CNBC Pushes Hoax Obama Birther Quote During Trump Interview

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

During today's Squawk Box, CNBC co-anchor Joe Kernen assisted guest Donald Trump's effort to push debunked claims about President Obama's birthplace by citing a supposed quote from Obama in which Obama purportedly suggested that he wasn't born in the United States. The quote is an internet hoax and was never said by Obama, who was born in Hawaii.

After reading the fake quote, Kernen said that "the question is whether there was a time in Obama's life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know." He sourced the quote to a "report that was on some of the conservative websites" and added that he hasn't "even confirmed it." Watch:

KERNEN: There is a weird -- in that same report that was on some of the conservative websites and I haven't even confirmed it, Donald, but there was a quote from one of his debates when he was running for state senator, I believe, and one of his opponents said, well, you know, you weren't -- this was at the time when it still -- the Kenya thing was still on some of his biographies or something and the guy said, 'Well, you know, you weren't even born here,' and he said, 'Well, it doesn't matter if I wasn't born here, I'm running for -- I'm not running for president' at the time. And it was a quote that looked like it was right from a debate. I don't know whether you saw it. I'm going to look it up right now.

TRUMP: There was a quote --

KERNEN: -- but from him. And almost so -- but the question is whether there was a time in his life where he thought it was, I don't know, more attractive to be a more international type guy and maybe didn't change the impression that he wasn't. I don't know.

The CNBC anchor appears to be referring to an internet rumor about an exchange that allegedly happened during a 2004 Illinois debate between Alan Keyes and then-state senator Obama during their campaign for the state's U.S. Senate seat.

However, an adviser to the 2004 Keyes campaign who attended the Keyes-Obama debates told Media Matters that the purported exchange is a "hoax."

"It's always been bogus," said Tom Hoefling, who is now the chairman and presidential candidate for America's Party, which was founded by Keyes. "It's been passed around by some crazy sources out there. I've tried to put that fire out probably at least a hundred times. ... All of the videos of those debates are up online. Show us where it is."

Hoefling said that the quote has "mainly been relegated to obscure blogs" and he's "had some people ask me about it."

When asked if CNBC should retract the quote, Hoefling replied: "If they aired it, certainly they should retract it. There's just no substantiation for that quote. It just never happened."

In response to emails from Media Matters, Kernen wrote: "Perhaps citing, as I clearly stated on air, an unconfirmed report from a conservative website was not the most conventional method to elicit a response from the loquacious Mr. Trump. My personal view is that there is no doubt that President Obama was born in America and is an American born citizen."

During the CNBC segment, Trump repeated debunked birther claims -- without pushback -- about topics such as no one knowing which hospital Obama was born at; Obama's grandmother stating he was born in Kenya; and the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate.

UPDATE: Bill Pascoe, Keyes' campaign manager in 2004, wrote in an email to Media Matters that he attended all the Keyes-Obama debates and "I don't recall the exchange to which you pointed me. And I can confirm that in all the campaign's research files on Barack Obama -- which took up about six feet of shelf space, in 19 large black binders -- we had no indication that he was not a natural born citizen." From his email:

I can't confirm that the exchange you cite is a "hoax" -- that implies a deliberate attempt to pass something off as true that isn't, and I don't know who started the story or what his/her motivations are or might have been.
I can confirm that I "served" as Alan Keyes' "campaign manager" to the extent that there was a "campaign" to "manage." And I can confirm that I was in the studio, or on site at the State Capitol, for every Keyes-Obama debate.
I don't recall the exchange to which you pointed me. And I can confirm that in all the campaign's research files on Barack Obama -- which took up about six feet of shelf space, in 19 large black binders -- we had no indication that he was not a natural born citizen.
In fact, I wrote about the issue on my blog at CQPolitics, back in July of 2009. It's no longer available (not even through the Wayback Machine, sadly) [update: link available here], but the lede was very simple:
"Dear Birthers,
"Stop!
"Sincerely,
"Serious Conservatives."
Network/Outlet
CNBC
Person
Joe Kernen
Show/Publication
Squawk Box
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