Last week, Fox News invited discredited conspiracy theorist Kathleen Willey on air to smear Hillary Clinton. Willey has for years spread outlandish conspiracies about the Clintons, including suggesting that they may have been behind the death of her husband and former White House aide Vince Foster.
During the interview Fox host Megyn Kelly pointed out that "detractors" say Willey is a "dishonest person," and that "there's no direct evidence tying the Clintons" to some of Willey's more outrageous allegations. But the fact that Willey is dishonest and lacks evidence for her smears merely highlights the folly of giving her a platform in the first place.
Fox News has had similar lapses in judgment when hosting other conspiracy theorists and smear artists in the past. Among others, Fox has hosted a person who thinks the Obama administration may have "orchestrated" the Benghazi attacks; a guest that believes the president and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person; a blogger that thinks Obama's father isn't Obama's father; a contributor that once wrote a column arguing Rep. Gary Condit had Chandra Levy killed by a gay Caribbean motorcycle gang; and someone who thinks the president "bears traits that resemble the Antichrist."
Below is an admittedly incomplete list of the least credible guests the network has ever hosted. People that just missed the cut include a self-proclaimed prophet who warned that the Antichrist "will employ precisely the same methods" as President Obama and the author of the birther tomes Where's The Birth Certificate? and Where's The Real Birth Certificate?
Conservative conspiracy theorists have been obsessed with exposing what they see as a series of nefarious secrets hidden in President Obama's past. The idea that Obama has been hiding something has driven years of birth certificate conspiracies, and, most recently, Donald Trump making a very public fool of himself yesterday with his announcement that he was holding a charity donation ransom in exchange for Obama's college transcripts.
One of the more bizarre forms conservatives' sleuthing has taken is their ongoing quest to find Obama's "real" father. According to conservatives, alleged inconsistencies in Obama's biography prove that the elder Barack Obama is not the president's true father (they concede that Obama's mother was in fact Stanley Ann Dunham). Depending on whom you ask, Obama's "real" father could be Malcolm X, "some Indonesian," Frank Marshall Davis, or an unidentified "American black."
While all of these claims are outlandish and discrediting, their originators have nonetheless wielded outsized influence in the right-wing media and conservative movement at large.
The Drudge Report has reignited the bogus claim that President Obama's Social Security number is illegitimate.
On Wednesday, WND columnist and noted conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill reported on a court filing challenging the legitimacy of Obama's Social Security number. Today, Drudge linked to Cashill's column with the headline "Obama's Social Security Number challenged...":
Cashill's column seized on the point that the first three digits of Obama's Social Security number are exclusive to individuals who register in Connecticut. But the Social Security Administration explained that "the Area Number [the first three digits of an SSN] does not necessarily represent the State of residence of the applicant":
Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the State in which the card was issued. This did not necessarily have to be the State where the applicant lived, since a person could apply for their card in any Social Security office. Since 1972, when SSA began assigning SSNs and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code in the mailing address provided on the application for the original Social Security card. The applicant's mailing address does not have to be the same as their place of residence. Thus, the Area Number does not necessarily represent the State of residence of the applicant, either prior to 1972 or since.
As the urban legends website Snopes noted, the ZIP code for the Honolulu area, 96814, is very similar to the ZIP code of Danbury, Connecticut, 06814:
Why Barack Obama's Social Security card application might have included a Connecticut mailing address is something of a curiosity, as he had no known connection to that state at the time, but by itself that quirk is no indicator of fraud. The most likely explanation for the discrepancy is a simple clerical or typographical error: the ZIP code in the area of Honolulu where Barack Obama lived is 96814, while the ZIP code for Danbury, Connecticut, is 06814. Since '0' and '9' are similarly shaped numbers and are adjacent on typewriter keyboards, it's not uncommon for handwritten examples to be mistaken for each other, or for one to be mistyped as the other (thereby potentially resulting in a Hawaiian resident's application mistakenly being routed as if it had originated from Connecticut).
The Drudge Report has joined Rush Limbaugh in hyping this inflammatory lie about Obama. During the May 7 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh asked in response to a caller who cast doubt on Obama's birth certificate: "What are your thoughts on the fact that Obama's Social Security number is from Connecticut, and he's never been there?"
"Is there something on Obama's birth certificate he does not want us to see? Foe shizzle." - Pamela Geller
The White House, in releasing President Obama's long-form birth certificate this morning, has crushed once and for all the falsehood that animated the birther movement -- the claim that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States and is thus ineligible for the presidency. The birthers' zealous adherence to that ludicrous allegation has resulted in an impressive number of embarrassing failures for the movement, and now seems like a good time to chronicle the best of the worst.
10: Michelle Obama Accidentally Admitted Obama Was Born In Kenya... Twice
Last year, conservative websites promoted two video clips of Michelle Obama supposedly going birther. In the first, she called her husband "Kenyan," and in another she referred to Barack's "home country" as "Kenya." Rather than view both comments as what they clearly were -- a reference to the fact that Barack Obama's ancestors on his father's side hail from Kenya -- some of the leading lights of the conservative blogosphere suggested they were an accidental admission by Michelle Obama that her husband was born in Kenya.
American Thinker publisher Thomas Lifson wrote that Michelle's "rather whiny harangue" means that the question, "Is Michelle Obama a birther?" now "has to be asked." Fox Nation embedded one of the videos on their site with the headline "Birther Up in Arms Over First Lady 'Home Country' Video." Leading birther website/national laughingstock WorldNetDaily promoted both videos.
9. Obama's "Real" Fathers: Jimi Hendrix, Malcolm X, Anonymous "Black Guy"
One of the more amusing subsets of birtherism involved wild speculation regarding Obama's "true" parentage. Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs famously reposted an intricate theory suggesting that Obama was really the love child of Malcolm X. Anti-Semitic liar Andy Martin posited that Obama is actually the offspring of Frank Marshall Davis, a controversial writer and political activist who lived in Hawaii. Jack Cashill offered up Jimi Hendrix as a potential father for the first black president, but gave more credence to the notion that "a black guy had impregnated" Obama's mother, and Barack Obama Sr. was bribed by Obama's grandparents to stand in as the boy's father.
Yesterday afternoon on MSNBC, Andrew Breitbart had himself a good old-fashioned meltdown on Martin Bashir, and in the process took a moment to defend the "compelling" arguments put forth by Jack Cashill regarding the authorship of Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father. Cashill contends that it was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers. Reality and common sense would have it otherwise. Cashill also thinks obviously Photoshopped photos of Obama are real. Again, reality and Obama's disembodied knee speak to a different truth.
But just for laughs, let's take a look at an especially "compelling" portion of Cashill's book, Deconstructing Obama, that endeavors to explain the truth behind Barack Obama's parentage and background -- specifically, that Obama's real father was an anonymous African American from Seattle, and Obama's grandfather bribed Barack Obama Sr. to pose as the child's father.
Given these understandings, serious people have questioned whether the adventurous Ann [Dunham] might not have coupled with a young "negro" she had met at one of those hip Seattle coffeehouses that she frequented. Ann never dated "the crew-cut white boys," affirmed friend Susan Boykin. If a black guy had impregnated Ann, this would explain the family's abrupt departure to Hawaii, the one state in the union where a mixed-race baby could grow up almost unnoticed. It certainly explains the move to Hawaii better than the illusory rationale Obama offers in Dreams.
This scenario makes sense of any number of details, including Stanley Dunham's sudden eagerness to move without promotion to Hawaii; Madelyn's willingness to quit her job as an escrow officer in nearby Bellevue, Washington; Ann's angry resistance to the move; her poor performance in her limited first-semester courses at the University of Hawaii; her failure to enroll for the second semester; and, most of all, her otherwise inexplicable return to Washington in August 1961 -- if not earlier.
True, to make this scenario work, we have to add one more major variable, but it is a plausible one. Imagine Ann coming home from class one day in Hawaii in fall 1960 in one of her all-concealing muumuus -- she had written Botkin that muumuus were worn on campus -- and telling her father that there was this charming, larger-than-life Kenyan in her class. The scheming Stanley asks her to invite him over for dinner.
Stanley befriends Barack Sr. and enlists him in his plot. He explains that a boy named Barack, the legitimate son of a Kenyan, could move through American life more seamlessly than a boy named, say, Johnny, the illegitimate son of an American black. It may not have been fair, but it was true. He tells Barack Sr. that he can make it worth his while. Ann understands. Madelyn is dubious about all this -- she is paying the bills -- but she plays along.
As to Barack Sr., he has to contribute nothing to the proceedings but his name. No marriage announcement will appear in the Honolulu papers. Ann will leave in time for the fall semester at the University of Washington -- perhaps months before -- and she will not return until he leaves for graduate school. The address she provides for the birth announcement is eight miles from the university, so she will not embarrass him by hanging around campus. [Deconstructing Obama, pages 263-265]
This is from the mind of the man Breitbart finds "compelling."
Following Donald Trump's lead, Fox News figures have recently embraced or promoted aspects of the birther conspiracy theory by falsely claiming that President Obama has not produced his birth certificate, or by hosting birthers to hype their discredited theories unchallenged.
WorldNetDaily founder and editor Joseph Farah reportedly wrote in a recent email exchange with Salon's Justin Elliott, "Admittedly, we publish some misinformation by columnists." Indeed, Farah is right: WorldNetDaily columnists -- and reporters -- have published numerous falsehoods and smears as well as some of the most absurd anti-Obama conspiracy theories and falsehoods.
Jack Cashill, author of the charmingly insane book Deconstructing Obama, claims to have unearthed yet another shocking bombshell about Barack Obama's past. According to Cashill's WorldNetDaily column this morning, this photo of young Barack Obama and his grandparents in New York is a forgery into which Obama has been photoshopped:
Cashill writes: "The bench is real. The grandparents are real. The wall behind them is real. Barack Obama is not. He has been conspicuously photoshopped in. Who did this and why remains as much a mystery as Obama's extended stay in New York." He embeds a YouTube video that claims to have uncovered the "real" photo, seen below, in which Obama is nowhere to be seen:
Actually, to say Obama is "nowhere to be seen" isn't quite accurate, given that the young future president's right knee is still somehow visible in the "real" photo:
So yeah: Jack Cashill is a clownish buffoon. Be sure to tell that to the hosts of Fox & Friends the next time they have him on national television. Also, drop a line to Andrew Breitbart, who is quite enamored of Cashill's "convincing work."
Fox & Friends hosted WorldNetDaily columnist Jack Cashill to promote his discredited conspiracy theory that Bill Ayers wrote President Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father. Cashill has a long history of pushing insane conspiracy theories about Obama.
In the pantheon of insane anti-Obama conspiracy theories, few hold a candle to the idea that former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers secretly wrote Barack Obama's autobiography Dreams from My Father.
This particular bit of crackerjack analysis was popularized by WorldNetDaily writers Jack Cashill and Aaron Klein, who have based their theories on "evidence" like the frequency of nautical terms in Obama's book, despite the fact that "Obama gives little indication that he has any real experience with the sea or ships beyond bodysurfing at Waikiki." (Slightly less unhinged conservatives like David Freddoso have labeled Cashill's work on this "a lot of crap, all conjecture and no concrete evidence.")
The Ayers ghostwriter theory has been back in full force this week, thanks to some conservative bloggers' inability to detect sarcasm. Speaking at Montclair State University last week, Ayers responded to a question from an audience member by joking that he "wrote" Obama's autobiography, and saying, "if you help me prove it, I'll split the royalties with you." Ayers was quite clearly kidding, and, as Jim Newell explains at Gawker, he's used this same joke before.
Numerous conservative websites like NewsBusters (which exists to lecture places like the New York Times on how to properly conduct their journalistic activities) promoted the Ayers comment as an admission that he wrote Obama's book. The story does seem to have caused a bit of a rift in the conservative blogosphere, however, with Dan Riehl writing that people running with the supposed admission look like "a bunch of Kool-Aid inebriated Right Wing nut jobs."
And while it's always good sport to point and laugh at the clownishness of certain corners of the conservative media, it's important to point out that conspiracies theories like this are actually not out of the conservative mainstream - they are the bread and butter of the movement.
In his upcoming book, which Media Matters obtained in advance of its release, Andrew Breitbart asserts that Ayers wrote Obama's book. Twice.
In a chapter titled, "Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Revolutionaries," Breitbart discusses the rise of conservative "citizen journalists" and purports to enumerate their various accomplishments. Apparently unfamiliar with the words "proved" and "reasonable," Brietbart lists among citizen journalist accomplishments that they "proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father, was ghostwritten by domestic terrorist Bill Ayers." From Breitbart's Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save The World:
In the past few years alone, citizen journalists have deposed Dan Rather for his scurrilous and baseless attacks on George W. Bush; exposed John Kerry's true war record during the 2004 election cycle; debunked Reuters's photography fraud in the Middle East; proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father, was ghostwritten by domestic terrorist Bill Ayers; gotten rid of communist Van Jones; and the list goes on. [Righteous Indignation, pg 149-150]
On the next page, advising activists to "Be open about your secrets," Breitbart again references Obama's "Ayers-written autobiography":
3. Be open about your secrets. If you're going to go out in public, be absolutely open about what you've done in the past. Take a page from Barack Obama, who revealed in his Ayers-written autobiography that he had done a bit of blow, hung out with commies and racists like Jeremiah Wright, and hated whitey. Once it was out there, there wasn't much the right could do with it - he'd already admitted it. [Righteous Indignation, pg 150]
We'll have more on Breitbart's book closer to the release date, but this seemed as good a time as any to remind people that he shouldn't be taken seriously.
Update: Proving yet again that there is nothing too absurd for conservative media outlets to promote, Fox & Friends hosted Cashill this morning to discuss his various conspiracy theories about Obama, including the idea that Ayers wrote Obama's book.
Update 2: In contrast to the review copy we were sent, Breitbart's endorsement of Cashill's theory is somewhat toned down in the retail version of the book.
Whereas in the version we were sent Breitbart says citizen journalists have "proved beyond a reasonable doubt" that Ayers wrote Obama's autobiography, it now says that citizen journalists have "raised the question whether Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father, was ghostwritten by domestic terrorist Bill Ayers."
From the March 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Brian Kilmeade gave more than 16 minutes of airtime on his Fox News Radio show to birther Jack Cashill to push conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and his upbringing.
Cashill, author of Deconstructing Obama (more about the book here), told Kilmeade that Obama has constructed a "big lie" about the first few years of his life; Bill Ayers wrote Dreams From My Father; Obama is "using" Michelle Obama and his marriage as a political calculation; and a reporter should ask Obama, "where's the birth certificate?"
On Obama's upbringing, Cashill has previously claimed that Frank Marshall Davis "quite possibly" had sex with an "underage Obama" and Barack Sr. isn't Obama's father. If you need more evidence that Cashill is untethered from reality, just take a glance at his columns hosted at birther center WorldNetDaily.
At the conclusion of the interview, Kilmeade said: "Jack Cashill, good luck with your book. You have some interesting thoughts, and research. See what you think of it."
Kilmeade's promotion of Cashill comes just two weeks after Kilmeade suggested people shouldn't bring up President Obama's upbringing. In response to Mike Huckabee's false claim that Obama grew up in Kenya, Kilmeade said: "I just think that's a non-starter with any president. Why would you even bring up the president's upbringing? You never brought it up with Bush, Clinton, Carter. Forget it."
Kilmeade's suggestion smacked of hypocrisy since Kilmeade was one of the first national media figures to pickup the false story that Obama was educated in a madrassa. Kilmeade's Fox & Friends, along with the rest of Fox News, has been home to suggestions that Obama lacks a valid birth certificate and wasn't born in the United States.
And now he's giving 16 minutes of airtime to a guy like Jack Cashill.
Kilmeade's interview below:
We previously noted that WorldNetDaily columnist Jack Cashill -- purveyor of the conspiracy theory that Bill Ayers authored Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father -- suggested that Obama may actually be "the illegitimate son of an American black." Cashill is now promoting a new book and making further wild claims: this time, that "drunken poet" Frank Marshall Davis was "plying the underage Obama with alcohol and quite possibly sex."
From Cashill's March 10 WorldNetDaily column:
On the Hawaii front, Obama had to worry too about what [Chicago Tribune reporter David] Mendell would learn about poet, pornographer and card-carrying member of the CPUSA, Frank Marshall Davis.
That relationship between Obama and Davis is succinctly illustrated in the poem "Pop," which was published under the 19-year-old Obama's name in a 1981 edition of an Occidental College literary journal.
Instinctively protective of Obama, reviewers to a person decided that the "Pop" of the poem had to be Obama's mother's father, Stanley Dunham, the man Obama called "Gramps."
Not a one of them asked the most basic question: Why would Obama name a poem about the man he called "Gramps" "Pop"?
Rebecca Mead, writing in the New Yorker, unhesitatingly describes the poem as a "loving if slightly jaded portrait of Obama's maternal grandfather."
Obama biographer David Remnick makes the same point, "'Pop,'" he says as though a given, "clearly reflects Obama's relationship with his grandfather Stanley Dunham."
More oblivious still is British poet Ian McMillan. "There's a humanity in the poem," he writes in the Guardian, "a sense of family values and shared cultural concerns that give us a hint of the Democrat to come."
Family values? What family? Roman Polanski's? The "Pop" of the poem is a drunken poet who is plying the underage Obama with alcohol and quite possibly sex.
Cashill has also complained that even Fox News is part of the conspiracy to keep the public from knowing about his theories about Obama.
The premise of Jack Cashill's new book, Deconstructing Obama, published by Simon & Schuster, is that President Obama's entire life is one massive fraud, as demonstrated (Cashill claims) by the fact that Obama almost certainly did not write the two memoirs that eloquently and movingly retell the president's life story. And I have to admit that Cashill's skepticism is contagious -- having read Deconstructing Obama, I find myself wondering whether it was written by Jack Cashill, or a sophisticated computer program meant to simulate the effects of low oxygen levels on the brain.
I've never encountered anything -- on the left or the right -- so aggressively stupid, so terminally self-unaware, so pathetically festooned with self-aggrandizing tripe as Deconstructing Obama. When not retreading the already well-worn ground of Obama's "radical" associates, Cashill describes at length his own journalistic expertise and gift for literary analysis -- praise that he unwittingly steps on when recounting his amateurish and nonsensical attempts at "detective work" into Obama's books and past. (At one point, Cashill faults his critics for not acknowledging "my frequent caveats about the limits of my knowledge.")
More than anything else, Deconstructing Obama is a bizarre book. It's a frayed string of conspiracy theories that loops and knots itself into a tangled mess. It's a disjointed harangue in which chapters seem to repeat themselves and an entire section is inexplicably devoted to Sarah Palin's "perseverance in the face of resistance." It's an intellectually and morally offensive screed in which 19-year-old Barack Obama's poetry serves as the launching point for an outlandish theory about Obama's grandfather bribing Barack Obama Sr. to pose as the future president's father. (Cashill's candidates for Obama's "real" father include Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix.)
Conspiracy theories don't get any more bizarre than this: WorldNetDaily columnist Jack Cashill claims conservative media, including Fox News, are acting as a "firewall" protecting President Obama:
Two days after the debut of my book, "Deconstructing Obama," last week, I contacted the producer of a popular conservative radio show with a large national audience.
"Mine is the first book to address the birther issue in a serious way." I wrote. "It also addresses the authorship issue. Right now, the book is something of a grass roots sensation. I need to push it up the food chain."
Here is the e-mail I received back in full: "Thanks for the offer, but we make a point to steer clear of these topics."
The "topics" in question, if explored intelligently, will almost certainly undo Obama's re-election bid, but producers and their hosts, as was obvious here, worry overly about their own imagined credibility.
To be fair, the host referenced above does not work for a network owned by multi-media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but several of Murdoch's most prominent hosts on Fox News have made a point of shunning both issues as well.
Although Murdoch may not be responsible for the conservative media firewall around the White House, no one is more capable of tearing it down.
There are, of course, a few obvious problems with this theory. First, there is no "birther issue." Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. Second, Fox isn't participating in a "conservative media firewall around the White House," it's leading a vicious campaign against the White House. Finally, Fox isn't "shunning" birtherism -- it's promoting birtherism.