Media outlets and fact-checkers are calling out the myth that Hillary Clinton started the “birther” smear that President Obama was not born in the United States and was thus ineligible for the presidency, but Fox News has continued to run with the debunked claim.
Donald Trump Claims On Fox News That Hillary Clinton Started The Birther Movement
Donald Trump Accused Hillary Clinton Of Originating Birther Claims. Donald Trump “accused Hillary Clinton of being the first to spread the theory that President Barack Obama is a Muslim who was not born in the United States” on September 21, claiming her campaign was "'where it began.'" According to CNN:
Donald Trump on Monday accused Hillary Clinton of being the first to spread the theory that President Barack Obama is a Muslim who was not born in the United States.
“That's where it began,” Trump said Monday on Fox News. “Look at what she said about President Obama in 2008, believe me what I said is nothing. Take a look at what Hillary said in 2008 when she was running against him.”
Trump was one of the most high-profile proponents of the “birther” theory and repeatedly challenged Obama to release his birth certificate. Trump suggested then that Obama might be refusing to release his birth certificate because it might show he was a Muslim. Obama eventually released a long-form birth certificate proving he was born in the U.S. [CNN, 9/21/15]
Media And Fact Checkers Debunk Claims That Clinton Began Or Supported Birther Smear
PolitiFact: The Claim That Clinton Started The Birther Movement Is “False.” PolitiFact explained September 23 that "[t]here is no record that Clinton herself or anyone within her campaign ever advanced the charge that Obama was not born in the United States," and noted that Clinton had called the accusation “totally untrue” and “ludicrous.” PolitiFact rated the claim “false”:
There is no record that Clinton herself or anyone within her campaign ever advanced the charge that Obama was not born in the United States. A review by our fellow fact-checkers at Factcheck.org reported that no journalist who investigated this ever found a connection to anyone in the Clinton organization.
Clinton, herself, answered this very accusation after Trump's tweeit during an interview with CNN's Don Lemon. Lemon asked Clinton if she started smear campaigns that Obama was born outside the United States.
“That is - no. That is so ludicrous, Don. You know, honestly, I just believe that, first of all, it's totally untrue, and secondly, you know, the president and I have never had any kind of confrontation like that,” Clinton said. “You know, I have been blamed for nearly everything, that was a new one to me.”
It's an interesting bit of history that the birther movement appears to have begun with Democrats supporting Clinton and opposing Obama. But Trump, and others who have made this claim, neglect to mention that there is no direct tie to Clinton or her 2008 campaign.
The story appears to have started with supporters of Clinton, an important distinction.
Trump goes on to completely distort the chain of events by claiming Clinton “was all in” on the birther movement. Most of the talk started after Clinton suspended her presidential campaign. And the only thing she officially has ever done is deny any accusation of starting a whisper campaign.
We rate this claim False. [PolitiFact, 9/23/15]
Washington Post: “Wishful Thinking” To Blame Clinton For Birther Rumors. In an opinion piece published September 23, The Washington Post's David Weigel wrote that it is “wishful thinking” and “simply not true” to blame Hillary Clinton for the birther movement. Weigel explained "[t]he first people who grew obsessed with Obama's birth certificate were, indeed, Clinton superfans who wanted Obama off the ballot. But Clinton's campaign, for all of its Obama panic, did not indulge them":
Donald Trump no longer wants to be America's birther-in-chief. In a Monday interview with Fox News -- which might have been his last -- Trump said that questions about President Obama's citizenship “began” with Hillary Clinton, “when she was running against him.” On Wednesday, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump emphasized that Clinton was “the original birther” and “the one who started that whole thing.”
This was not Trump's first dabble with birther revisionism. At CPAC this winter, he insisted to Fox News host Sean Hannity that he was not the first birth certificate sleuth -- only the most successful. “Hillary Clinton wanted his birth certificate,” Trump said. “Hillary is a birther. She wanted it, but she was unable to get it.”
And more and more conservatives have settled on the Trump line -- that the questions about Obama's citizenship were so slimy that they obviously came from the Clinton camp. “The whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) confidently told Yahoo News this summer.
The problem: This is simply not true. Clinton's campaign, one of the most thoroughly dissected in modern history, never raised questions about the future president's citizenship. The idea that it did is based largely on a series of disconnected actions by supporters of Clinton, mostly in the months between Obama's reaction to the Jeremiah Wright story and the Democratic National Convention. I know, because I spent/wasted quite a lot of time covering this stuff.
But the Clinton campaign never pursued the idea that Obama was literally not American, and therefore ineligible for the presidency. A small group of hardcore Clinton supporters did. Specifically, anyone reading the fringe Web in the summer of 2008 could find the now-defunct blog called TexasDarlin, the now-defunct blog PUMAParty, and the now-conservative blog HillBuzz posting updates on the hunt for a birth certificate. It was a thin reed, and they knew it.
The first people who grew obsessed with Obama's birth certificate were, indeed, Clinton superfans who wanted Obama off the ballot. But Clinton's campaign, for all of its Obama panic, did not indulge them. And birtherism took off on the right in a way it never had on the left, to the extent that multiple Republican members of Congress eventually signed on to legislation that would have demanded more proof of citizenship from future presidential candidates. [The Washington Post, 9/23/15]
FactCheck.org: “No Evidence That Clinton Or Her Campaign Had Anything To Do With” Pushing Birther “Conspiracy Theories.” FactCheck.org has repeatedly debunked the substance of the birther theories -- they asserted July 2, “we were the first media organization to hold his birth certificate in our hot little hands and vouch for the authenticity of it” -- and pointed out that both their research and that of other outlets found no “link between the Clinton campaign, let alone Clinton herself” and the smear:
The claim about Clinton's tie to “birthers” was made earlier by Donald Trump in February at the CPAC event (at 24:20 mark). Trump -- who has a history of pushing bogus theories about Obama's birth -- said, “Hillary Clinton wanted [Obama's] birth certificate. Hillary is a birther. She wanted ... but she was unable to get it.”
But none of those stories [cited by those who claim Clinton started the birther smear] suggests any link between the Clinton campaign, let alone Clinton herself, and the advocacy of theories questioning Obama's birth in Hawaii.
One of the authors of the Politico story, Byron Tau, now a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told FactCheck.org via email that “we never found any links between the Clinton campaign and the rumors in 2008.”
The other coauthor of the Politico story, Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, said in a May 2013 interview on MSNBC that the conspiracy theories traced back to “some of [Hillary Clinton's] passionate supporters,” during the final throes of Clinton's 2008 campaign. But he said they did not come from “Clinton herself or her staff.”
Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said Cruz's claim is false. “The Clinton campaign never suggested that President Obama was not born here,” Schwerin wrote to us in an email.
It is certainly interesting, and perhaps historically and politically relevant, that “birther” advocacy may have originated with supporters of Hillary Clinton -- especially since many view it as an exclusively right-wing movement. But whether those theories were advocated by Clinton and/or her campaign or simply by Clinton “supporters” is an important distinction. Candidates are expected to be held accountable for the actions of their campaigns. Neither Cruz nor Trump, whose campaign did not respond to our request for backup material, provides any compelling evidence that either Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting the so-called birther movement. [FactCheck.org, 7/2/15]
Fox News Push Debunked Accusations That Clinton And Her Campaign Originated Birtherism
Megyn Kelly: Hillary Clinton Was “One Of The Main People To First Pour Fuel” On Birther Rumors. On the September 21 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly said that “one of the main people to first pour fuel on the whole birther controversy was Hillary Clinton”:
MEGYN KELLY: Alright, let me ask you this, because it -- obviously, Trump has, whether intentionally or not, changed the subject from the debate to what he has said about Muslims or didn't say about Muslims. The question now, Roger, is whether you think the media, the mainstream media in particular, is running with this and bashing Trump and, for that matter, Carson with it, without any context. And by that I mean -- referencing the fact that the -- one of the main people to first pour fuel on the whole birther controversy was Hillary Clinton. And she came out on Friday and was disgusted with what Donald Trump - she was disgusted. And yet, in the interview with 60 Minutes back in 2008, which The New York Times called the sleaziest moment of the campaign, she said this.
ROGER STONE: Trump is accused of trying to have it both ways by not slapping the guy down or responding by saying nothing. But Hillary Clinton, you just heard her try to have it both ways. [Fox News, The Kelly File, 9/21/15]
Fox Host Dana Perino: Hillary Clinton “Is The Author Of The Birther Movement.” On the September 18 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino said, “We've mentioned Hillary Clinton a couple of times. She is the author of the birther movement. This was back at the last election, 2008, when she was running for president ... That's where it actually all started”:
DANA PERINO: We've mentioned Hillary Clinton a couple of times. She is the author of the birther movement. This was back at the last election, 2008, when she was running for president.
PERINO: Back in 2008 her campaign circulated this anonymous email questioning President Obama's citizenship ... That's where it actually all started. And so I understand the White House wanting to go after Republicans, but I think the whole business is terrible. [Fox News, The Five, 9/18/15]
Steve Doocy: The Birther Movement “Started With Hillary.” On the September 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the birther movement “started with Hillary's campaign”:
GERALDO RIVERA: There are some fringe elements among Trump supporters that cannot be denied. Now, here he had a situation, remembering that Trump was the prime architect of the birther movement, at least --
STEVE DOOCY: Actually, it started with Hillary. Hillary's campaign started this. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/18/15]
Sean Hannity: Clinton Is “The Original Birther.” On the September 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed that “it was the Clinton campaign that circulated an email questioning Obama's citizenship,” calling her “the original birther”:
SEAN HANNITY: The Politico reported, the Telegraph reported, Mediaite reported, all these outlets reminded us that it was the Clinton campaign that circulated an email questioning Obama's citizenship, quote, 'Barack Obama's mother was living in Kenya with his Arab-African father late in her pregnancy, she was not allowed to travel at the time, so Barack Obama was born there and his mother took him to Hawaii to register his birth,' according to the email chain that they sent out, the Clintons sent out.
MARK STEYN: That's right.
HANNITY: So she's the original birther, if you will.
STEYN: Yeah, that's a good way of putting it, Sean. A lot of the sinister, exotic, mysterious, foreigner stuff about Obama was actually started by the Clinton campaign. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/22/15]
Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle: Clinton's “Campaign Started The Birther Rumors.” On the September 22 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle said, “You might remember [Hillary Clinton's] campaign started the birther rumors back in 2008, when the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from her,” and claimed Clinton's campaign “birthed the birther issue”:
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Not being pummeled with questions: Hillary Clinton. You might remember her campaign started the birther rumors back in 2008, when the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from her.
DANA PERINO: Look, from your opening, it's true. If you are a conservative or a Republican candidate in this race, you have to be so much better and on target than if you are Hillary Clinton. Because she hasn't given as many interviews, that means there's less opportunities. And I think a lot of media would say, oh, OK, yeah, but that was back in March of 2008. But I do think it gets to the content of the character, right. So -- and I also don't understand why she doesn't just throw some former campaign staffer under the bus for circulating the e-mail. But as you saw in the 60 Minutes piece she says “As far as I know,” as if she was just raising questions. They wanted it out there a little bit because they were in dire straits and desperate leading into the Iowa caucuses last time around -- two times around.
GUILFOYLE: So, yeah, so they birthed the birther issue. [Fox News, The Five, 9/22/15]
Fox News Contributor Tammy Bruce: “You Want Birthers? Who Was It That Started This Conversation? Hillary Clinton.” On the September 21 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, contributor Tammy Bruce said that “No Republican needs to defend Obama. What somebody in a town hall says is irrelevant to what, whether it's Donald Trump or anyone else. And you want birthers? Who was it that started this conversation? Hillary Clinton ... her staff has admitted to that”:
TAMMY BRUCE: Let me tell you right now. It is no Republican's responsibility to defend Barack Obama. He is a grown man. Americans have all kinds of opinions. Republicans need to stick to what's important to them on the issues. This is about the left controlling the narrative and having this be the conversation. What somebody in a town hall says is irrelevant to what, whether it's Donald Trump or anyone else. And you want birthers? who was it that started this conversation? Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008 --
COLMES: No, that's wrong, that's not accurate. That's not accurate. That's been debunked. It has been debunked.
BRUCE: Sent out the picture, no it has not. The campaign staff has admitted to it --
COLMES: No they have not. I have to correct this, this is just not true.
BRUCE: That they're the ones who suggested that he was born in Kenya. She is the one where it began. [Fox News, Happening Now, 9/21/15]