What Was CNBC Thinking?

The temptation to try to create campaign news during the slow summer months is one that journalists ought to resist. If not, they could end up looking like CNBC did on Tuesday when the business news channel lost its bearings (again) and invited disgraced birther Donald Trump on to weave his tired conspiracies about the president's supposedly hidden past. Worse, CNBC.com then wrote up Trump's appearance while touting as news a comically awful right-wing fantasy published this week about Obama's years at Columbia University.

Appearing on CNBC's “Squawk Box,” Trump was pushing what he claimed to be a brilliant campaign maneuver for the Romney campaign, which finds itself under pressure to release the candidate's tax records, as all presidential candidates have done in recent years. According to Trump, Romney should finally release years of his tax returns, but only if Obama released his college transcripts.

What Trump apparently doesn't understand, and what nobody on CNBC bothered to point out, is that as a rule presidential nominees do release extensive tax returns, and as a rule they do not  release their college transcripts. (Romney hasn't.) Trumps brilliant dare to the Obama campaign doesn't make any sense because tax returns and college records have never been treated similarly by campaigns from either party.

CNBC's Trump troubles were compounded online with a report that soft-peddled Trump's birther past, while claiming serious new questions have been raised about Obama's time at Columbia.

From CNBC.com:

Trump has been at the forefront of the “birther” movement -- those who question whether Obama was born in the U.S.

Doubts over the president's collegiate background rose again this week in a column in The Blaze written by Wayne Allyn Root, who said he was classmate of Obama's at Columbia. Root claims “Obama has a secret hidden at Columbia.”

First off, note that CNBC never reports that the entire birther movement has been thoroughly debunked and advocates like Trump have been revealed as charlatans. (Reading the CNBC report you'd think the birther debate was a legitimate one.) Second, note how CNBC seems impressed by a piece at Glenn Beck's The Blaze, raising questions about “the president's collegiate background.”

Well okay, let's take a look at the Blaze piece. Here's the opening paragraph [emphasis added]:

I am President Obama's classmate at Columbia University, Class of '83. I am also one of the most accurate Las Vegas oddsmakers and prognosticators. Accurate enough that I was awarded my own star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. And I smell something rotten in Denmark. Obama has a big skeleton in his closet. It's his college records. Call it “gut instinct” but my gut is almost always right. Obama has a secret hidden at Columbia- and it's a bad one that threatens to bring down his presidency. Gut instinct is how I've made my living for 29 years since graduating Columbia.

So Root, who's quick to point out he has his “own star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars,” makes the warmed-over claim that there's a scandal brewing in Obama's past. (Psst: He was admitted as a foreign exchange student!) And how does Root know? “Gut instinct.”

Oh brother.

But wait, Root, who calls the president a “socialist,” claims he was a classmate of Obama's at Columbia. So he might have some insight into the president's collegiate career, right?


I certainly thought I'd heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro). I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia have ever met him, saw him, or heard of him.

To be polite, Root's piece is a total mess. It's right-wing conjecture wrapped in dark Obama fantasy. But sadly Root's confused, fact-free musings represent the kind of Obama-hating messes that sites like The Blaze have been publishing with stunning regularly for years now. Why CNBC held up Root's nonsensical claims as proof that “doubts over the president's collegiate background rose again this week” is beyond me.

Then again, CNBC's decision to host birther Trump to push his dopey Obama conspiracy theories made no sense for a cable outlet that sees itself as a legitimate news source.

Note to CNBC: Leave that stuff to Fox News.