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Context of 'September 11, 2008: Wall Street Journal Speculates that Obama a ‘Mediocre’ Student at Columbia, Poses Questions about Ties to Black Radical Organization, Carter-Era Advisor'

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The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial questioning Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s record at Columbia University in New York City. Obama began his attendance at that university in 1981 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1983. The Journal does not directly assault Obama’s record of attendance, nor does it challenge the diploma he earned there, but instead accuses Obama of “barely mention[ing] his experience” at Columbia in his two published memoirs, accuses the Obama campaign of “refus[ing] to answer questions about Columbia and New York—which, in this media age, serves only to raise more of them,” and asks: “Why not release his Columbia transcript? Why has his senior essay gone missing?” (There is no senior thesis—see October 21, 2009). After noting that the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to release McCain’s records from the US Naval Academy, the Journal calls Obama “a case apart” because of his lack of “a long track record in government.” It accuses Obama, in his memoirs, of “play[ing] up certain chapters in his life—perhaps even exaggerating his drug use in adolescence to drive home his theme of youthful alienation—and ignor[ing] others.” Citizens and journalists attempting to “exercise… due diligence” in the days before the presidential election are, the Journal claims, “meeting resistance from Mr. Obama in checking his past.” The Journal claims that one of Obama’s Columbia-era roommates, Sohale Siddiqi, has confirmed Obama’s transformation in New York from a dissolute youth to a serious young man, telling an Associated Press reporter: “We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay.” The Journal writes, “For some reason the Obama camp wanted this to stay out of public view,” and claims, “Such caginess is grist for speculation.” It speculates that Obama’s Columbia transcript might “reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference,” though, noting that Obama later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, says he obviously “knows how to get good grades.” The Journal echoes “others” who “speculate about ties to the Black Students Organization, though students active then don’t seem to remember him,” along with tales from “the far reaches of the Web [about] conspiracies about former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the candidate’s ‘guru and controller’ while at Columbia in the early 1980s.” The Journal notes that Brzezinski “laughs, and tells us he doesn’t ‘remember meeting him.’” The Journal concludes that few remember Obama during his two years in New York. “Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him,” it reports. Obama himself has told biographer David Mendell that during his time at Columbia, “I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot.” The Journal concludes: “Put that way, his time at Columbia sounds unremarkable. Maybe that’s what most pains a young memoirist and an ambitious politician who strains to make his life anything but unremarkable.” (Wall Street Journal 9/11/2008)

Author Jerome Corsi, who has made a number of disproven and debunked claims concerning President Obama’s citizenship (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, and October 9, 2008), now claims that he has “proof” Obama’s attendance and exemplary performance at Harvard Law School were engineered by a Saudi prince through the auspices of an African-American Muslim radical. He points to Obama’s decision not to release his college transcripts as circumstantial evidence (see September 11, 2008), saying that decision “prevents resolution of a continuing controversy over whether radical Islamic influences promoted his admission and financed his legal education there.” The “continuing controversy” centers on a lawyer named Percy Sutton, who claims that Islamic radical Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour, “one of the world’s wealthiest men,” asked him to write a letter of recommendation to Harvard Law School for then relatively unknown Barack Obama. Sutton says al-Mansour, a Saudi citizen, introduced him to Obama, and says al-Mansour was raising money for Obama to attend Harvard. Sutton says al-Mansour was a “principal adviser” to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who, Sutton says, actually engineered Obama’s acceptance to Harvard. According to Sutton, he was told in a letter from al-Mansour: “There’s a young man that has applied to Harvard. I know that you have a few friends left there because you used to go up there to speak. Would you please write a letter in support of him?” Sutton says he did write the letter, and told friends at Harvard, “I thought there was going to be a genius that was going to be available and I certainly hoped they would treat him kindly.” The Obama campaign denied the story during the 2008 presidential campaign. Sutton, who is in his 80s and apparently suffers from some sort of senile dementia or memory loss that precludes him being contacted by Corsi or other members of the press, has made his allegations in a YouTube video that Corsi cites as his “proof.” In 2008, Politico reporter Ben Smith contacted al-Mansour, who confirmed Sutton was “a dear friend, his health is not good” and said he’s sure Sutton wrote a letter for someone else, “and he got it confused.” Corsi has requested that the White House release all of Obama’s law school records to “resolve the issue.” Al-Mansour, Corsi claims, was originally Don Warden, a member of the 1960s Black Panthers. (Corsi 7/21/2009)

Michael Ledeen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes that according to blogger Brian Lancaster, Time reporter Joe Klein has been allowed to read the first 10 pages of Barack Obama’s college thesis, written while the president was an undergraduate at Columbia University. According to Ledeen and Lancaster, the thesis was titled “Aristocracy Reborn,” and contains the following excerpt: “[T]he Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.” Ledeen calls the statement “quite an indictment, even for an Ivy League undergraduate,” and says Obama’s supposed take on the Constitution is “revolutionary.” He concludes, “And what about the rest of the thesis?” Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh broadcasts extensively on the thesis, claiming that it is proof of Obama’s intention to “redistribute” America’s wealth to the poor by forcibly stripping the wealthy of their financial resources. Two days later, Ledeen reports that the “thesis” is entirely fictitious. Klein never wrote about it for Time and never read it. “It’s a hoax, or a satire, depending on your point of view,” Ledeen admits, having learned it was produced by Lancaster in August. Lancaster posted it on his Jumping in Pools blog on August 25, and clearly labeled it as “satire.” Ledeen writes: “So he got me, and lots of others. It worked because it’s plausible. I’ve done satirical pieces myself, and I know how they can take off.… So I should have picked up some hint, but I didn’t. Shame on me.” (Brian Lancaster 8/25/2009; Ledeen 10/21/2009; Ledeen 10/23/2009; Klein 10/23/2009) According to the Obama campaign, Obama did not write a senior thesis while at Columbia. He did write a paper during his senior year for an honors seminar in American Foreign Policy, but neither Obama, the university, nor the professor of the seminar, Michael Baron, have a copy of the paper any longer. (Snopes (.com) 10/25/2009)

Donald Trump, addressing an audience at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.Donald Trump, addressing an audience at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. [Source: Red Dog Report (.com)]Billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Obama “came out of nowhere,” and adds: “In fact, I’ll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.” Trump, who receives cheers for the statement, tells the assemblage that he is considering running for president in 2012 as a Republican. He is apparently trying to revive the so-called “birther” claims that Obama is not a valid American citizen (see (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, and Around June 28, 2010). In response, PolitiFact, a non-partisan political research organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, retraces Obama’s academic career: Obama attended kindergarten in Honululu, and moved with his family to Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1967, where he attended a Catholic elementary school, St. Francis Assisi Catholic, as well as Besuki Public School, until age 11. He then returned to Honolulu, where he lived with his maternal grandparents and attended a private college preparatory school, Punahou School, until he graduated with a high school diploma. In 1979, he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, transferred to Columbia University in 1981, and graduated from that university in 1983. He later attended, and graduated from, Harvard Law School in 1991. Trump’s claims apparently center on rumors that “no one knew him” at Columbia University, fueled in part by a 2008 editorial by the Wall Street Journal (see September 11, 2008), which repeated the “finding” of a Fox News “investigation” that found 400 classmates of Obama’s had not known him at the time. Another source is Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root, who attended Columbia at the same time as Obama and says: “I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don’t have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia” (see September 5, 2008). Obama has himself said he did little socializing at Columbia, and though he had some involvement with the Black Students Organization and participated in anti-apartheid activities, spent most of his time studying: “Mostly, my years at Columbia were an intense period of study,” he has said. “When I transferred, I decided to buckle down and get serious. I spent a lot of time in the library. I didn’t socialize that much. I was like a monk.” The Journal noted a May 2008 story from the Associated Press containing an interview with Obama’s former roommate, Sohale Siddiqi, who verified Obama’s claims, and in January 2009, the New York Times published an interview with another roommate from the time, Phil Boerner, who also validated Obama’s claims of being a bookish, rather solitary student. PolitiFact interviews Cathie Currie, a professor at Adelphi University, who remembers Obama occasionally playing pick-up soccer with her and a group of friends on the lawn outside the library. She says he made an impression because of his athleticism, his maturity, and his wisdom, and she assumed that he was several years older than he actually was. “My sense of it was that he was keeping a low profile,” Currie tells the PolitiFact interviewer. “We’d ask him to go out with us for beers after soccer. He seemed like he wanted to, but then he’d step back and say, ‘Sorry, I’m going to the library.’” PolitiFact lists an array of articles covering Obama’s time at Occidental and Harvard Law School, noting that “[d]ozens of former classmates and teachers from those schools have publicly shared their recollections (and photos) of Obama. Obama was the president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal, for goodness sake.” PolitiFact has also found “plenty” of people who remember Obama from elementary and high school, in Indonesia and Hawaii. PolitiFact concludes: “We could get deeper into this but it seems like overkill. It’s abundantly clear that there are lots and lots of former classmates who remember Obama at every level of school. It’s true that Obama’s two years at Columbia are relatively undocumented. And far fewer classmates have publicly shared recollections of Obama from that period, as opposed to other school years before and after. At Columbia, Obama was a transfer student, he lived off campus, and by his and other accounts he buried himself in his studies and didn’t socialize much. But even so, there are several students who recall Obama at Columbia. In short, media accounts and biographies are filled with on-the-record, named classmates who remember Obama. Trump is certainly right that presidential candidates are heavily scrutinized. As even a basic online search confirms, Obama’s school years were, too. Trump’s claim that people who went to school with Obama ‘never saw him, they don’t know who he is’ is ridiculous. Or, to borrow Trump’s phrase, it’s crazy.” (St. Petersburg Times 2/10/2011; JamesJoe 2/17/2011)

Michelle Goldberg.Michelle Goldberg. [Source: Guardian]Author and journalist Michelle Goldberg examines the racial prejudice behind Donald Trump’s recent spate of attacks on President Obama’s citizenship and integrity (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, and April 21, 2011). Trump has recently alleged that Obama was a “terrible student” in college who would not have made it into Ivy League universities such as Columbia and Harvard without some sort of racial bias (see April 26, 2011). Goldberg says Trump is mining the “fever swamps” of the far-right conspiratists for his allegations. Goldberg tracks claims about Obama’s educational history back to a 2008 editorial in the Wall Street Journal that challenged Obama to release his college transcripts to prove that he was not a “mediocre student who benefited from racial preference” (see September 11, 2008). The Journal overlooked the fact that Obama made the Harvard Law Review and graduated with honors from that university’s law school. In recent years, “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz, who has introduced forgeries of Kenyan “birth certificates” into evidence in court as “proof” that Obama is not a US citizen (see August 1-4, 2009), has issued a number of allegations about Obama’s college years. Currently she claims he must have been a foreign exchange student in order to get into Columbia University, saying: “That might be one of the reasons why his records are not unsealed. If his records show he got into Columbia University as a foreign exchange student, then we have a serious issue with his citizenship.” She also disputes Columbia’s records of Obama’s graduation from that university, saying that Obama left school after nine months, and offers as proof a document from the National Student Clearinghouse that lists Obama’s dates of attendance as September 1982 to May 1983. However, Kathleen Dugan of the National Student Clearinghouse says Taitz’s search inputs were incorrect, and thusly yielded incorrect data. Taitz also continues to promote the debunked theory that Obama’s 1983 visit to Pakistan proves he is not a citizen (see Around June 28, 2010), and speculates that he visited Pakistan, not for a month or so, “but a year and a half.” Taitz ties the disparate threads of her conspiracy—Obama the poor student benefiting from racial bias, Obama the foreign national, Obama the closet Muslim—into a single theory: she claims that Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal engineered Obama’s acceptance into Harvard Law School, paid his way through school, and worked behind the scenes to get Obama the position of editor of the Law Review. The Saudi prince was introduced to Obama by African-American Muslim radical activist Khalid Al-Mansour, Taitz says (see July 21, 2009). She confirms that she has been in contact with Trump and has forwarded all of her information to him. Goldberg writes: “It’s easy enough to see why this particular narrative has endured. Not only does it position the president as a Muslim Manchurian candidate with longtime ties to agents of the caliphate, but it also assures resentful whites that this seemingly brilliant black man isn’t so smart after all. In that sense, it’s of a piece with the right-wing obsession with Obama’s use of a teleprompter, and with the widespread suspicion that he didn’t really write the eloquent Dreams From My Father, a claim Trump recently made at a Tea Party rally. Obama, in this view, is both sinister and stupid, canny enough to perpetrate one of the biggest frauds in American history but still the ultimate affirmative-action baby. Trump is clearly not as intelligent as Obama, but he’s not an idiot, either. When he blows this particular dog whistle, he knows exactly what the Republican base is hearing.” (Goldberg 4/26/2011)

Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, who for years has stirred the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate (see July 20, 2008, October 24, 2008, and August 4, 2009), appears on Fox Business Channel to discuss the release of President Obama’s “long form” certificate (see April 27, 2011). Using a poster-size reproduction of the certificate as a prop, Geller says the certificate is “actually not a birth certificate,” calling it a “certificate of live birth.” Host Eric Bolling insists that the certificate has been “Photoshopped” (i.e. altered using the graphics program Photoshop) because of a “green border” surrounding the certificate. Geller agrees that the border is “suspect.” Bolling says the certificate “opens up the can of worms that there are at least questions for it.” Both Bolling and Geller appear to be basing their “analysis” on the quickly-debunked claim that the “layering” of the PDF image of the certificate “proves” it is a fake (see April 27, 2011). Fox contributor Monica Crowley says billionaire real estage mogul and television host Donald Trump “forced the president’s hand to the point where he actually produced this document that we’re talking about.” She says Obama took a “direct slam at Donald Trump” by calling those who continue to question the legitimacy of his birth “sideshows and carnival barkers.” However, Crowley says, “we’ve got this document produced today, which means President Obama zero, carnival barker one.” Guest Keith Ablow agrees with Crowley that Trump deserves the credit for “forcing” Obama to release the certificate. Bolling says that Obama’s timing in releasing the certificate—on the same day that Trump appears in New Hampshire as part of what some consider to be his preparations to enter the 2012 presidential campaign—is obviously an attempt to upstage Trump. Ablow says there is some as-yet unknown reason why Obama has not released this “long form” certificate until now (Ablow does not inform viewers that Hawaiian state law prohibits the “long form” certificate from being given to anyone, and that Obama needed to get a special dispensation from the Hawaiian State Department to be given a copy—see July 1, 2009). Crowley cites the theory of author and conspiracist Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, September 21, 2010, January 18, 2011, and March 27-28, 2011), who is about to release a book that will purport to prove Obama is not a citizen; “I think what Obama was trying to do today,” she says, “is preempt that, try to steal the thunder away from this book that’s coming out, so that nobody will pay attention to the Corsi book.” Bolling informs viewers that the wife and son of the doctor who signed the birth certificate in 1961, who has since passed away, “had no idea” that he signed the certificate. “If you gave birth to the president of the United States,” Bolling says, “don’t you think your family would know about it?” Geller concludes the segment by citing an array of Obama’s “life documents” that she says have been kept out of the public eye (see September 11, 2008, Around June 28, 2010, and April 26, 2011), and accuses the media of “protecting this man” from scrutiny. (Media Matters 4/27/2011; Media Matters 4/27/2011) A day later, the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the doctor that signed the birth certificate died in 2003. Reporter Ben Dimiero will write: “Let that sink in for a second. At the time, Barack Obama was a little-known state senator in Illinois. If the doctor had told his family before he died that he delivered the future president, that would have spawned a much more interesting conspiracy theory (he’s a wizard!). Apparently Eric Bolling thinks obstetricians give their families a list of the most interesting people they delivered—with a special section for ‘potential future presidents’—before they die.” (Dimiero 4/28/2011) Two days later, Geller will label Obama “a b_stard, literally and figuratively” (see April 29, 2011).


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