Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Speed of Lies


Once again, it's rare that I repost something originally published within the past couple of months, but I feel the unfortunate need to resurrect this piece simply because the story it concerns has once again reared its ugly head. Over the last couple of days, professional buffoons Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Jerome Corsi have all alleged that Barack Obama's trip to Hawaii wasn't actually about visiting his ailing grandmother but was instead a stealth mission aimed at quietly dealing with the "ongoing rumors" that his Hawaiian birth certificate is phony and that he's not, in fact, a U.S. citizen. Here now, my column from August 28th of this year.

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.

8 comments:

Ted said...

Handled right, the Fed District Court throwing out Berg for lack of standing can present a political check-mate “win” on appeal for the anti-Obama side (if not in law, in the Court of Public Opinion). Here’s how: SIMPLY SPREAD AROUND OBAMA’S APPELLATE BRIEF HAVING TO ARGUE AGAINST AN AMERICAN VOTER’S RIGHT TO RAISE THE QUESTION UNDER THE CONSTITUTION. Should be a PR disaster for the Dems and Obama!!!

Chez said...

Good luck with that, Ted. Time's up, man -- see you in four years.

Felis Femina said...

The whole premise is utterly ridiculous. In this day and age when backgrounds can be researched, indiscretions uncovered, every little fact checked, why would Obama spend millions and put in the effort to run for the Presidency if it was all a sham? I think he's proven that he's not that naive.

And, Ted, perhaps I'm not following your logic correctly (hee hee, logic) but are you saying that it would be a PR nightmare for the Dems if Barack Obama argues an accusation that isn't true? Sure, I'll keep that in mind during Obama's tenure in office.

Master Mahan said...

The story has been getting tossed around for months, Ted, and the only people biting are those who've already pegged Barack Obama as a big scary Muslim communist. No one really cares what either camp does to get the crazy people to go away.

See You Next Tuesday said...

There is a nut on the Seattle PI boards posting this stuff incessantly. "Hugo C" says that there is proof Obama served on the Factcheck board.

My god, conspiracy nutters are a kind all unto their own. Someone needs to tell them that the X-Files were not a reality show.

Aaron X said...

GEORGIA going BLUE, come on Dixie!:-)

It was a hundred years between Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864 and the Civil Rights Act in 1964, can the majority of folks down South in Georgia finally forgive, put aside their prejudice and fear to vote for Barack Obama, or will we have to wait till 2064 before Georgia and the South goes for a black man for president? Let's hope not.

Come on Georgia, I believe in you, I know you can do it!

2008 Georgia Presidential General Election: McCain vs Obama

InsiderAdvantage poll Georgia 10/23/08

Obama -- 48%

McCain -- 47%

Anonymous said...

I never thought people I know would believe this kind of nonsense. I like to believe that whatever our differences are politically, we're all intelligent enough to fact-check. Or at least apply common sense.
So imagine my shock and disappointment this past weekend when a couple of friends started a conversation with "Did you hear the latest news about Obama?"

Alex said...

Well I seem to keep running into people who still believe this. Apparently, Annenberg and the site are in the tank for Obama too and Obama paid off someone to fake the certificate. No evidence of any of this but just so you all know, thats what happened.