might be a fine idea to spread the rumor that ole Coke was fond of having carnal relations with farm animals. His aides were shocked. Lyndon, they said, you know that's not true. To which LBJ replied, "I know that. I just want to make him to deny it."

And here is Mr. Obama denying over and over again that he is or has ever been affiliated with Islam. It is an unfortunate lie that attempts to scare people based on emotional, irrational, and uninformed fears of a people they've been told to fear again and again. It has gained an unfortunate and discouraging amount of traction within the fringe and mainstream media.

It has gained so much traction that a nonreligious casual follower of the campaign, a political independent, a likely Obama supporter believed it to be true.

That is so so sad.

It is a lie it is a lie it is a lie it is a lie it is a lie! It's a lie!

And I don't even care what religion he is either.


Leigh C. said...

More fuel for your debunking fires, dude.

The signers are Sens. Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer, Ben Cardin, Russ Feingold, Frank Lautenberg, Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden.

The lies have GOT to stop.

E said...

it's getting absolutely out of hand.
i'm afraid its actually beginning to jeopardize his chances.

Leigh C. said...

Hey, if the GOP can use any and all whiffs of rumors to bolster their mudslinging, they will. We ain't seen nothin' yet, 'cause there are still no guarantees that Obama is the undisputed front runner.

Maitri said...

Pardon me for asking th most obvious fucking question: So what if he is?

Leigh C. said...

I would say that, too, Maitri. Folks like my grandparents on Long Island, however, would be shaking in their boots and wondering if we'd be dealing ourselves into the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and every other extremist Islamic government and organization with the election of a Muslim in the presidency.

Just saying...I think the majority of folks in this country are, unfortunately, in some ways, more ready to elect a black presidential candidate than a Muslim, especially if the GOP is influencing their decision.

E said...

Yeah, Maitri.

Unfortunately, I think a major party Muslim candidate would bring about the worst in American racism, ignorance, and fear.

There has been so much innuendo in the media about what Islam is... it would be an ugly, hurtful campaign...

That is why the right wing has so gleefully spread this rumor around...

And it's not because they think grassroots progressives will abandon Obama as a result.

N. Hanks said...

E -- where are your could-be-famous predictions for tomorrow's South Carolina primary????
Missing you!