Myths And Falsehoods: Birther Edition
With birther conspiracy theory claims about President Obama again being hyped by the right-wing media, Media Matters looks at the myths and falsehoods surrounding Obama's birth certificate.
CLAIM: Obama Has Not Produced A Birth Certificate. Right-wing media have repeatedly claimed that Obama has not produced a birth certificate. For example, on the March 23 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity stated, "Can't they just produce it, and we move on?" Similarly, on the April 5 edition of his show, Hannity said that Obama was born in the United States but demanded that he "show the stupid birth certificate." [Fox News, Hannity, 3/23/11 , 4/5/11 ]
REALITY: Obama Released Certificate Of Live Birth In June 2008. In June 2008, Obama's campaign made public a copy of Obama's certificate of live birth, which was published on the Internet by the campaign and numerous media outlets. Many experts, including a team from FactCheck.org, reviewed the document in person and determined it was authentic. From FactCheck:
FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as "supporting documents" to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the U.S.A. just as he has always said. [FactCheck.org, 8/21/08 ]
FACT: Hawaii Health Dept. Official Certified That She Had Personally Seen Obama's Birth Certificate. As USA Today reported on July 28, 2009, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, certified that she had personally seen Obama's birth certificate in the original records maintained by the Hawaii government. In a press release, Fukino stated:
"I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, Director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen. I have nothing further to add to this statement or my original statement issued in October 2008 over eight months ago." [USA Today, 7/28/09 ; Hawaii Department of Health press release, 7/27/09 ]
CLAIM: Obama's Stepgrandmother Has Confirmed That Obama Was Born In Kenya. On the July 23, 2009, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, conservative radio host G. Gordon Liddy claimed that there is "a deposition, which is a sworn statement, from the stepgrandmother, who says, 'I was present and saw [Obama] born in Mombasa, Kenya.' " Further, according to WorldNetDaily, two individuals who purportedly took part in a telephone interview with Obama's stepgrandmother, Anabaptist minister Ron McRae and Rev. Kweli Shuhubia, each asserted in their affidavits that Obama's stepgrandmother told them that Obama was born in Mombasa. [Media Matters, 7/23/09 ]
REALITY: In The Interview, Obama's Grandmother Repeatedly Said That Obama Was Born In Hawaii. In a December 4, 2008, Slate.com article, David Weigel noted that McRae provided Pennsylvania attorney Philip J. Berg with only a "partial transcript of the call" and that the "rest of the call" showed that McRae was repeatedly told during the interview that "the president-elect was born in Hawaii":
On Oct. 16, an Anabaptist minister named Ron McRae called Sarah Hussein Obama, the president-elect's 86-year-old paternal step-grandmother, at her home in Kenya. Two translators were on the line when McRae asked if the elder Obama was "present" when the president-elect was born. One of the translators says "yes." McRae contacted Berg and gave him a partial transcript of the call with a signed affidavit. He opted not to include the rest of the call, in which he asks the question more directly -- "Was he born in Mombassa?" -- and the translators, finally understanding him, tell him repeatedly that the president-elect was born in Hawaii. [Slate, 12/4/08 ]
FACT: Salon Reported That The Full Audio Of The Interview Indicates That McRae Was Told "Over And Over Again, That Obama Was Born In The U.S." In a December 5, 2008, War Room post, Salon.com's Alex Koppelman similarly noted that the full audio of the interview indicates that McRae was told "over and over again, that Obama was born in the U.S.":
During the interview, which was conducted through a translator by a street preacher named Ron McRae, Sarah Obama does in fact say she was present. But it's clear that there was a mistranslation, because as soon as McRae very excitedly starts to try to get additional details, the people on the other end of the line realize what's happened and say, over and over again, that Obama was born in the U.S.
For some reason, the transcripts of the interview that have been posted on various right-wing Web sites all seem to cut off right after Sarah Obama says she was there when her grandson was born. So does this YouTube video with the audio of the interview. But as The Economist points out, McRae also released the full audio, in which the key parts of the conversation can be heard. Here's part of it. (The other person speaking is translator Vitalis Akech Ogombe.)
MCRAE: When I come in December. I would like to come by the place, the hospital, where he was born. Could you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?
OGOMBE: No, Obama was not born in Mombasa. He was born in America.
MCRAE: Whereabouts was he born? I thought he was born in Kenya.
OGOMBE: No, he was born in America, not in Mombasa.
MCRAE: Do you know where he was born? I thought he was born in Kenya. I was going to go by and see where he was born.
OGOMBE: Hawaii. Hawaii. Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father was also learning, there. The state of Hawaii. [Salon.com, 12/5/08 ]
CLAIM: Obama Wasn't Born In U.S., And His Birth Announcement Printed In Hawaii Papers Was Planted. On March 28, Fox News' Fox & Friends hosted Donald Trump and did not challenge his claim "[t]hat ad that was placed in the Houston [sic: Honolulu] paper, that was placed in the paper days after he was born. So he could have come into the country, and they did it for social reasons they put it in. They did it for whatever reason. There are a lot of reasons you could have put an ad in. But he could have been born outside of this country." [Media Matters, 3/28/11 ]
REALITY: FactCheck.org States That Those Who Believe Conspiracy Surrounding Birth Announcement Should "Equip Themselves With A High-Quality Tinfoil Hat." From FactCheck.org:
In fact, the conspiracy would need to be even deeper than our colleagues realized. In late July, a researcher looking to dig up dirt on Obama instead found a birth announcement that had been published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961:
The announcement was posted by a pro-Hillary Clinton blogger who grudgingly concluded that Obama "likely" was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu.
Of course, it's distantly possible that Obama's grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president someday. We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat. The evidence is clear: Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A. [FactCheck, 8/21/08 ]
FACT: McCain Campaign Cited Birth Announcement As Proof That Obama Was Born In Hawaii. The Washington Independent reported on July 24, 2009, that McCain campaign general counsel Trevor Potter stated the birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser was proof of Obama's birth in Hawaii and that the announcement would be "very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance":
While they ruled out any chance of the "birther" lawsuits holding up in court, lawyers for the McCain campaign did check into the rumors about Obama's birth and the assertions made by Berg and others. "To the extent that we could, we looked into the substantive side of these allegations," said Potter. "We never saw any evidence that then-Senator Obama had been born outside of the United States. We saw rumors, but nothing that could be sourced to evidence. There were no statements and no documents that suggested he was born somewhere else. On the other side, there was proof that he was born in Hawaii. There was a certificate issued by the state's Department of Health, and the responsible official in the state saying that he had personally seen the original certificate. There was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, which would be very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance." [The Washington Independent, 7/24/09 ]
CLAIM: WND Repeatedly Cited "Kenyan Birth Certificate," "Kenyan Officials" Claims As Fact. WorldNetDaily reported on August 2, 2009, that "Orly Taitz, who has filed a number of lawsuits demanding proof of Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president, has released a copy of what purports to be a Kenyan certification of birth," adding that "WND was able to obtain other birth certificates from Kenya" to compare, and "the form of the documents appear to be identical." WorldNetDaily also made no apparent effort to confirm or deny the certificate's legitimacy before reporting on it. Additionally, WND reported that "Kenyan officials affirm: Obama 'son of this soil,'" citing statements made "on the floor of the Kenyan National Assembly the day after Barack Obama was elected U.S. president." [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/10 ; 8/2/09 ; 8/4/09 ]
REALITY: Kenyan Birth Certificate Immediately Debunked As A Forgery. As Media Matters noted, the document posted by WND purports to have been produced by the "Republic of Kenya" on February 17, 1964. But Kenya didn't even become a republic until December 12, 1964. An article from that day's Washington Post, for example, reported that "Kenya became the newest republic within the British Commonwealth at midnight." WND later conceded that the "Kenyan birth document released by California attorney Orly Taitz is probably not authentic." [Media Matters, 8/3/09 , WorldNetDaily, 8/6/09 ]
CLAIM: "Hawaii Governor Can't Find Obama Birth Certificate." Corsi claimed that "Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie suggested in an interview published today that a long-form, hospital-generated birth certificate for Barack Obama may not exist within the vital records maintained by the Hawaii Department of Health." Additionally, on the April 4 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that Abercrombie "can't find" Obama's birth certificate.[WorldNetDaily, 1/18/11 ; Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 4/4/11 ]
REALITY: Abercrombie Has Said That The State of Hawaii Has The Document In Its Archives. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser printed excerpts of an interview Abercrombie gave to the paper's editorial board. During the interview, the Star-Advertiser asked him about his efforts to release Obama's birth certificate. From the Star-Advertiser:
Q: You stirred up quite a controversy with your comments regarding birthers and your plans to release more information regarding President Barack Obama's birth certificate. How is that coming?
A: I got a letter from someone the other day who was genuinely concerned about it; it is not all just political agenda. They were talking on Olelo last night about this; it has a political implication for 2012 that we simply cannot have.
(Abercrombie said there is a recording of the birth in the State Archives and he wants to use that.)
It was actually written I am told, this is what our investigation is showing, it actually exists in the archives, written down ...
...What I can do, and all I have ever said, is that I am going to see to it as governor that I can verify to anyone who is honest about it that this is the case.
If there is a political agenda then there is nothing I can do about that, nor can the president. [Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 1/18/11 , emphasis added]
CLAIM: "Obama May Not Be Eligible To Serve As President" Because Of His Father's Citizenship. In his book, The Manchurian President, WorldNetDaily reporter Aaron Klein argued that while there is "no convincing evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, nor that his birthplace was any place other than Hawaii, his declared state of birth." He claimed that because Obama's father was not a U.S. citizen, there should have been "Congressional debate about whether Obama is eligible under the United States Constitution to serve as president." Klein went on to examine the meaning of the term "natural born citizen" as a qualification to be president, referencing the 1758 book The Law of Nations and Supreme Court decisions such as Minor v. Happersett, concluding under that and "scores of other Supreme Court rulings, Obama may not be eligible to serve as president." Klein asserted that "a layman's reading of readily available legal resources ... clearly indicates a series of legitimate questions about Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency, given that Obama's father was not an American citizen." [Media Matters, 5/7/10 ].
REALITY: Courts Rejected Claim That Obama Was Ineligible Because Of Father's Nationality. Klein failed to note the numerous legal rulings or views of legal experts contradicting the view that Obama "may not be eligible to serve as president." For instance, conservative-leaning attorney Eugene Volokh stated in 2008 that "I have no reason to doubt that President-Elect Obama was born in Hawaii, and is therefore a natural-born citizen." Volokh has also noted that while most courts have dismissed claims against Obama's eligibility to become president on procedural grounds, one court that looked at the lawsuits substantively rejected the claim that Obama is not eligible to become president because his father was not a U.S. citizen. Volokh added, "The court's reasoning strikes me as quite persuasive." [Volokh.com, 12/1/08 ; 11/18/09 ; In.gov, 11/12/09 ]
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