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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)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman, the host of a popular Denver talk show, responds to a Tennessee Republican Party ad attacking presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s wife Michelle to accuse Obama of behaving like a stereotypical black street hood. Calling Obama a “clown” and asking if he is “some sort of a bad _ss,” Newman then addresses Obama directly, demanding: “What are you gonna do, Obama, come to Denver and try, key word try, to whip my white _ss? Son, you are not some sort of macho tough guy, trust me. You are just another blowhard, make-believe thug who wants to be the most powerful man on Earth. You’re a far-left, terrorist-hugging politician, not the bad-boy gangsta you want people to believe you are.” Obama called Republican attacks on his wife “unacceptable” and “detestable,” apparently provoking Newman’s response. (Media Matters 5/20/2008) In previous broadcasts, Newman accused Obama of dressing like a terrorist sympathizer (see February 25, 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)
Conservative radio show host Sean Hannity tells his listeners that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “can’t point to a single instance in which President Bush or [Republican candidate John] McCain or [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove or Sean Hannity or talk radio or any other major Republican has made an issue of Obama’s race.” Hannity’s claim is proven false by data collected by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. Hannity himself asked his audience on March 2, 2008, “Do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?” He has also repeatedly distorted the content of Michelle Obama’s 1985 Princeton University senior thesis to suggest that Mrs. Obama believes, in Hannity’s words, “blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor.” (Mrs. Obama was documenting the attitudes of some black Princeton alumni from the 1970s and not expressing her own views.) (Media Matters 8/7/2008) Media Matters has also documented numerous examples of other radio and TV personalities making “an issue of Obama’s race” (see January 24, 2007, February 1, 2008, May 19, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 26, 2008, and August 1, 2008 and After). The issue of race will continue with conservative pundits and radio hosts (see August 25, 2008, September 22, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 20, 2008, October 22, 2008, October 28, 2008, and November 18, 2008).
Secret Service officials blame the inflammatory campaign rhetoric of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) for an upsurge in death threats against president-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. During the campaign, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, citing his association with 1960s antiwar radical William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008). According to the Secret Service, “The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’ until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric” (see October 15, 2008). The Secret Service says it has evidence that some white supremacists may have used Palin’s words as encouragement to issue credible and specific death threats. During the campaign, Obama’s wife Michelle, upset by one such report, asked her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett, “Why would they try to make people hate us?” A report by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, coinciding with the Secret Service’s announcement, warns that Obama remains a high-risk target for racist assassins. The report finds: “Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues.” McCain campaign aides blame Palin for engaging in heated rhetorical attacks on Obama, including direct accusations of him being un-American, without the knowledge or approval of McCain. Palin has retorted that these campaign aides are “jerks” who took her words “out of context,” saying: “I consider [their criticisms] cowardly. It’s not true. That’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news that’s not fair and not right.” Palin claims she was victimized by sexist reporters and news commentators during the campaign. (Shipman 11/8/2008)
Congress sends the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to President Obama, who will sign the act into law sometime in April. The bill passed both houses of Congress with large majorities. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the Senate legislation, says the bill is “probably the most bipartisan bill we will see on the Senate floor this year.” House Republicans wrote in the House committee report: “[W]e applaud the inclusion of reforms that Committee Republicans have long championed to ensure that recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for results. We are pleased to join with the Majority in supporting bipartisan efforts to strengthen the national service laws and improve service delivery throughout the country.” The bill provides for the expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000, creating new groups of volunteers focusing on health care, education, renewable energy, and veterans, and reauthorizing such AmeriCorps organizations as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps. The Kennedy Act also calls for awarding college students who complete a full-time national service job an “educational award having a value equal to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant.” AmeriCorps says this would increase the amount its members receive upon completion of service from $4,725 to $5,350, which they can use to pay for school or pay back student loans. First Lady Michelle Obama says the bill is of particular concern to her, as volunteerism is one of her priorities. The legislation was originally known as the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act,” but senators renamed it in honor of ailing Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who helped craft the bill. Kennedy says of its final passage in the House of Representatives: “Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service. This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.” The bill also establishes September 11 as a national day of service. (Herszenhorn 3/31/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
'Re-Education Camps' - Some Republican lawmakers, along with a variety of conservative pundits and radio show hosts, have claimed that the bill is far more sinister than it seems. House Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says the bill will allow the Obama administration to create what she calls “re-education camps for young people…” Bachmann tells a Minnesota radio audience: “It’s under the guise of—quote—volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government.… I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums. (Steller 4/6/2009) The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org receives numerous letters asking questions such as: “Is Congress creating a mandatory public service system? Are participants not allowed to go to church?” One writer tells FactCheck: “I have been getting all kinds of e-mails from people claiming that bill calls for mandatory service and in violation of our 13th amendment, and that I should call my congressman and tell them that this bill is modern day slavery. I have also received e-mails saying that service would still be voluntary and that the bill is just expanding current volunteer opportunities.… There is a lot of confusion out there right now regarding this very important legislation and was hoping you guys could shed some light.”
Debunking Claims - FactCheck reports, “The national service bill does not mandate that youth must participate nor does it forbid anyone who does participate from going to church.” It notes that many conservative pundits and bloggers have claimed that the bill “requires the government to draw up plans for a ‘mandatory service requirement for all able young people.’ Others say the bill forbids participants from attending church. These claims are false. Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate-passed version says these things.”
'Mandatory Service Requirement?' - Bachmann and others have also claimed that the bill provides for a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people,” but that provision is not in any version of the bill. The original House bill did advance that as an idea worthy of study, and called for a “Congressional Commission on Civil Service” to “address and analyze” several topics, including “issues that deter volunteerism” and how they can be overcome, how expanding international public service might affect diplomacy and foreign relations, and “[w]hether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation.” The proposed commission would also investigate “[t]he need for a public service academy, a 4-year institution that offers a federally funded undergraduate education with a focus on training future public sector leaders.” However, that entire section was removed from the final bill. Hatch has confirmed that the bill contains no such provisions, saying on the floor of the Senate: “Consistent with our All-Volunteer Army and volunteer opportunities and individuals’ choice in communities, nothing in this legislation is mandatory. This bill simply provides more Americans more choices and opportunities to give back to their neighborhoods and their country all through the means which they freely choose.” The bill does provide for the inclusion of service-learning programs in public schools.
Church Attendance Prohibited? - Perhaps the most inflammatory claim is the one promulgated on conservative blogs and talk radio shows claiming that the bill would prohibit volunteers from attending church. FactCheck notes that such a provision “would be an incredibly draconian law—and a clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, upon which this country was founded…” The claim seems to originate from the Jonas Clark Ministries, which has made Web postings and sent out mass e-mails claiming that the language of section 125 of the bill “prohibited activities and ineligible organizations,” and as such volunteers would be prohibited from attending church. The bill makes no such prohibition. It does, however, says that national service volunteers cannot attempt to “influence legislation,” organize “protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes,” promote “union organizing,” engage in “partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office,” and engage in “religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The language is virtually identical to what AmeriCorps and Senior Corps has told their volunteers for years. FactCheck writes: “In other words, public service activities can’t include anything overtly religious or political. And this is nothing new.” AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott later tells FactCheck: “Both House- and Senate-passed bills codify long-standing regulatory restrictions on engaging in certain activities while ‘on-duty’ as an AmeriCorps member. They do not cover what individuals do on their own time at their own initiative.” (Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck says that President Obama supports health care reform as a form of “reparations” for African-Americans whose ancestors were held as slaves. Beck claims that a provision in the Congressional health care reform bill requires a medical school or other health-related institution applying for a federal grant or contract to prove its inclusiveness to minorities. Beck then tells his viewers: “[J]ust in case the universalness of the program doesn’t somehow or another quench his reparation appetite, he’s making sure to do his part to pay the debt in the other areas.… So. You got it? This isn’t preference to the best institutions that are going to be churning out our doctors, but the institutions with the most diversity. We shouldn’t be dishing out grants based on what hospital looks, you know, the most like an Old Navy commercial.… Obama is no dummy. He knows that you would never pass reparations. He knows you would never pass any of this stuff. This is all affirmative action.” On the same program, Beck and his guest, Fox contributor Linda Chavez, claim that the health care reform bill would mandate that minority patients be treated by doctors of their same race. Earlier in the day, Beck made many of the same claims about reparations on his radio show. He told his listeners: “This man [Obama] is putting through reparations times 10.… Who’d receive the money? All blacks, or just those directly descended from slaves? Would Barack Obama?… Wait a minute. His father was not a descendent of slaves, and his mother was white. So maybe Michelle Obama would be the only one that should be able to get the cash. Since Obama is half white and half black, would he pay and receive? See, these are the tricky questions, but then again, they have nothing to do with Obama’s objection to reparations. Obama is against direct reparations for one reason: He doesn’t ever want the victim card to be lost.” (Media Matters 7/23/2009; Media Matters 7/30/2009) Days later, Beck will accuse Obama of being a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009).
At a “town hall” meeting to discuss health care reform, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is plagued with “almost non-stop” hecklers who “hoot and holler” at his every statement, according to the Baltimore Sun. Outside the town hall, an opponent of health care reform holds a small, handwritten sign that says: “Death to Obama. Death to Obama—Michelle and 2 stupid kids.” (The man is detained by Secret Service agents.) The event, held at Towson University, is packed with anti-reform protesters, who regularly outshout those who have come to support Cardin and health care reform. Cardin is a proponent of the Democrats’ health care reform efforts. “I know some of you don’t want me to mention the facts, but listen to the facts,” he says towards the beginning of the event, drawing screams and catcalls from the protesters. Cardin’s every statement is greeted with jeers and shouts, and protesters break “into raucous cheers” when their fellows yell dismissive or abusive remarks towards him. According to the Sun reporters in attendance, Cardin keeps calm throughout the event. His statements that illegal immigrants would not be given coverage under the plan receives some of the heaviest levels of profane jeering and booing; in contrast, one of the longest and loudest ovations comes when an audience member asks why tort reform is not part of the reform plan. When one audience member asks if Cardin will put himself under a public plan, he retorts: “I’m in a public plan. It’s called Medicare.” Cardin is protected throughout the event by a large number of uniformed university security officers. About 500 people make their way inside; hundreds more are turned away and conduct their own protests, arguments, disputes, and screaming matches outside the venue. One supporter tells a reporter: “I guess we’re going to rally and scream at each other. It’s ridiculous, but you can’t just have one side control the whole discussion.” One protester, carrying a sign reading “Obama Lies, Seniors Die” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009), tells reporters, “I’m not a mob.” Cardin addresses the “euthanasia” issue in the venue, assuring the audience, “There would be nothing in a health overhaul plan about terminating people’s care at the end of life.” He then adds, “And by the way, President Obama is also a citizen of the United States.” (West and Scharper 8/11/2009; MSNBC 8/13/2009; Dishneau 8/13/2009)
Fox News falsely reports that President Obama watched, by himself, an HBO documentary about his 2008 presidential campaign instead of watching the election returns from races in Virginia and New Jersey during the evening of November 4. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum tells viewers, “[Press secretary] Robert Gibbs said, well, he was actually watching, you know, the HBO special about his year-long campaign and how it all went.” MacCallum goes on to note: “[W]e know that Michelle [Obama] and the girls [the Obama’s two daughters] went to [a] concert last night.… So he’s all alone in that big house, right? Nothing to do but sit back and watch—reminisce about the long campaign and watch HBO and the special.” (Drennen 11/4/2009; Boehlert 11/5/2009) ABC News’s Jake Tapper writes on his Twitter account: “Gibbs did NOT say that POTUS [President Obama] watched the HBO film last night. I think someone must have misunderstood.” (Tencer 11/4/2009) Gibbs previously told reporters that Obama had already seen the documentary. (Bellantoni 11/1/2009) The same day as the Fox News report, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh repeats the claim, telling his listeners: “I would be embarrassed if somebody put together a documentary about me the way this has been put together. I mean it is God-like.… If a documentary could get anal poisoning, this one could. I mean, it’s just kiss butt, kiss butt, kiss butt, and here he’s watching it.” (Tencer 11/4/2009; Media Matters 11/4/2009) That evening, Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett says the report is erroneous and apologizes for what he calls his “mistake,” blaming himself for “mishear[ing]” Gibbs during the daily press gaggle. However, on November 8, panelists on Fox News Watch make the original false claim. Host Jon Scott tells viewers that instead of watching the election returns, Obama was “watching the HBO documentary.… Now, maybe that’s the one thing that could pull him away from—from election returns.” Other panelists react with what progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters calls “hysterical laughter.” One panelist, S. E. Cupp, says during the outbreak: “I’m sorry. I can’t even—I can’t even contain myself.” (Media Matters 11/9/2009)
Michael Reagan, a right-wing author and talk-show host, writes a column for the conservative news Web site NewsMax advising women to rebel against the agenda of “radical feminism” and get back to the traditional roles he believes they should adopt, beginning with a return to the kitchen. Reagan says that the US is “a nation whose distaff leadership is allowing radical feminists to redefine the role of motherhood,” and blames “a raging cadre of radical feminists” who “ostracize” mothers “should they dare to consider cooking for their families to be a major part of their traditional role as wives and mothers.” These “radical feminists” want women working at fast-food restaurants, Reagan claims, and not cooking for their families. Reagan then attacks First Lady Michelle Obama, who has become known for turning part of the White House lawn into a vegetable garden, as the Obama administration’s “food czar who instructs us on what chow is good for us and our children, who should cook it, and what foods should be kept off the national menu.” Reagan then writes, “Mothers are looked at with withering stares should they teach their daughters how to cook, and fathers get the same treatment if they concern themselves with their daughters’ future role as wives and mothers.” Reagan advises mothers to begin teaching their daughters to be the “family chef,” and fathers to “honor… and cherish” the family’s women “for making the kitchen one of their principal domains.” If this would happen, Reagan observes, “we’d be a lot better off.” However, something else is happening, with Michelle Obama “instruct[ing] us on what victuals we should eat,… warn[ing] us that the menu at the local fast-food emporium is the diet from hell,” and “dig[ging] up patches of the White House lawn [to plant] the seeds of what she tells us are the staples of a healthy diet—a diet regimen in the White House kitchens one doubts includes whatever puny edibles grown on the lawn of the Executive Mansion.” Reagan writes, “If she and her fellow radical feminists would devote more time to praising and defending the produce that farmers and retailers bring us, and less time playing the role as diet dictators, meals would be family celebrations instead of burdensome chores for the moms who cook them.” After lauding “tasty” fast-food meals as a “gift” a family can occasionally bequeath on a mother who spends most of her time cooking for her family, Reagan concludes: “A happy home is one in which moms teach their daughters how to cook tasty meals for their future families and dads teach their sons that one of their roles in family life is drying the dishes and otherwise doing chores around the house to lighten mom’s burdens. [W]omen should understand and act on the time-honored truth that the fastest route to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and not always through the drive-in window at the nearest fast-food restaurant. That’s one way we can begin to put the family—and America—back together.” (Reagan 12/17/2010) As of October 2010, the “puny” White House garden has produced, according to an analysis by The Week, “thousands of pounds of produce that has gone to feed the Obama family, White House guests, and the needy at a local food shelter. The first lady has also used the project [to] educate children about the benefits of fresh food.” The garden is 1,500 square feet in size, grows 55 different kinds of vegetables and other foodstuffs, uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, produced over 1,000 pounds of food in 2009 and over 1,600 pounds of food in 2010, and was inspired by former President Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello, Virginia. The White House garden also contains a beehive, which as of October 2010 had produced some 134 pounds of honey. (The Week 10/22/2010)
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a young Idaho man who reportedly has an “obsession” with President Obama, fires nine shots at the White House. One of his shots strikes the window of the mansion’s living quarters, but does not break the ballistic glass. Obama and his wife Michelle are on a nine-day Asia-Pacific tour. According to an FBI affidavit, Ortega drives his black 1998 Honda to a location near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, and fires twice through his passenger window, using a Romanian-made Cugir SA semiautomatic rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. Two motorists witness the shooting. FBI agents search the area around the White House and locate “several confirmed bullet impact points on the south side of the building on or above the second story,” where the First Family’s residential area is located. Officials soon find the Honda abandoned, with the Cugir and boxes of ammunition inside, along with an aluminum baseball bat and a set of brass knuckles. Days later, Pennsylvania law enforcement officials arrest Ortega at an Indiana, Pennsylvania, hotel, after a desk clerk recognizes his photograph from a Secret Service handout. Ortega does not resist arrest, according to a Pennsylvania state trooper. According to the US Park Police, Ortega has known mental health issues, and the Park Police says “Ortega should be considered unstable with violent tendencies.” Apparently Ortega considers Obama “the devil” and “the anti-Christ,” officials say. Authorities say Ortega may believe his attack is part of some divinely inspired mission. Ortega’s family reported him missing on October 31; he was stopped by police in Arlington, Virginia, on the morning of November 11 after the police received reports of a suspicious person, but released because he had apparently committed no crimes. Photographs taken of Ortega during that encounter are later identified as being those of the possible White House shooter. FBI agent Chris Ormerod later discovers that before Ortega left Idaho, he told acquaintances that he “needed to kill” Obama and that he “will not stop until it’s done.” One acquaintance later tells the FBI that Ortega believes the government is “conspiring” against him. He is charged with an attempt to assassinate Obama. Initial media reports deny that Ortega has any connections with radical groups of any kind. (Associated Press 11/16/2011; Washington Post 11/17/2011; Savage 11/17/2011; US District Court for the District of Columbia 11/17/2011 ) However, later media investigations will find those reports somewhat superficial, though no official membership in any such groups seems to exist. Ortega is apparently a religious extremist who has embraced a number of “oddball” conspiracy theories, and recently viewed a conspiracy-theory film by Alex Jones, the far-right Internet talk show host. The film Ortega watched is entitled The Obama Deception. Ortega recently posted a YouTube video asking talk show host Oprah Winfrey to allow him to appear on her program because he is the second coming of Jesus Christ. “You see, Oprah, there is still so much more that God needs me to express to the world,” he says on the video. “It’s not just a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I am the modern-day Jesus Christ that you all have been waiting for.” Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a mental health expert, believes that Ortega may suffer from schizophrenia. “I can guarantee you that in his mind, it all makes perfect sense,” Torrey tells a reporter. “If he’s Christ, Obama’s the Antichrist.” (Yardley 11/21/2011) Ortega’s mother later denies press reports that her son has any mental issues. (Bonner and Gresko 11/18/2011)
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