Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Speed of Lies

If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama is unfit to be President of the United States; his candidacy is nothing more than a dangerously specious house of cards that will almost surely collapse if allowed to continue.

According to Berg, Barack Obama harbors a secret which disqualifies him outright from running for the office of president -- and it's only a matter of time before the truth comes to light and the resulting embarrassing debacle leaves the entire Democratic Party in chaos.

See, If you believe Philip Berg, Barack Obama isn't a U.S. citizen.

Last Thursday, Berg -- a Philadelphia attorney who's something of a notorious presence within that city's legal community -- filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania demanding that an injunction be issued against the official nomination of Obama. The suit charges that the Illinois senator is constitutionally ineligible to become president on the grounds that he has yet to produce a valid U.S. birth certificate -- Berg claiming that the current one on file from Hawaii is a forgery, proven so by "three forensic experts" -- and that he maintains an unresolved dual-citizenship and owes allegiances to both Kenya and Indonesia, where his father was born and where he lived as a child, respectively. Berg says that he has access to copies of Obama's Jakartan school records which show the candidate registered under the surname of his mother's 2nd husband, Lolo Soetoro, and listed as an Indonesian citizen; as if to hedge his bet, he insists that even if Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate is indeed shown to be authentic, the school registry should be enough to keep the candidate out of the White House.

If these allegations sound familiar, they should; in one form or another, each of them has been bandied about the internet or bullhorned across conservative radio for months now in an ongoing effort to paint Barack Obama as "different."

Oh yeah, and they're all basically bullshit.

A couple of weeks back, the Annenberg Political Fact Check -- an organization whose credentials are pretty much bulletproof -- set out to settle once and for all the debate over Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate. The word "debate" deserves no small amount of qualification because, in reality, there never was a legitimate claim to be made that the document was phony -- simply a lot of fantastical conspiracy theorist innuendo, perpetuated and amplified at lightning speed by a million far-right dolts with computers and delusions of Sherlock Holmesian cleverness. Annenberg dispatched staffers to examine the birth certificate and ruled, to the surprise of no one with a modicum of common sense and two brain cells to rub together, that it's 100% legit; Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. As for the claim that Obama holds a dual citizenship or is in any other way beholden to a foreign country -- that was exposed as nonsense months ago.

And yet Philip Berg filed his lawsuit anyway. He filed it knowing full-well, one would have to imagine, that most of its claims are bogus -- that they already had been or easily could be debunked.

So why? What the hell would possess someone to willfully propagate claims that are tenuous at best and outright false at worst -- even going so far as to do it in court?

Because these days, when it comes to politics particularly, the truth is negotiable -- and there's value in the lie.

Whereas once there were a select few sources of information, and those sources were generally deemed credible by all but those on the furthest fringes of the public, now anyone can be his or her own news source. And while -- as this site, ironically, has advanced -- the rise of citizen journalism and hyper-connectivity has been good for the ethics of media as a whole, it's also created a treacherous wasteland of journalistic mini-fiefdoms, each spouting its own version of reality and together making it impossible, at times, to tell honest, well-researched fact from made-up crap conjured out of thin air to further an agenda. Whether the message comes in the form of an e-mail forwarded to your inbox by that paranoid uncle with the survival bunker in his basement who you're always hoping skips Thanksgiving, or as a bitter flamewar on every news aggregation outlet across the blogosphere, the internet has replaced television as the most effective and least regulated tool for political propaganda in America.

Which is why, ironically, it's now become the partial responsibility of television to help keep the corruption in check. It's too bad the good folks in the TV news media are usually unwilling to do it.

Mainstream media managers, as a whole, subscribe fully to the notion that bloggers and their internet realm are of an inferior journalistic stock; they see them as pests constantly circling the carrion of stories already broken by TV, radio and print; they condescend to them, dismissively painting their ilk as pasty, overweight losers, futilely raging against the machine from the comfort of a Middle-American basement, hopped up on Red Bull and basking in the post-orgasmic bliss of an afternoon spent masturbating to Asian porn. Those who adhere to the Mega-Media ethos believe that when a blogger does break a story, the quality of that piece of information can be judged by whether or not it rises to the level of inclusion in a mainstream broadcast, newspaper or magazine. In other words, only those above the radar can make the decision as to what's worth pulling up from under the radar. The problem is, the good stuff -- the powerful investigation, the sometimes penetrating insight -- gets passed over by the larger media outlets because it's, well, boring. It doesn't make for good TV or a quick, sharp read. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the garbage -- the rumor, conjecture, and misdirection -- is often picked up and elevated to the level of "real news" simply because it's so damn juicy and such a sure-fire ratings or circulation enhancer. A crap story thrown out by a few official-sounding blogs -- like the story of Obama's "phony" birth certificate -- can suddenly be granted validation simply by virtue of the fact that the "controversy" surrounding it is being discussed on national television. The lie is amplified inside the 24/7 cable news echo-chamber and, presto, it's suddenly palatable and worthy of serious consideration by 90% of the population.

It would be one thing if mainstream media outlets faced this kind of bullshit head-on and said, "No, this story isn't true, and if you believe it you're a lunatic." But it's better for ratings and revenue to instead ask, "A lot of folks are saying (insert spurious assertion here), but is it true?" (For the record, nobody does this vaguely referenced end-run on responsibility better than Fox News; see "Terrorist Fist Jab.") It goes without saying that this is how political propaganda is perpetuated; by reporting the rumor as its own story -- without sharply and decisively denouncing it -- you're validating it, giving new life to it, and ensuring that enough people will believe it that the very future of the country could wind up eventually hinging on it.

Ask yourself this: How many people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim?

Or this: How many people still believe that Iraq was connected to 9/11?

Very few within the mainstream media came right out and unequivocally shot down these ludicrous rumors before they could take root within the consciousness of the masses -- or at the very least, the minds of those who wanted nothing more than to have their preconceived biases confirmed.

There are thousands of Americans who will still claim that they "don't trust" Obama -- and yet they'll base this lack of trust on their willingness to trust an e-mail that got forwarded to them by a friend of a friend of a friend of some guy somewhere.

It's the responsibility of respectable news media everywhere to bring truth to propaganda and refute the fiction proffered for the sole purpose of sowing discord and confusing the electorate. It's incumbent upon the mainstream media, particularly if they value their stature as strongly as they claim, to shine a bright light on the lies, rather than fueling the fire by debating the merits of a story that they know perfectly well has no merits.

Should you believe Philip Berg?

It's a question that doesn't need to be asked, because it's already been answered.

(*Please see author's note in comment page)


Chez said...

A couple of further points I wanted to make on this subject but chose not to include in the main piece:

-- I'm not a big fan of assassinating someone's character in an effort to debunk his or her statements, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention somewhere that Philip Berg's last high-profile case was a lawsuit filed under the RICO Act (which encompasses racketeering and criminal conspiracies) against George Bush, Dick Cheney et al. Berg filed this on behalf of a former janitor who worked in the World Trade Center, but more to the point because he believes that the White House had prior knowledge of the September 11th attacks and failed to stop them. In other words, he's a 9/11 "truther," a group whose harebrained theories, despite being a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, have yet to be proven by anybody anywhere.

-- I skipped right over the subject of Jerome Corsi, the "Swift Boat" author of the recent book Obama Nation. I did this simply because even though he put all of Berg's utterly fictitious claims on paper, the media (with the exception of, surprise, Fox News) did a commendable job of quickly and thoroughly discrediting him (which is not to say that those who want to believe his horseshit haven't figured out a way to anyway).

-- What the mainstream media, particularly the cable TV networks, didn't get right however was the coverage of the so-called PUMAs -- the Hillary Clinton hold-outs. Yes, Chris Matthews confronting them on national television and allowing them to hang themselves with their own ignorance was entertaining, but it didn't make up for the fact that MSNBC (and to be fair, just about everyone else) still spent 48 hours taking the bait and allowing the PUMAs to set the tone for the coverage. There was never any reason whatsoever to ask if the presence of a handful of nutjobs proved that the Democratic Party was "divided."

-- The overall point of this piece: For God's sake, don't believe everything you read just because it's in print. Look harder. Even when it comes to the stuff you find on this site. Literally, don't take my word for it.

Robo said...

The proverbial nail on the asking about the validitiy of a topic found on the internet the Mass Media then makes that topic a Story.

What kills me is the republican's know this so they have their minions (Rush, Hannity, "Fix" News, Blogs, etc) say these things and then the other Media outlets pick up on it and it becomes a "Story".

I'm with Jon Stewart in that the Mass Media needs to stop being Fucking lapdogs to these people because they don't want to burn a bridge with an "important source". The media isn't supposed to be friendly with these people. It was hysterical to see the interview on CNN's Crossfire with Stewart and Tucker Douchbagerson from 2004 where Tucker just wasn't getting that Stewart's a Comedian. Stewart tried and tried to explain that his show is on Comedy Central NOT CNN but Tucker insisted that Stewart was just as responsible. They just don't get it.

Watch it here --> YouTube Video

But what do we expect really? These Media Outlets are owned by corporations who's executive management go fishing on 50' yachts with lobbyists and politicians.

And don't even get me started on the PUMA's (which could be the biggest Sore Loser Douchebaggery I have ever seen).

Mr. Controversy said...

Jesus Christ...way to knock it out of the park. Apologies if I accidentally offend, but citizen journalism is indeed as harmful as it is helpful. Everyone sides with the sources they identify with the most, and with a source like a blog there's no opposite number, no matter how weak, to solicite on opinion on. It's just unfiltered, 100% bias with some of the people that are out there.

As it is with traditional journalism, it's nice to know the source's stake in things before reading said opinions. Which is another wonderful way to plug your book...

Dave B. said...

I realize this post should, and normally would, invoke a longer response from me. However, my grandmother and I agreed to tune out before and after - but not during - the VP nominations.

I'm pretty sure that for the last 8 years we've known who we were going to vote for.

As for the people who read slanderous garbage and believe it, well, what do you expect from those of substandard intellect? And most of the people who believe it - whether intelligent or not - are neo-cons or Christian Conservatives or what have you, and how open can a mind be if it has only read one book?

Ok, so maybe my commentary was lengthy, but it was more eloquent that just saying "people are fucking stupid".

ElJefe said...

Cheers on this post- and as if you needed backup on this subject, look no further than the recent "sighting" of Bigfoot. Or that it even got airtime. Sad days indeed..

Ike said...


Let me add that the same factors that have empowered citizen-J (internet ubiquity, hi-tech-now-cheap) have created a giant media beast. If it weren't for cheaper cameras and cheaper crews, we wouldn't have so many cable networks and outlets with so much damned news-hole to fill.

We're going to keep getting fed crap because that's what gets produced when you're filling 24-hours of air with fewer people.

The answer to declining ratings and readership is NOT cutting costs, but rather beefing up to be the sole survivor.

Web Dunce said...

I hope this piece is going up on the Huffington Post at the very least. This should be circulated widely. I smell a viral email coming on.

Stephen said...

I propose that you start some propaganda of your choice...about anyone involved in the election...either side of the aisle. The folks who read and comment on this site can then further the item on their blogs. Let's get it rolling and see if anyone bites! The best part about it is you can totally be up front about the experiment. They'll never dig that far back if it gets legs.

Also, they're just jealous because most places of employment in television have blockers which don't allow the watching of asian porn.

drater said...

Well said Chez. But I have to think that the problem with the national media is even more insidious than you let on. These guys are all making at least six figures, and have a vested interest in ensuring that the party with the most millionaire-friendly tax policy stays in power.

Don't take my word for it, check out CNN's recent comparison of McCain's and Obama's tax policy. They concluded people would pay more under Obama, but they only looked at people making more than $161K a year. Which is, what, 5 perecent of the population? The other 95 percent of us would--surprise!--pay less under Obama's plan. Here's the link:

Cheetah Chrome said...

Great post Chez. The reality of the info-orgy that is the internet is that we all are forced to examine the information we receive as a "philosophy graduate student writing a thesis." We must use the skills of logic, compare and contrast information, look for contradictions, examine the credibility of our sources etc.. This is a drag to do on a daily basis, and most people (understandably) don't want the responsibility. This is the true curse of the Tree of Knowledge; the responsibility that comes with the power of information. People have got to get it into their heads that information and facts do not form intelligence in-and-of-themselves. Intelligence is the ability to discern.

It breaks my heart that our education system has grown to have such contempt for the Liberal Arts. That is where one learns that our view of the world is bound by perception and it makes for a lot of gray and very little black-and-white.

I would simply say "use your head folks," but most people have spent very little time grasping the notion of what it means to think.

Keep up the good fight Chez!

Calitri said...

Great piece, Chez. Absolutely spot on.

Not to mention, just thinking about basking in the post-orgasmic bliss of an afternoon spent masturbating to Asian porn gave me half chub. So thanks for that, too.

Anonymous said...

We know for a fact that John McCain was born in Panama. The CLAIM is that it was on an air force base, but has anyone checked into that? How do we KNOW he wasn't born in a Panamanian hospital and thus OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES.

Oh right. John McCain is white. White people don't have to prove that they're real Americans. I forgot.

Also, I call bullshit on your 'fact check everything you read' solution. Most people do not have the time or the ability to do that. You're a media professional so it's relatively easy for you to triangulate sources and read a bunch of stuff and try to get a bead on the truth from the various angles of bullshit, but for a janitor who didn't get past the 8th grade and has neither the time nor the resources, it's simply not a plausible solution. If he wants to be informed he has to pick up a newspaper or turn on a newscast and trust that the people paid huge amounts of money to inform him aren't lying.

The fact that he can't do that anymore is an absolute shame and an indictment

Sure the Cronkites, Murrows, and Brinkleys got stuff wrong and had some sort of slant, but back then you could choose one of them, listen to him, and trust you were being relatively well informed. This is no longer the case. Profit trumps truth, the ease of reporting press releases trumps the pleasure of GETTING THE STORY RIGHT, and our nation's fourth estate has fallen into a sad quagmire where even the venerable New York Times is serving up Jason Blairs and Judy Millers on a regular basis. That's not even going into the ones who aren't caught.

People need and deserve a news source that's honest and objective and does its best, even if it's going to be imperfect. Fact checking can't be unloaded on the consumer.

I know that if you respond your response will probably be something along the lines of "I'm talking about the realities of the present situation, where there is no trustworthy news source around." The reality is that most people aren't going to become their own fact checkers. They are going to tune out and watch Access Hollywood or some other mindless trash rather than sort through 8 sources to figure out which ones are telling the truth. Then they become even easier prey for the liars and the charlatans because they don't even have a basic understanding of the context of the dishonest stories.

This is, ultimately, good for the corporations, but terrible for our democracy, and it's what's going on right now among a majority of Americans, even as 30-50 million are using the Internet to cut through the bullshit, the rest are tuning out more and more.

And I don't know what can be done to stop it.

Anonymous said...

Berg vs. Obama, Civil Action No. 08-cv-4083, in Federal Court

What is going on here! Is it true that Obama was born in Kenya Africa. Is it true that there are no records of his mother giving birth to him at any hospital in Hawaii.

Is it true that his Grandmother, and half-sister have said he was in fact born in Kenya.

Is it true that Republicans have records to prove Obama was born in Kenya.

And is it true that he was registered as a citizen of Indonesia as a Muslim.

Is there any truth to any of this. Where is the major media on this story. Have they investigated this. Has any of the above been proved untrue.

If any of the above is true this is very serious.

What's up!

Chez said...

Thanks for proving my point by missing the point entirely.

You're a dingbat. Go away.

Nancy said...

Yeah, yeah. But I can still trust The National Enquirer, can't I?

dick_gozinia said...

Holy hell, we have our first Philip Berg appearance.

Chez wrote:
...hopped up on Red Bull and basking in the post-orgasmic bliss of an afternoon spent masturbating to Asian porn.

Everybody knows that its not always Asian porn. Just mostly. Fucking stereotypes.

Cheetah Chrome said...

Anonymous #1,

I agree with your point about the loss of the simplicity of turning to the Cronkites and Murrows of the past, but I point out that, historically, the "8th grade educated janitor" example is nothing new. Whether he or she got their info from a loudmouth in the breakroom or from an email is moot.

The problem, as I see it, is the person who has the gifts of time and a higher education succumbing to the head-trip of the easily available, open forum soapbox, "blah, blah, f*ckty, blah" power trip that is the internet.

If you are lucky enough to have the above gifts, you now have a much greater responsibility to speak and think thoughtfully... if you are going to put it out there in an effort to influence.

We need to remember our ethics. There are too many people out there shouting "fire" in the movie house. And your right, most people can't deal with it and would rather be distracted by Britney's lack of undergarments... Asian porn excluded; it teaches cultural awareness! ;)

What to do indeed.

Deacon Blue said...

Sadly, Nancy, with every passing year, the National Enquirer is looking more and more like an investigative news publication when compared to some of the mainstream media news...and I've noticed that US magazine (at least based on the cover taglines), which used to be just honest light infotainment news fluff, seems to have drifted farther from the People magazine style and more toward what the Enquirer is (or used to be...or whatever). I'm relatively certain that I will see a headline about a celebrity having an extraterrestrial's child on the cover of US Weekly or maybe even People magazine in my lifetime.

It scares me how people automatically assume that so many things are true just because they found them on the Web somewhere. My wife briefly taught in a career college and most of her students just didn't understand why Wikipedia wasn't a valid source for research papers...

Robo said...

You got a nice shout out from Cesca today...

Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog! GO!

celery said...

Speaking of credibility and power of the media, Forbes announced it's "100 most powerful women in the world" list.

Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric placed higher than the presidents of Liberia, Ireland, Finland, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Director General of the WHO.

M&K were only slightly outranked by the next PM of India, the PM of New Zealand and Queen Elizabeth.

Moreover, these tv hosts placed much higher than the CEOs of Time and the New York Times.

Chez said...

Cesca rules. He hits hard and smart.

Scott said...

The evolution "debate" fits into this same pattern. A handful of loud mouthed bible thumping psychopaths drum up controversy where there is none and a news channel runs a "Doubting Evolution?" story and suddenly their argument has weight.

Anonymous said...

Report him to the PA Bar - Ethical Violations - For filing a frivolous claim

Harris said...

I hadn't heard this because I scrupulously avoid television news, a decision I've never regretted. In truth, though, I seriously doubt this kind of thing makes a difference where Obama is concerned. Anyone who would seriously consider voting for him knows this is nonsense. Those who would care about this wouldn't vote for Obama unless and until he finds a way to lighten his skin and narrow his nose.

Liz said...

I have to listen to those ignorant twats all day at work, passing around gossip about Obama like old ladies in a koffee klatch. Somedays I bite my tongue so hard that I am worried about severing it. I am worried about the direction our country is taking when we accept conjecture as fact. It is becoming easier and easier to manipulate the American public with a few well placed lies. We are *this* close to being a nation of sheep, ripe for the slaughter by a determined dictator. Oh wait, we already have one of those. Never mind.

By the way, I had a dream you were on The Daily Show. Thank me when you get the call.

Kate said...

Jesus Mary and Buddha, you WOULD think that anyone with an ounce of sense would smell the stink of this claim - but it's just another carefully orchestrated smoke-screen that has sweet f-all to do with the campaign and serves to weaken the foundation of the candidacy and draw attention from the real issues. America is f-ed up right now - WHY because of the 'strategy' (ha ha) of the current administration. Just in the way gay marriage and abortion issues swayed the Catholic Latino population four years ago, it's another fear tactic used to manipulate the masses - and who loses in the long run? - the masses.