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Hullabaloo


Thursday, September 24, 2015

 
Unraveling a smear of a smear

by digby

So the wingnuts are all claiming that Hillary Clinton is the source of the "Obama is a Muslim" smear and too many young journalists are willing to believe it. As it happens, in 2007 a young journalist by the name of Chris Hayes actually did the shoe leather reporting on this. The smear started back in 2004.
The most notorious smear forward of this cycle is the Obama/madrassa canard, which represents the cutting edge of electronic rumor. At least two weeks before the Obama/madrassa smear appeared in the online magazine Insight, on January 17, it had been circulating widely in an e-mail forward that laid out the basics of Obama’s bio in a flat, reportorial tone before concluding thus:

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim…. Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama’s mother…introduced his stepson to Islam. Osama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

 Let us all remain alert concerning Obama’s expected presidential candidacy.

Did you catch that typo in the crucial sentence? And the strategic deployment of Obama’s middle name? It’s a coldly effective bit of slander: a single damning lie (the school Obama attended was a run-of-the mill public elementary school) snuggled tightly within a litany of mundane facts, followed by dark insinuation.

Who wrote it? The unsatisfying answer is, we’ll probably never know. “The thing to keep in mind about e-mail is that there is absolutely zero built-in security or data integrity,” my friend Paul Smith, a software developer with EveryBlock.com, explained to me when I asked him if there was any way I could trace the Obama e-mail to its original author. “That’s why there is spam. I could construct an e-mail from scratch and deliver it and have it seem like it was coming from Steve Jobs, and for all intents and purposes the receiver would have no way of knowing it wasn’t from Cupertino.”

But even if the identity of the e-mail’s author was unrecoverable, it was still possible to trace back the roots of its content. The origin proved even more bizarre than I could have guessed.

On August 10, 2004, just two weeks after Obama had given his much-heralded keynote speech at the DNC in Boston, a perennial Republican Senate candidate and self-described “independent contrarian columnist” named Andy Martin issued a press release. In it, he announced a press conference in which he would expose Obama for having “lied to the American people” and “misrepresent[ed] his own heritage.”

Martin raised all kinds of strange allegations about Obama but focused on him attempting to hide his Muslim past. “It may well be that his concealment is meant to endanger Israel,” read Martin’s statement. “His Muslim religion would obviously raise serious questions in many Jewish circles where Obama now enjoys support.”

A quick word about Andy Martin. During a 1983 bankruptcy case he referred to a federal judge as a “crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race.” Martin, who in the past was known as Anthony Martin-Trigona, is one of the most notorious litigants in the history of the United States. He’s filed hundreds, possibly thousands, of lawsuits, often directed at judges who have ruled against him, or media outlets that cover him unfavorably. A 1993 opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, described these lawsuits as “a cruel and effective weapon against his enemies,” and called Martin a “notoriously vexatious and vindictive litigator who has long abused the American legal system.” He once even attempted to intervene in the divorce proceedings of a judge who’d ruled against him, petitioning the state court to be appointed as the guardian of the judge’s children.

When I asked Martin for the source of his allegations about Obama’s past, he told me they came from “people in London, among other places.” Why London, I asked? “I started talking to them about Kenyan law. Every little morsel led me a little farther along.”

Within a few days of Martin’s press conference, the conservative site Free Republic had picked it up, attracting a long comment thread, but after that small blip the specious “questions” about Obama’s background disappeared. Then, in the fall of 2006, as word got out that Obama was considering a presidential run, murmurs on the Internet resumed. In October a conservative blog called Infidel Bloggers Alliance reposted the Andy Martin press release under the title “Is Barack Obama Lying About His Life Story?” A few days later the online RumorMillNews also reposted the Andy Martin press release in response to a reader’s inquiry about whether Obama was a Muslim. Then in December fringe right-wing activist Ted Sampley posted a column on the web raising the possibility that Obama was a secret Muslim. Sampley, who co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry and once accused John McCain of having been a KGB asset, quoted heavily from Martin’s original press release. “When Obama was six,” Sampley wrote, “his mother, an atheist, married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian Muslim, and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia…. Soetoro enrolled his stepson in one of Jakarta’s Muslim Wahabbi schools. Wahabbism is the radical teaching that created the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad on the rest of the world.”

On December 29, 2006, the very same day that Sampley posted his column, Snopes received its first copy of the e-mail forward, which contains an identical charge in strikingly similar language. Given the timing, it seems likely that it was a distillation of Sampley’s work.

Despite the fact that CNN and others have thoroughly debunked the smear, the original false accusation has clearly sunk into people’s consciousness. One Obama organizer told me recently that every day, while calling prospective voters, he gets at least one or two people who tell him they won’t be voting for Obama because he’s a Muslim. According to Google, “Barack Obama Muslim” is the third most-searched term for the Illinois senator. And an August CBS poll found that when voters were asked to give Obama’s religion, as many said Muslim as correctly answered Protestant.

Oh yeah. And the e-mail continues to circulate.

It was all over the place long before Clinton and Obama faced off in 2008, which is where another young journalist who actually knows his job picks up the story. Dave Weigel wrote in the Washington Post:
"The whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) confidently told Yahoo News this summer.

The problem: This is simply not true. Clinton's campaign, one of the most thoroughly dissected in modern history, never raised questions about the future president's citizenship. The idea that it did is based largely on a series of disconnected actions by supporters of Clinton, mostly in the months between Obama's reaction to the Jeremiah Wright story and the Democratic National Convention. I know, because I spent/wasted quite a lot of time covering this stuff.

Read on for the details.

Supporters of both Clinton and Obama hardly covered themselves in glory that summer. I know, I was in the crossfire of both of them and it was the ugliest internecine political experience in my life. I certainly recall some denizens of the Clinton fever swamps peddling that nonsense. But unlike everyone in the Village I have never signed on to the notion that Clinton has super human ability to control everything around her so I assumed it was cranks, and there was little she could do about it. I was also aware at the time of the right wing peddling it furiously and much more openly all over the internet. That wingnut email Hayes talks about along with many others in the same vein were landing in my mailbox hourly.

As Weigel points out in his piece, Clinton's campaign tried to quash this nonsense and fired people who tried to push it, and it takes some real chutzpah of the King of the Birthers Donald Trump to now claim she was responsible. He can run but he can't hide:


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