I hesitate to offer advice to the amateur vetting squad over at Breitbart.com, but here goes: If you have to start a piece with a disclaimer announcing that "Breitbart News is a site that has never advocated the narrative of 'Birtherism,'" then you're doing something wrong.
There is no getting out in front of birther allegations.
The latest installment of the self-serious and wildly incompetent Breitbart.com-led "vetting" of President Obama concerns a 1991 pamphlet published by Obama's former literary agency that erroneously describes Obama as being "born in Kenya." The Breitbartlings claim they're not publishing this as bait for the unkillable birther conspiracy, but rather because... well, even they don't seem too sure:
It is evidence--not of the President's foreign origin, but that Barack Obama's public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times.
It's actually evidence of the passive voice's capacity for mischief. And while they might not consider this "evidence" of Obama's "foreign origin," all the birther troglodytes out there certainly do.
Later in the piece they say this fits "a pattern in which Obama -- or the people representing and supporting him -- manipulate his public persona." Um... OK? Left unexplained is what benefit/motive Obama and his support network would have in lying about his birthplace in a pamphlet that would be viewed by a vanishingly small audience.
Also, prior to the pamphlet's publication, Obama had apparently been going around telling major newspapers that he was born in Hawaii. When he was elected to the Harvard Law Review in 1990, the New York Times reported:
The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago's South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.
''The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress,'' Mr. Obama said today in an interview. ''It's encouraging."
Similar pre-1991 mentions of Obama's Hawaiian birth can be found in articles by the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.
So none of this really makes any sense or has any explanation that isn't insane. But's that's unimportant because...
Regardless of the reason for Obama's odd biography, the Acton & Dystel booklet raises new questions as part of ongoing efforts to understand Barack Obama -- who, despite four years in office remains a mystery to many Americans, thanks to the mainstream media.
What are those "new questions"? They don't know. They just know they're questions, and they're new, and the media, and Obama, and whatever.
UPDATE: Teagan Goddard of Political Wire got in touch with the literary agency, and they said it was all just a mistake. "This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me -- an agency assistant at the time. There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii."
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
Right-wing media have responded to a Washington Post story detailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's alleged bullying of a high school classmate by dismissing Romney's reported bullying as "foolish games" and possibly just an attempt to enforce his school's dress code. However, bullying has destructive consequences for victims, including heightened risks of depression and suicide.
After President Obama's historic announcement that he is in favor of marriage equality, many in the right-wing media are refusing to debate the substance of same-sex marriage. Instead, they are casting about for ways to attack Obama's position on marriage that ignore the actual debate.
Conservative media figures are suggesting that a recently released memo from Leon Panetta shows that President Obama doesn't deserve credit for ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. In fact, the memo fits the previously reported timeline of the decision to raid the compound and confirms Obama's role in making that decision.
Last August, The New Yorker reported the details of Obama's decision to order Vice Adm. Bill McRaven, who is in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, to carry out the raid:
Late on Thursday afternoon [April 28, 2011], Panetta and the rest of the national-security team met with the President. For the next few nights, there would be virtually no moonlight over Abbottabad -- the ideal condition for a raid. After that, it would be another month until the lunar cycle was in its darkest phase. Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.'s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center's director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. Yet, as Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, put it to me recently, the longer things dragged on, the greater the risk of a leak, "which would have upended the thing." Obama adjourned the meeting just after 7 P.M. and said that he would sleep on it.
The next morning [April 29, 2011], the President met in the Map Room with Tom Donilon, his national-security adviser, Denis McDonough, a deputy adviser, and Brennan. Obama had decided to go with a DEVGRU [SEAL team] assault, with McRaven choosing the night. It was too late for a Friday attack, and on Saturday there was excessive cloud cover. On Saturday afternoon, McRaven and Obama spoke on the phone, and McRaven said that the raid would occur on Sunday night. "Godspeed to you and your forces," Obama told him. "Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely." [emphasis added]
For a recent cover article, Time magazine released a memo written by then-CIA director Panetta on the morning of April 29, 2011. Time transcribed the handwritten note:
MEMO FOR THE RECORD Apr. 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m.
Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault. The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven's hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am. [emphasis added]
So, the memo confirms that Obama met with national security adviser Tom Donilon and others on the morning of April 29. Donilon then called Panetta on the phone and told him that Obama had decided to go forward with the raid, and that McRaven was in charge of operational decision-making, as one would expect with any major military operation.
The right-wing media are twisting this final detail -- that McRaven was in control of the operational decisions -- into a suggestion that there was no "gutsy call" by Obama to go forward with the raid.
The Breitbart team has a new entry in its flailing campaign to redefine former Harvard law professor Derrick Bell and critical race theory -- along with President Obama -- as radical. This time around, Breitbart editor-in-chief Joel Pollak offers up the previously known fact that Bell wrote a blurb for Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, that was published in the book's first edition.
The "exclusive" part of Pollak's post appears to be a letter that Obama sent to Bell requesting the blurb. Pollak says the letter comes from the New York University archives, which hold Bell's papers. The portion of the letter that Pollak quotes is unremarkable:
As for me, I'm keeping busy in Chicago. I'm currently working at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland here in Chicago, a small firm specializing in employment discrimination and voting rights/civil rights cases. I'm also teaching a seminar on race and the law at the University of Chicago law school -- your casebook has been an invaluable reference guide for that.
The main reason I'm writing to you, though, has to do with a book that I've been writing, on again, off again, for the past two years. Originally, the book (called Dreams of My Father) was going to be a series of essays on issues of race and class, but as it has evolved it's become a memoir of my family and my experiences as an organizer in Chicago...
Your name came to mind as somebody whose insight I've always appreciated, so I've enclosed an advanced reader's edition of the book. If you have time to read it and think it's worth of a plug, I'd be thrilled...
Pollak goes on to link to a website showing a copy of Dreams From My Father that includes the blurb from Bell.
All of this does nothing to change the fact that Bell is a mainstream figure. It is also not evidence, as the Breitbart team has been insisting, that the media have failed to "vet" Obama and his administration.
Nevertheless, Pollak concludes:
Clearly, Obama's link to Bell was more than just a "hug," but part of a sustained effort to align himself with the radical left--and to be seen by others as a legitimate radical--in the early stages of his public life.
As a reminder of how wrong Pollak is about this, watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien explain the details to him back on March 8:
Last month, the Breitbart team tried -- and failed -- to gin up outrage over a 1991 video showing then-law student Barack Obama embracing the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell. Breitbart editor-in-chief Joel Pollak went to great pains to cast Bell and the critical race theory that he espoused as radical, even pushing his spin in an appearance on CNN (where host Soledad O'Brien took apart his argument).
In an April 25 post, Pollak returned to the Bell non-controversy, announcing in a post on Big Government that Breitbart News has obtained "exclusive" "handwritten notes" that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan sent to Bell back in 1985. At the time, Kagan was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, to which Bell had submitted an article.
And just what did the Breitbart team find? Apparently nothing good, because the only thing the post proves is that Kagan questioned one of Bell's ideas.
Pollak apparently found images of the notes themselves unworthy of inclusion in his post, save a single image of a few sentence fragments.
Looking on for at least a transcription of the notes -- the headline refers to "handwritten notes" "on critical race theory" -- the reader has to wade through a few paragraphs of Pollak building tension. He seems to have found significance, for example, in Kagan's choice of paper: "Unlike then-Harvard Law Review president Carol Steiker, who corresponded with Bell via typed letter (apparently on a 1980s-vintage dot matrix printer), Kagan chose to write to Bell exclusively on yellow notepad paper. She did not explain her choice to write by hand, save to suggest in one note on Aug. 30, 1985 that she was pressed for time."
President Obama has urged lawmakers to provide relief on student loan debt by preventing interest rates for federally subsidized loans from doubling. Conservative media have responded by ignoring the economic benefits of such a program and instead claiming Obama is trying to "bribe" college students with "gimmicks" and "giveaway[s]" in an effort to get reelected.
A Fox Nation headline shouts: "RUSSIA HIRES EXXON MOBIL TO GET OIL OBAMA DOESN'T WANT." The headline accompanies a Breitbart.com post of the same title by AWR Hawkins about ExxonMobil's deal to develop Russian oil resources in the Arctic. The post is only a few paragraphs long but it gets an impressive number of things wrong. Let's take them one at a time. Hawkins begins by stating:
Here's the picture--Alaska contains a wealth of oil both on land, in ANWR, and off shore in its outer continental shelf. But President Obama and the Democrat party are staunchly opposed to allowing us to avail ourselves of it.
In fact, President Obama is expanding offshore drilling in the Arctic. You don't have to take it from me -- the VP of Shell Alaska has described the Obama administration as having responded "favorably" to its drilling plans. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office questions whether regulators will be able to provide "sufficient oversight" of Arctic drilling operations given the "environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region." Hawkins continues:
And via the Keystone Pipeline, Canada could supply nearly 1,000,000 barrels of oil a day that we're not getting from Alaska, but Obama and the Democrats have stopped that too. As a result, the price we're paying per-gallon for gasoline is steadily climbing, and other countries are choosing to go where we won't for oil. Thus the oil Canada was going to sell us via Keystone will now go to China....
No serious energy analyst would agree that the administration's decision to delay Keystone XL is why gasoline prices have risen. And once the pipeline was up and running at full capacity in a decade or so, the impact on gasoline prices would be a matter of pennies, if anything. As for U.S. oil production, due to the scale of the global market, "we probably couldn't produce enough to affect the world price of oil," in the words of Ken Green from the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Hawkins claims that the U.S. will be missing out on Canadian oil in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline, but as FactCheck.org has noted, "There's nothing to prevent more Canadian oil from coming into the U.S. right now" since "existing cross-border pipelines already have much more capacity than they are using" and will have excess capacity until at least 2020. An analysis conducted by the oil consulting firm EnSys for the Department of Energy found that U.S. oil imports are "insensitive" to "whether or not KXL is built and projected that in 2030, the amount of oil we import from Canada would be the same with or without the pipeline. Hawkins again:
Right-wing media have seized on a National Journal report quoting an anonymous State Department official saying that "the war on terror is over" to claim that President Obama has "surrendered." In fact, both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly emphasized their commitment to "eliminat[ing] terrorism" and have repeatedly said "we are at war" with Al Qaeda and other extremists.
Breitbart.com is misrepresenting statements by Van Jones about the public health benefits of environment regulation. Breitbart wrote that Jones "claimed the right is waging an open campaign and willing to kill children to weaken the EPA to create a new job," which is not at all what Jones said in the video that the sites used.
A recent New York Times article highlighted two studies that the article claimed "question the pairing of food deserts and obesity" and may "raise questions about the efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods." While right-wing media have seized on the article to claim that food deserts are a "make-believe" issue, food experts have called the Times article "sloppy" and have said the two studies it highlights are "definitely outliers," in the face of "over 50 studies" in the past three years finding "the opposite."
Following the release of a report on the legislative business conducted by the Senate, conservative media have tried to cover up Republican obstructionism in order to label the Democratic-controlled Senate as "lazy" and "do-nothing." In fact, Senate Republicans have repeatedly used procedural tricks to block measures that would otherwise have passed the Senate.
Conservative media figures have been attacking President Obama's economic record by citing the fact that approximately 88 million Americans are not considered part of the labor force. In fact, only a small fraction of those "not in the labor force" actually want to work, and economists say the long-term decline in labor force participation is due to changing demographics -- a trend that is likely to continue over the next decade.
James O'Keefe's Project Veritas has unveiled the latest chapter in its ongoing "voter fraud investigation": a video that purports to show a young man nearly obtaining the ballot of Attorney General Eric Holder. Like O'Keefe's past "voter fraud" videos, however, this video fails to show actual voter fraud being committed, and it doesn't prove the existence of a widespread conspiracy to throw an election. That's because both are extremely rare.
The video shows the man entering a polling place in Washington, D.C., then cuts to the man asking a poll worker, "Do you have an Eric Holder?" After the O'Keefe associate confirms Holder's address, which is censored, the poll worker offers him the voter roll and says, "Please sign your name there." The fake Eric Holder then says he left his ID in the car and leaves.
The video's accompanying blog post on Breitbart.com claims that Project Veritas has "proven" that "voter fraud is easy and simple -- and may be increasingly common in the absence of voter ID laws." A Daily Caller article on the video claimed that Holder "could have himself been disenfranchised by white men because there is no federal voter ID law to protect voters in D.C." from fraud.
This video doesn't prove any of these things. What it shows is a man coming close to committing a serious crime. But even if the man had fraudulently cast a vote under Eric Holder's name, D.C. and federal laws provide a number of protections against fraudulent votes.
First of all, if the imposter had fraudulently cast Holder's ballot, and the real Eric Holder then had shown up to vote and been told his name was already crossed off the list, the real Holder almost certainly could have still voted. Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, any voter who is told by an "election official" that he or she is "not eligible to vote" must be allowed to "cast a provisional ballot."