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PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates claims that Democratic senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, belongs to “a racist, anti-American church.” The investigation concludes that Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “teaches black empowerment, not racism, and that it claims Africa as its ethnic heritage.” Anonymous emails “ricocheting around the Internet” claim that Obama should not be president because his church is “anti-American” and “scary,” and, somewhat contradictorily, that Obama is not a Christian, but a “covert Muslim” (see December 19, 2007 and January 11, 2008). The emails began within hours of Obama’s Democratic primary win in the Iowa caucuses. One email declares: “If you look at the first page of their Web site, you will learn that this congregation has a nonnegotiable commitment to Africa. No where [sic] is AMERICA even mention [sic]. Notice too, what color you need to be if you should want to join Obama’s church… B-L-A-C-K!!!” PolitiFact writes: “It’s the latest salvo in the email wars—anonymous missives launched into cyberspace seeking to frighten voters away from presidential candidates in the guise of friendly warnings. Typically they use kernels of truth, then launch into falsehood.” Chicago historian Martin Marty, a white religious expert who has attended Trinity United services in the past, says: “There’s no question this is a distortion.… Whites are highly accepted. They don’t make a fuss over you, but you’re very much welcomed.” PolitiFact finds that Trinity United is one of the larger black “megachurches” in the US, preaches a message of black self-reliance, and has as its motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” The church does have a “nonnegotiable commitment to Africa.” However, it has no racial standards for its members, and does have white and other non-black members. Obama is a member who has attended regularly for years, though with the travails of recent presidential campaigning, his attendance has fallen off in recent weeks. The main focus of the email vitriol, aside from Obama, is Trinity’s senior pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who preaches passionately and focuses on what he calls “black liberation theology.” Obama has written in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, that it was Wright’s preaching that inspired him to convert from a secular agnosticism to Christianity during the 1980s. He titled his memoir after one of Wright’s sermons. PolitiFact finds, “Trinity’s commitment to Africa appears to be more a statement of philosophical orientation than of political support for any particular African country,” and notes that the church’s Web site states, “Just as those of Jewish heritage advocate on behalf of the state of Israel, and those of Irish heritage advocate on behalf of Ireland, and those of Polish descent for Poland, so must we of African descent care about the land of our heritage—the continent of Africa.” Divinity professor Dwight Hopkins, an African-American member of Trinity, describes the church as “highly evangelical and Bible-based.” The preaching, he says, tends to be “common-sense folk wisdom laced with theological sophistication.… There’s singing and shouting and people get happy. It’s an old-fashioned, mainstream down-home church that somehow is captured in this 8,000-person congregation.” John C. Green, a political science professor, says scholars do not view black liberation theology as racist, but some outsiders may hold that opinion. “A black empowerment theology could be seen as having a racist element because it isn’t neutral in regards to race,” he says. “The person who wrote this email obviously has very strong feelings about this.” In February 2007, Obama said of his church and his faith: “Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline, and self-respect. Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement. So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help.” In recent weeks, Obama has distanced himself somewhat from Wright and Trinity, because, his campaign says, he wishes to avoid bringing an overwhelming influx of media attention onto the church. The campaign said in a statement, “[B]ecause of the type of attention it was receiving on blogs and conservative talk shows, he decided to avoid having statements and beliefs being used out of context and forcing the entire church to defend itself.” Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity has called Trinity’s teachings “divisive,” and engaged in what PolitiFact calls “a spirited debate” with Wright on one of his broadcasts. Conservative ethicist Michael Cromartie agrees with Hannity, saying: “It’s too strong to call it racist but at the same time, it is a form of identity politics or identity theology, which insists you white people can come to this church, but you won’t get it.” Trinity has stated: “There is no anti-American sentiment in the theology or the practice of Trinity United Church of Christ. To be sure, there is prophetic preaching against oppression, racism, and other evils that would deny the American ideal.” Green is reminded of the 1960 presidential election, when many opponents of candidate John F. Kennedy attacked Kennedy for being Catholic. “But we didn’t have the Internet back then,” he says. “This kind of communication has always gone on, but it moves much faster now.” (St. Petersburg Times 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times 1/11/2008)
An editorial in the conservative Investors Business Daily (IBD) claims that presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) is an “African nativist” driven by anti-American and anti-Christian views. According to the IBD editorial, “disturbing information has come to light” showing that “[a]t the core of the Democratic front-runner’s faith—whether lapsed Muslim, new Christian, or some mixture of the two—is African nativism, which raises political issues of its own.” The IBD editorial speculates that Obama is driven by “black nationalism” and fears that he and other African-Americans will continue to be held “captive” to “white culture” unless they take action. The editorial points to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, one of the pastors of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ where Obama and his family are members, as an “Afro-centric militant” who serves as Obama’s “personal spiritual adviser.” IBD then sounds the alarm about Obama’s “close family ties to Kenya,” particularly the “Muslim militants” of the Kenyan Luo tribe; Obama’s father was a Luo, as is his older half-brother Abongo “Roy” Obama, whom IBD describes as “a Luo activist… a militant Muslim,” and “a Marxist” who has “urge[d] his younger brother to embrace his African heritage.” IBD warns: “Beyond family politics, these ties have potential foreign policy, even national security, implications.… Would Obama put African tribal or family interests ahead of US interests? It’s a valid question, and one voters deserve to have debated regardless of the racial and religious sensitivities. Thanks to a media blackout of these issues, the electorate has yet to benefit from a thorough vetting of Obama.” IBD then informs its readers of Obama’s “Muslim past,” questioning his Christianity and worrying that if he is indeed a Christian, he would have repudiated his “childhood Muslim faith” and be viewed by Muslims as “an apostate,” thereby making him a possible target of “a fatwah” by radical Islamists. It concludes by avowing that Obama’s “Afrocentric doctrine” will be an overt threat to the US if he is elected president, stating, “If a President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies are anything like the Afrocentric doctrine he’s pledged to uphold, Americans will pay a hefty price, including those among the growing black middle class.” (Investor's Business Daily 1/16/2008) The editorial comes three weeks after a similar claim by conservative scholar Daniel Pipes (see December 26, 2007), and days after conservative radio host Michael Savage claimed Obama was educated in an Islamic madrassa (see January 10, 2008). The assertions will be debunked (see January 22-24, 2008). (Media Matters 11/29/2007)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage says of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “I think he was hand-picked by some very powerful forces both within and outside the United State of America to drag this country into a hell that it has not seen since the Civil War of the middle of the 19th century.” Savage is referring to controversial statements made by Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whom Savage calls “the soul of Barack Obama’s movement.” Savage goes on to claim that Wright, and by extension Obama, align themselves with historical enemies of the United States: “And if you want a man who says not ‘God bless America,’ but ‘God d_mn America,’ if you want a man who takes the side of the imperial Japanese army, an army that killed not only hundreds of thousands in the Bataan Death March, but hundreds of thousand of Koreans, an army that operated on people while they were alive in Manchuria, a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Japanese Nazis of World War II, if you want a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Hitlers of the world, then you’ve got it in Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ.” Obama is merely “an ordinary apparatchik of the Democrat machine in Chicago” whose handlers intend to use Obama to bring upheaval and chaos to the nation. (Media Matters 3/19/2008)
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. (Project VoteSmart 2008; Doyle 3/21/2008) British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). (Doyle 3/21/2008)
Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
“Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
“Obama and bowling”—1,043.
“Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
“Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
“Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) (NewsMax 3/31/2008)
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, debunks a recent spate of claims that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, has ties to Islamist radicals in Kenya. The claims appear to be sourced from a letter sent by American missionaries in Kenya, saying that Obama has ties to a Kenyan opposition party and warning its readers “not to be taken in by those that are promoting him.” The email also claims: “By the way. His true name is Barak Hussein Muhammed Obama. Won’t that sound sweet to our enemies as they swear him in on the Koran! God bless you.” PolitiFact writes: “The e-mail reads like a bad game of ‘telephone,’ its claims drawn from assorted people and sources that have been stitched together. And yet, because it is signed by real people, who have a life in Africa, it somehow carries more credence than your average blog posting—and it’s spreading rapidly.” PolitiFact has debunked this claim before (see January 11, 2008), but notes that the claim continues to spread. PolitiFact posts a copy of Obama’s 1992 marriage certificate, which states “Barack H. Obama” married “Michelle L. Robinson” on October 3, 1992, in a ceremony officiated by Trinity United Church of Christ pastor Jeremiah A. Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). Obama’s driver’s license record in Illinois identifies him as “Barack H. Obama.” His property listings name him as either “Barack Hussein Obama” or “Barack H. Obama.” His registration and disciplinary record with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois notes that Obama was admitted to the Illinois bar on December 17, 1991, and has no public record of discipline. PolitiFact was unable to secure a copy of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). PolitiFact has located the originator of the email, Celeste Davis. Her husband Loren Davis confirms that he cannot substantiate the claims in the email. “That was what we heard there [in Kenya],” Davis tells a PolitiFact interviewer. Davis says he and his wife have lived and worked in Kenya for the past 12 years, and says his wife’s message was from a personal letter “never intended to be forwarded or sent out to the Web.” (St. Petersburg Times 4/18/2008)
Right-wing blogs begin reprinting and recirculating an email that claims presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) is somehow responsible for at least 19 mysterious deaths. Right-wing terrorism expert David Neiwert will compare the “Obama death list” to the equally spurious “Clinton death lists” that circulated throughout the two terms of the Clinton administration and still survive in some places today. The email falsely claims that the fact-checking Web site Snopes.com has validated the list. The email reads in part: “Please send this to as many people as you can, especially those who might be thinking of voting for B. Hussen Obama. We cannot have a man like this in office.… The following is a partial list of deaths of persons connected to Barack HUSSEIN Obama during his time inside the United States. Read the list and judge for yourself.” The list includes a number of known and supposed Obama associates, all of whom “died mysteriously” from a variety of causes, from “suspiciously timed” heart attacks and car crashes to drug overdoses. According to the list: an author died in 2003 after supposedly “exposing” Obama as a secret “radical Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, and April 18, 2008), as did a supposed FBI informant. Another died before he could share “sensitive information about meetings Barack Obama had with arms smugglers,” and that person’s father died “four hours after” his son made an appearance on right-wing talk show host Michael Savage’s broadcast. One woman died after filing and then dropping rape charges against Obama. A former Obama office secretary was murdered after meeting with a reporter to discuss Obama’s secret connections to black militants. A “childhood classmate” of Obama’s was beheaded before he could present evidence that Obama had attended a radical Islamist madrassa in Indonesia. One person, a former reverend of Trinity Baptist Church (see January 6-11, 2008), was allegedly murdered so the Reverend Jeremiah Wright could take over as head of the church; the pastor’s son was also murdered before he could expose Wright as a murderer. Another person died before he could expose his homosexual love affair with Obama. Another was shot to death before she could expose Obama as a frequent client of prostitutes. Another went missing after telling friends that she was carrying Obama’s “love child.” Bloggers for the progressive Sadly No site say they have tried and failed to authenticate most of the “deaths” of the people on the list, including author Sarah Berkley, whose alleged book The Jihad at the Ballot Box does not seem to exist. (My Right Wing Dad 7/15/2008; Sadly No 7/26/2008; David Neiwert 7/28/2008) One blogger later finds that one person on the list, who supposedly died because of sinister Obama machinations in 2003, also supposedly died in 1994 from equally sinister Clinton machinations. (Civilization Fanatics 7/26/2008)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)
Conservatives gather on Capitol Hill to protest the Obama administration’s push towards health care reform, in a rally featuring guest speaker Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). (Media Matters 11/6/2009) Bachmann called the rally the “Super Bowl of Freedom,” and told Fox News viewers that “socialized medicine is the crown jewel of socialism. This [health care reform] will change our country forever.” (Sladja 11/3/2009; Sklar 11/11/2009) Actor Jon Voight, speaking to the crowd, says of President Obama: “His only success in one year as president is taking America apart piece by piece. Could it be 20 years of ‘subconscious programming’ from Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright [Obama’s former pastor] to damn America?” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) tells the crowd, “Pelosi care [referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA] is the greatest threat to freedom I’ve seen in my 19 years in Washington.”
Signs Use Racial Images; Call Obama Communist, Nazi - Signs visible in the crowd proclaim, among other sentiments:
“Get the Red Out of the White House”;
“Traitor to the US Constitution” (featuring a photo of Obama);
“Ken-Ya Trust Obama?” (referring to theories that Obama is a citizen of Kenya—see January 24, 2007, January 16, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, and August 11, 2009—and with autographs from Representatives Steve King, R-IA and Ron Paul, R-TX);
“Un-American McCarthyite” (featuring a photo of Pelosi);
“I’m the King of the World: Remember the Titanic?” (featuring a drawing of Obama as the “Jovial Sambo” character from the Jim Crow era);
“National Socialist Health Care” (featuring a photograph of a pile of corpses from the Holocaust, and claiming that health care reform is the next “holocaust”).
Nine rally participants are arrested for attempting to force their way into the Hart Senate Office Building. Hundreds more attempt to force themselves into nearby government office buildings while chanting, “Kill the bill!” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Sponsored by GOP - MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “It is important to know that this rally was set up by the GOP. While other groups certainly got people to show up, the folks who came here ultimately came at the invitation of the Republican Party. The GOP provided the speakers and the music, etc.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Fox Pundit Inflates Crowd Estimates - While other media sources use local police reports to estimate the crowd at around 4,000, Fox News’s Sean Hannity tells listeners that the crowd is closer to 20,000 in size. Hannity later drastically scales back this claim. Hannity, who along with other Fox News pundits and on-air anchors had heavily promoted the rally for days beforehand, predicted the crowd would be “massive” in the hours before the protest. On his radio show, aired on ABC Radio Network, Hannity tells listeners: “We announced on Hannity Friday night on the Fox News Channel, we had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on, and she mentioned that there was going to be on Thursday, she was going to put together in less than a week a little town hall on—what do you want to call it—march on our nation’s Capitol. And anyway, 20,000 people showed up today.” Hannity echoes the claim several times on his radio show. However, with no explanation, he concludes his radio broadcast by saying, “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009; Media Matters 11/6/2009) On Hannity’s Fox News broadcast later that evening, he returns to his earlier estimates of “20,000” rally participants, and shows viewers old footage from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009) to bolster his claim. (Neiwert 11/11/2009) On November 11, Hannity will admit that he “screwed up” in showing the footage, and claims it was merely “an inadvertent mistake.” (Corley 11/12/2009) Hannity does not address how the mistake came to be made. (Corley 11/11/2009) Media critic Rachel Sklar will write, “It’s really blatant and remarkable… this sort of misrepresentation is simply not an accident.” (Sklar 11/11/2009) A week later, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett will make a similar mistake (see November 18-19, 2009).
Larry Klayman, a former Justice Department official who founded the conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch, pens an editorial for the online news site WorldNetDaily (WND). Klayman makes the arguably racist assertion that President Obama leads only “his people” and not “white people.” Writing that “President Obama is not a ruler for all of the people, but rather ‘his people,’” Klayman begins by claiming that he was “proud that America could elect a black president and overcome centuries of racial prejudice,” even though Obama is, in his estimation, “a politician far to the left of mainstream America.” But, two years into the Obama administration, Klayman says the American citizenry has been repelled by watching Obama “seemingly favoring his own race and true religious allegiance over whites, Christians, and Jews.” Klayman asserts, without citing evidence, that “the trillion-dollar bailouts… were earmarked for black minority contractors. These bailouts were not only economically stupid, but the money was dolled [sic] out in a discriminatory way.” The Democrats’ health care reform initiative is, Klayman writes, “designed to provide health insurance mostly for the president’s black constituency.” He goes on to cite Obama’s defense of Harvard professor Henry Gates after Gates became involved in an altercation with a Boston police officer; Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to prosecute members of the New Black Panther movement who, Klayman claims, “illegally disrupted an election polling place in Philadelphia”; Obama’s supposed association with “black Muslim leaders” such as Louis Farrakhan; his relationship with his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright; and his cancellation of the White House’s commemoration of the National Day of Prayer in favor of, Klayman claims, a White House feast for the Muslim Holy Day of Ramadan, which Klayman says “proves” Obama’s status as a closet Muslim. Klayman then accuses Obama of being anti-Semitic because of his supposed failure to support Israel. Hence, Klayman writes, “the majority of white Christians and Jews no longer see Obama as the president of ‘We the People’ but instead ‘his’ people.… President Obama has not united the races and religions, but instead divided and pitted them against each other. The level of hostility one sees ‘in the streets,’ with a reverse backlash against blacks and Muslims, is frightening and potentially explosive.” Because of these characteristics, Klayman writes, “the nation stands even more—particularly during a severe continuing economic depression—on the precipice of chaos, rebellion, and ultimately revolution.” Any violence launched by white Christians and other Obama opponents, Klayman concludes, will be the fault of Obama. (Klayman 10/22/2010) Terry Krepel, the progressive founder of the watchdog organization ConWebWatch, writes: “Klayman is projecting. He’s the one who’s injecting race into things by insisting that Obama rules only ‘his people.’” (Terry Krepel 10/23/2010)
The Washington Post reports that Shiloh Baptist Church, a well-known house of worship in Washington, DC, has received over 100 death threats after President Obama and his family visited it for Easter on April 24, and after Fox News host Sean Hannity, reporting on Obama’s Easter visit to the church, aired a video clip of Shiloh’s Reverend Wallace Charles Smith giving a speech in January 2010 in which he said some people espousing racial prejudice do so “under the protective cover of talk radio.” Smith tells a Post reporter: “We received a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across i[t]s face. My secretary has received telephone calls that have been so vulgar until she has had to hang up.” Smith shares some of the emails he has received with the reporter, and says that he has not yet notified authorities. He is consulting with church leaders about what steps to take. The church was founded in the 1860s by former slaves. Hannity aired the clip on April 25, one day after Obama’s Easter visit. In the videotape, Smith said: “It may not be Jim Crow anymore. Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school, and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore [a reference to the Ku Klux Klan] because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.” Smith tells the Post reporter that he had been asked to give a speech on racism and that he “was giving some background on what I thought were some of the issues regarding race in this country.” Hannity compared Smith’s speech to remarks by Obama’s former Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008), whom Obama repudiated after learning that Wright had said the 9/11 attacks were “America’s chickens… coming home to roost.” Hannity told listeners: “Wright’s contentious sermons hit the airwaves and forced Obama eventually to denounce his spiritual leader of more than 20 years. Now, here’s the twist: Dr. Wallace Charles Smith doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with what Jeremiah Wright preached. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence out of all the churches in the country that Obama finds himself sitting in, why is he always in pews listening to such controversial spiritual leaders?” Hannity says he asked Smith to comment on his broadcast and offered Smith a slot on his show, but Smith refused. “We played his own words in full context but now it’s time for him to explain,” Hannity says. (Harris 4/27/2011) The day after Easter, Fox Nation, the blog of Fox News, falsely claimed that Obama was the first president to attend services at Shiloh Baptist and extended the attack on Smith’s “shocking” sermons. (Fox Nation 4/25/2011) Days before Easter, the Post, announcing Obama’s choice to attend Shiloh for the morning’s service, noted, “The church has hosted other presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.” An April 27 article adds that President George H.W. Bush also attended services there. (Harris 4/22/2011; Harris 4/27/2011) Washington Times columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner echoes the same questions that Hannity raises, asking if Obama is “a black nationalist” and calling Smith “a race-baiting black nationalist” who is “a more polished version” of Wright. “Mr. Smith lacks the bombast of Mr. Wright but peddles the same philosophy of racialism, grievance-mongering, and black victimology,” Kuhner claims, and cites a recent sermon by Smith decrying institutionalized racism as “evidence” before claiming that segregation and racism no longer exist to any real extent in the nation. Kuhner says that Smith, and by extension Obama, equate conservatives with racists who want to “perpetuate a watered-down form of apartheid.” Kuhner then claims that conservatives, not progressives and liberals, are historical champions of civil rights (see March 12, 1956 and After), and attacks affirmative action programs as perpetuating racism. (Kuhner 4/27/2011)
Republican presidential contender Ron Paul (R-TX) again denies any involvement in the racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic content printed in his newsletters for 16 years (see 1978-1996). CNN anchor Sanjay Gupta describes Paul as “kind of prickly” over the accusations of racism in the newsletters, and notes that “his story appears to have changed over the years.” In 1996, Paul admitted writing much of the newsletters’ content, admitted to the positions taken in the newsletters, and called questions about his newsletters “gutter politics” (see May 22 - October 11, 1996). He began denying their content, and his involvement in his newsletters, in 2001 (see October 1, 2001). In 2007 and 2008, he freely admitted supporting the implicitly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008 and December 2011). He denied knowing anything about the newsletters’ objectionable content in 2008 (see January 8-15, 2008 and January 16, 2008) when the questions arose during that year’s presidential contests; Paul supporters accused rival libertarians of smearing Paul’s character (see January 12-15, 2008). In May 2011, Paul was one of five Republican presidential candidates to take part in a debate sponsored in part by the JBS and a racist militia group (see May 5, 2011). Today, Paul walks out of an interview with CNN reporter Gloria Borger rather than continue to answer her questions about his newsletters. He tells Borger that he read the newsletters published under his name “on occasion,” and implies that he was too busy with his medical practice to pay close attention to the newsletters. “You know, I didn’t write them and I don’t endorse those views and I’ve explained it many times,” he tells Borger. “I never read that stuff. I never—I would never—I came—I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this, and CNN does every single time. So when are you going to wear yourself out?” Paul says even asking about the newsletters is not legitimate, and instead the media should just accept his denials and move on. Borger says such questioning is legitimate because “[t]hese things are pretty incendiary, you know.” Paul retorts, “Because of people like you.” When Borger presses the issue, Paul walks away and refuses to answer further questions. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState (.com), who is not a Paul supporter, asks Gupta why in 2008 Paul “allowed neo-Nazi Web sites to fundraise for him. We can ask him why three years ago he went on Iranian TV to say that Israelis had set up concentration camps to indiscriminately kill Palestinians.… But I think a more relevant question is, if we can’t go back and ask him these questions from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, why then he—can he go back to the ‘90s and attack [fellow Republican presidential candidates] Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or Rick Perry for things? They wrote it. Does he believe this is a legitimate double standard?… Ron Paul supporters frequently attacked Barack Obama for sitting in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church (see January 6-11, 2008) and Barack Obama has denied ever hearing Jeremiah Wright’s sermons. How is Ron Paul’s denial of knowing these things any different from going after Barack Obama for the Reverend Wright matter? There is none. They can’t defend that.” (CNN 12/21/2011) Note: Erickson is referring to a specific sermon of Wright’s, where he denounced what he called America’s “white arrogance.” Obama did not hear the sermon because he was not in Illinois at the time (see August 1, 2008 and After).
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