Why is Mediaite pushing old, evidence-free rumors as breaking news?

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Last night, the National Enquirer published a story under the headline, "OBAMA CHEATING SCANDAL."

There were obvious problems with the Enquirer's reporting. A quick Google and Nexis search, for instance, reveals that the story is little more than years-old, rehashed rumors that have long been denied and have never been supported with anything approximating credible evidence. The article was -- in the words of Mediaite's Colby Hall -- "very thinly sourced," full of "questionable information," and "of course" not something "the Washington Post and New York Times should be reporting."

Unfortunately, that didn't stop Mediaite from blowing up the Enquirer story almost immediately.

At 12:44 am, Mediaite's Frances Martel -- last seen smearing Rahm Emanuel -- posted an article with this headline: "National Enquirer's Obama Sex Scandal: Claims Hotel Surveillance Proves Affair." Mediaite immediately featured Martel's article at the top of its homepage.

But much of what Martel wrote -- including the headline -- was wrong.

Martel's headline said that the Enquirer "claims hotel surveillance proves affair." The Enquirer hasn't said that.

This is what the Enquirer actually claimed in the original version of its article:

The ENQUIRER has also learned that on-site hotel surveillance video camera footage could provide indisputable evidence.

"Investigators are attempting to obtain a tape from the hotel (that) shows Vera and Barack together," the DC insider confided.

"If the tape surfaces, it will explode the scandal."

So, no, contrary to what Mediaite's headline said, the Enquirer wasn't "claiming" that there is a surveillance video proving the "affair." The Enquirer was saying that a supposed tape that neither the Enquirer, nor its purported source, nor unnamed "investigators" have ever seen "could" prove the "affair."

What's more, the current version of the Enquirer story doesn't mention video at all.

It only gets worse from there.

Martel apparently wanted readers to believe that this story might somehow be new, so she wrote: "The Enquirer does not specify the dates of the surveillance footage, which could mean they are merely touting a 6-year-old affair the Obamas and everyone around them have moved beyond it, but they could also be breaking something new."

Wrong.

The story is clearly a rehash of long-denied rumors about Obama's 2004 Senate campaign that have been spread by some of the least credible sources imaginable.

For example, the Enquirer reported:

A confidential investigation has learned that Obama first became close to gorgeous 35 year-old VERA BAKER in 2004 when she worked tirelessly to get him elected to the US Senate, raising millions in campaign contributions.

While Baker has insisted in the past that "nothing happened" between them, the ENQUIRER has learned that top anti-Obama operatives are offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair.

None of that innuendo is new. Thoroughly discredited author Christopher Andersen, for example wrote about the "rumors" in his 2009 book. (In the same book, Andersen claimed Bill Ayers helped write Dreams from My Father). In a passage describing the 2004 Senate campaign, Andersen wrote:

There were, in fact, rumors afoot that it was more than just the random flirting from strangers that was getting to Michelle. Her husband, it would later be reported, had grown close to an attractive young African American member of his campaign named Vera Baker.

[...]

In 2000 Baker teamed up with another Howard alum, Muthoni Wambu, to start Baker Wambu & Associates, a firm that would go on to raise over three million dollars for the congressional campaigns of African American candidates. While Wambu would later become an adviser to Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Baker allied herself with Barack's Senate campaign.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Baker was paid a hefty fee for her services as Finance Director for the Obama Senate Campaign. But in fact, Claire Serdiuk was officially and repeatedly referred to as Obama's Finance Director throughout the campaign.

When Baker suddenly and inexplicably vanished from the campaign and resurfaced on the Caribbean island of Martinique, tongues reportedly began wagging. A jealous Michelle, it was suggested, had engineered Baker's departure.

"No," Baker would later insist. "Nothing happened. I just left...at the end of the campaign." If Michelle had complained that she and Barack were getting too cozy, Baker wasn't saying. "I have no comment on anything," she told writer Sharon Churcher. "I switched careers. That's it. I'm a Democrat and I support Senator Obama. I don't have anything to say."

As far back as October 11, 2008, the UK's Mail on Sunday reported this flat denial:

The Mail on Sunday located the woman in the Caribbean, where she now works. She denied that Mrs Obama had raised any objections to her job on the 2004 campaign.

'No,' she said. 'Nothing happened. I just left ... at the end of the campaign.'

Asked about the claim that Mrs Obama accused her of having a close friendship with the Senator, she said: 'I have no comment on anything.

'I switched careers. That's it. I'm a Democrat and I support Senator Obama ... I don't have anything to say.'

She added that she emigrated to the Caribbean from the US after falling in love with the man with whom she now lives.

But what about all the new details in the Enquirer article? After all, they claimed to have spoken with an anonymous "driver" who gave them the goods on Obama:

Among those being offered money is a limo driver who says that he took Vera to a secret hotel rendezvous where the President was staying.

On the condition of anonymity, the limo driver said he took Baker "from a friend's home in the DC area to the Hotel George where I learned later that Obama would be spending the night."

The driver recalled that he "waited in the lobby while she went to change her outfit.

"But to the best of my knowledge she did not have a room at the hotel and she was not staying there so I thought that it was a bit odd."

The driver said he then picked up Obama at the airport and drove both he and Baker to various locations while he was campaigning for funds. Vera accompanied him to each meeting.

"About 10:30 PM, I drove them to the hotel and they went in together!"

"My services for the evening were done - and there was no indication she was going to leave the hotel that night."

A top DC source told The ENQUIRER exclusively that the driver's account had been independently corroborated by investigators who believe the couple spent the night together at the hotel.

As it turns out, an almost identical (and equally evidence-free) story was written a year-and-a-half ago by right-wing blogger Bob Owens. In an October 29, 2008, post, Owens wrote the following, clearly placing the supposed events in 2004:

I've learned from an intelligence and strategic communications source that on May 18, 2004, Obama came to Washington, DC on a fundraising trip. His trip also included an appearance at the May 2004 AIPAC Policy Conference.

Prior to Mr. Obama arriving in Washington, a McLean Clark National Operations Director met with Vera Baker of Baker-Wambu & Associates. I spoke with this director yesterday afternoon.

McLean Clark is a public relations and communications firm that worked for Barack Obama in connection with his 2004 Senate race. Baker-Wambu & Associates was a top fundraising firm for the Congressional Black Caucus, and Ms. Baker was also listed as the National Finance Chair for Obama's Senate campaign. The McLean Clark director, also working for the campaign, functioned as a driver for Baker and Obama during the visit.

Ms. Baker called the driver before Mr. Obama arrived in town and asked him to pick her up from an undisclosed location and drive her to the Hotel George, where Mr. Obama would be staying. As part of his staff, Baker was apparently able to check Obama into his hotel. Ms. Baker then left the driver in the lobby and went upstairs to change. This is interesting because the driver did not see her take any bags with her as he remained downstairs. The driver was unsure where the clothes came from, or if perhaps Baker had previously been to the hotel.

After Ms. Baker changed, the driver and Ms. Baker then went to pick up Mr. Obama from Reagan National Airport.

The driver then took Baker and Obama to Georgetown, where they met with a big donor. I was unable to determine who that donor might be. The driver next took Baker and Obama to the DC Armory; he was told to drop Ms. Baker and Mr. Obama off at the AIPAC conference where President Bush gave a speech. After dropping them off, the driver's services would no longer be required. Baker and Obama were to have secured rides home on their own.

After the conference, however, Ms. Baker called the driver and told him that they did not have transportation, and asked him to come pick them up. The driver returned to the conference and picked up Mr. Obama, Ms. Baker, and a third person, the woman with whom Ms. Baker was to be staying.

According to the driver, he drove to the woman's home, but she alone departed. Ms. Baker remained in the car with Mr. Obama. The driver then brought Baker and Obama back to Hotel George, where he dropped the two of them off for the evening.

The story originally provided by the intelligence and strategic communications source was verified by speaking directly to the driver (who was granted anonymity) Monday afternoon. In and of itself, the fact that Ms. Baker went back to Mr. Obama's hotel the night of May 18, 2004 is not proof of an extramarital affair. But the subsequent mysterious disappearance of Vera Baker is surprising, and perhaps suggestive.

So, to sum up: the story is rehashed rumors about events that supposedly took place in 2004 but which no one has substantiated with anything remotely resembling credible evidence. They have been flatly denied by the woman supposedly involved. And the only thing new here are the rumors about a video that no one is claiming (even anonymously) to have seen.

This afternoon, Martel posted an update in which she finally acknowledged that the story is "unraveling":

UPDATE (2:04 PM): The Enquirer has updated their story to exclude the part about the hotel surveillance tape, so it seems this story is unraveling rather quickly. The latest from the paper is that "An Enquirer reporter has confirmed the limo driver's account of the secret 2004 rendezvous." This clarifies that they are trying to uncover a 6-year-old maybe-affair, and that, rather than having footage, they just have one first-hand account of someone driving Baker to a hotel, where the President may or may not have been. This also shifts the weight of the article from the story of the affair itself to the fact that, apparently, someone out there is "offering more than $1 million to witnesses to reveal what they know about the alleged hush-hush affair." Why? If it indeed happened six years ago, and no one brought it up during Obama's presidential campaign, what use is it now, halfway into his first term? The obvious go-to answer is that this could energize the far-left in time for the 2010 elections, but once it is revealed who perpetuated the rumors, true or not, about a story so aged, the tactic could easily backfire.

A separate Mediaite article -- in a bizarre effort to defend Martel's reporting -- is now acknowledging that the Enquirer story was "very thinly sourced," full of "questionable information," and "of course" not something "the Washington Post and New York Times should be reporting."

Mediaite goes on to write: "Did we give credibility to what some are claiming to be a paper thin account? Some may say yes, but only those who did not read the story carefully."

I agree. At this point, Mediaite is utterly incapable of giving "credibility" to anything.

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