Limbaugh Compares Lack Of Media Vetting Of Obama’s Birth Certificate To Lack Of Vetting Trump Policy
Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.
After a full year of the Trump steamroller -- in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy -- the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.
You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC's Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).
Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.
The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.
I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.
In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump's campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”
I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.
It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American -- almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii -- and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”
Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don't seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.
Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.
But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important -- for two reasons:
First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.
Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.
It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism -- a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, "I don't think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular... I do think I know what I'm doing.”
I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.
With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.
* * *
Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”
So, too, was Trump’s political career.
The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.
New York radio host Mark Simone and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is eligible to run for president because “he was born in Canada.”
Simone, a self-proclaimed longtime friend of Trump who recently said he "loves Donald Trump," hosted the businessman on the April 12 edition of his WOR show. After saying Colorado’s “system is rigged” because Cruz received the state's entire set of delegates, Simone brought up a hearing by the New Jersey secretary of state to determine Cruz's eligibility to be president because of his birthplace. Trump said Cruz isn't eligible because “he was born in Canada” and you need to be "natural born" which "means on this land." Listen:
MARK SIMONE (HOST): For the first time, [Cruz] is really being challenged in court, in New Jersey, by the secretary of state about whether he's technically legally eligible to be president. That could turn the whole thing.
DONALD TRUMP: I didn't even know that. Is that a fact?
SIMONE: Well, it was reported in the papers, because any secretary of state, that's the guy that --
TRUMP: Where did you read this? Is this today?
TRUMP: Oh, where? I've got to get that.
SIMONE: I'm pretty sure it was in the Post. You can find it online.
TRUMP: Yeah, I'll check it. No he's not -- look, he was born in Canada. He lived in Canada for four years. He was a Canadian citizen 18 months ago.
SIMONE: Yeah, but the guy that would have standing to bring the case is the secretary of state who has to put him on the ballot. So apparently in New Jersey, it was reported, the secretary of state is going to bring that to court.
TRUMP: You know what? It’s a great case. I mean, it’s such a great case. That's really amazing. I didn't know that there was reporting on it. I know that he's got a big problem in a couple of states. Big, big problem. Look, he was born in Canada. You're supposed to be natural born. Natural born means on this land. Unless you're born on a military base or something like McCain, which I understand. I get that.
This isn't the first time Trump has questioned Cruz's eligibility. He responded to a question in January about whether Cruz was eligible to run by saying, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. It depends.” Later that month Trump floated the idea that he might sue Cruz over his citizenship, noting that others have tried but lacked standing, yet as a candidate, Trump has “standing to sue.” Trump revisited the possibility of a lawsuit in February after Cruz released attack ads against him.
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
Denver Post columnist and local radio host Mike Rosen drew criticism this week when he questioned the citizenship status of President Obama. Media Matters looks back at his long record of extreme and hateful rhetoric.
Fox News' Fox Nation website is now highlighting Donald Trump's interview this afternoon with CNN's Wolf Blitzer using the headline, "Trump Knocks Wolf Blizter [sic] Into Next Week." During the interview, Trump offered up a variety of debunked claims intended to cast doubt on President Obama's place of birth, while Blitzer responded by noting the mountains of evidence definitively proving that Obama was born in Hawaii. At one point, Blitzer responded, "Donald, you're beginning to sound a little ridiculous, I have to tell you."
The Fox Nation post links to a Politico blog post reporting that Trump "took a shot at CNN's low ratings" during the interview.
From Fox Nation:
Journalism veterans and ethics experts are criticizing Fox News' Bret Baier for treating as credible the false claim that President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States, with one experienced news person calling his recent coverage of the issue "a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility."
Baier, often viewed as among the more credible news people at Fox News, reported in a news brief Monday night that Arizona Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett threatened to remove Obama's name from the Arizona ballot if Hawaii officials didn't prove to his satisfaction that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Baier stated: "Bennett says he is not, quote 'a birther' but wants to clear up the issue for concerned Arizonans." But Baier failed to "clear up the issue" for Fox's viewers by stating outright that President Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii, as indicated by his birth certificate and a contemporaneous newspaper announcement of his birth.
This marked at least the third time this year that Baier reported on developments in the debunked 'birther' movement without providing this crucial context.
By contrast, Fox News' own Shepard Smith stated in 2011: "Well, he has produced a birth certificate. It shows his mother gave birth to him in Hawaii. It is stamped and sealed by the state of Hawaii. It is confirmed, and Fox News can confirm the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States, period."
In a radio interview Tuesday Bennett stated he had withdrawn the threat and told listeners: "If I embarrassed the state, I apologize." The Arizona Republic reported that a "Hawaii official sent Bennett's office verification of birth for President Obama on Tuesday, according to both Bennett and Hawaii officials."
Baier did not respond to several requests for comment.
Several veteran journalists and media critics criticized Baier for his reporting on the subject.
"Whatever the motivation of Arizona's secretary of state it is a complete abandonment of integrity and responsibility for any news gatherer or disseminator not to ask the questions necessary to put a report on the secretary of state's actions in a context that would allow the reader or viewer of the report to make a decision on how he or she can use the information," said Bill Kovach, co-founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief of The New York Times. "In this case there is a rich history on the subject that raises deep and serious question about the motivation of anyone questioning President Obama's qualification for holding office including his citizenship and matters surround the time and place of his birth. To ignore this rich history of facts is irresponsible."
Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former executive editor of The Miami Herald, cited Baier's error of omission.
"An error of omission is the more insidious error because it typically escapes being corrected," Fiedler said in an email. "Nothing in his report is inaccurate. The problem lies in Baier's failure to include one additional fact: that, in due regard for the laws of Hawaii, the president has released an official copy of his birth certificate stating as legal fact that his mother gave birth to him in Honolulu. The state of Hawaii accepts this. The U.S. State Department accepts this."
Loading the player reg...
Thursday, infamous Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference to reveal the results of a 6 month-long "investigation" into the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, which he accused of being fraudulent. The birther pageant was a new low for Arpaio, who – along with his deputies – was recently found by state law enforcement agencies to have failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes and is currently under federal investigation for alleged "discriminatory practices" that include profiling Latinos.
Phoenix's major local news affiliates approached their coverage of the spectacle in different ways. The CBS affiliate (CBS 5) dedicated over nine minutes Thursday to a series of straight-faced (and apparently ongoing) segments they titled "Investigating the President." Despite the far-out, conspiracy-laden claims made at the birthers' presentation, CBS treated the participants and their assertions in an unduly serious fashion. The network's segment served primarily to amplify the arguments and opinions of Arpaio's "lead investigator" Mike Zullo, who is featured in a softball interview and in lengthy clips from the press conference.
Furthermore, the extremely limited sourcing of counterpoints used by CBS in the segments (anonymous detractors, a year-old Obama quote, and a brief, almost neutral, statement from an AZ congressman) gave the impression that vocal critics of the birth certificate circus were hard to come by -- a scenario that seems improbable at best, given the birther movement's rich history of making false claims.
Watch the CBS report:
In contrast, the Phoenix FOX affiliate (FOX 10) reported on the absurdity of the day with a responsible degree of scrutiny, making the story about the reasonableness of the county sheriff's involvement in the charade. The segment begins with an incredulous anchor throwing to some brief interviews highlighting opposing viewpoints on the issue. It continues with a one-on-one interview with Arpaio and FOX anchor John Hook, in which Hook questions the legal standing, fiscal responsibility and political sanity of the decision to, as Arpaio puts it, take the birthers' investigation "into another atmosphere."
The FOX report:
While CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson attends the far-right Conservative Political Action Conference this week to accept an award from the far-far-right group, Accuracy In Media, perhaps she will have extra time to take in some of the discussions scheduled to take place.
According to the posted agenda, these will be among the CPAC offerings Attkisson could sit in on:
-"How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America"
-"Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department"
-"Obama vs. The Constitution: How a Harvard Law Graduate President Is Shredding the Constitution"
Fascinating topics, no doubt.
Of course, last year CPAC made news when it banned the conservative gay group, GOProud, from being a conference sponsor in 2012. GOProud's inclusion in 2011 prompted angry boycotts from social conservative groups. AIM itself has a long and disturbing history of publishing columns condemning gays and their "sympathizers" as subversive agents of death.
There really is no cockamamie conspiracy AIM hasn't pursued over the years, including its pathetic attempts to promote the "cover-up" surrounding the death of Clinton aide Vince Foster.
Which reminds me, when Attkisson has finished her ten-minute award ceremony remarks for the appreciative CPAC audience, maybe she'll get a chance to ask Cliff Kincaid, director of AIM's Center for Investigative Journalism, about all the reporting he's done on President Obama's birth certificate.
In case Attkisson hasn't had time to read up, here's a sample of Kincaid's penetrating birther analysis:
-"Anybody who has an original copy of their own birth certificate, or a certified copy of their own original birth certificate, should immediately understand that the Obama version is lacking in basic information that should be publicly available."
You get the idea, even if CBS News does not: Sending a straight news reporter to an Obama-bashing conference to receive an award from a proud birther organization is a very, very bad idea, and one that will do needless damage to CBS' reputation.
As Media Matters accurately noted this week, AIM represents a "cesspool of hate and conspiracy theories." That's not hyperbole. That's the documented truth; go read for yourself.
So that's a problem in terms of CBS News maintaining its reputation as an honest news broker. But that's not all. When you add onto that the myriad of loony conspiracy theories that AIM has pushed, the Attkisson decision makes even less sense. And when you top it off with the fact that AIM represented an engine that helped drive the blind idiocy behind the birther charade, then you really have to wonder what CBS News is trying to accomplish this week at CPAC.
According to a network spokesperson, "CBS News journalists are regularly honored by a broad spectrum of organizations for their outstanding original reporting." That makes sense and I'm sure it's true. But at some point common sense ought to come into play.
Here's a simple, hypothetical question for CBS News executives: Eight years ago, would you have allowed a straight news reporter to accept an award from a radical left-wing group that dedicated untold hours trying to document how the Bush administration was behind the 9/11 attacks? And would you have allowed your straight news reporter to receive the award, and to address an appreciative crowd, at a national conclave of Bush-hating nut jobs?
I didn't think so.
Any look back at right-wing media milestones in 2011 would not be complete without an extended head shaking with regards to the birther comeback staged this year, courtesy of Fox News. Joining forces with reality TV host Donald Trump to resurrect a thoroughly discredited Obama smear campaign, the GOP Noise Machine, by embracing the birther story, provided an early indication of just how far removed from reality their pursuit to delegitimize the president would go this year.
What's also been fascinating is how partisans have used the debunked conspiracy theory to attack the president, while simultaneously insisting the rise of the birther story this year was proof of liberal media bias.
For instance, the Western Center For Journalism, which describes itself as a "Non Profit Organization dedicated to combating liberal media bias and government corruption" was founded by Joseph Farah, proprietor of leading birther website, WorldNetDaily. Recently, in its recent "top 50 examples of media bias" post, the Center perfectly captured the attempt by the conservative media to play both sides of this birther charade.
Number 27 on the list reads "Birthers." But how was the nonsensical far-right crusade to prove Obama isn't a natural born American citizen proof of liberal bias?
Loading the player reg...
On April 27 Fox Business' Eric Bolling hosted Pam Geller on his show Follow The Money. Geller -- who has dabbled in the wildest conspiracy theories involving President Obama's birth (such as the one in which Malcolm X is actually Obama's father) -- questioned the authenticity of Obama's long-form birth certificate.
Not even two days later Geller literally labeled Obama a "bastard."
In an April 29 post on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, Pam Geller said "President Obama is indeed a bastard, literally and figuratively." Geller based her post on the recent release of 1960's immigration records of Obama's father. Fox Nation has also highlighted Obama's father's records in an attempt to attack Obama without, of course, acknowledging that Obama himself addressed his father's shortcomings in his book Dreams from My Father.