WorldNetDaily reporter Aaron Klein's book The Manchurian President: Barack Obama's Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists uses false claims, discredited conspiracy theories, birther arguments, deceptive editing, and guilt by association to further its stated goal of tying Obama to “an Anti-American fringe nexus.”
Klein promotes ludicrous theory that Ayers “may have ghostwritten” Obama book
Klein: “Did Ayers ghostwrite Obama's ... memoir?” In a section titled “Did Ayers ghostwrite Obama's 'best-written' memoir?” [pages 14-16], Klein writes that “Weather Underground terrorist” Bill Ayers “may have ghostwritten most of” Obama's 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father. Klein bases his claim on purported evidence provided by WND columnist Jack Cashill and biographer Christopher Andersen.
Oxford don conducted computer study, found claim to be “very implausible.” The Sunday Times of London reported on November 2, 2008, that Peter Millican, a philosophy don at Hertford College, Oxford, who “devised a computer software program that can detect when works are by the same author by comparing favourite words and phrases,” was contacted by Republican activists who offered him $10,000 to “assess alleged similarities” between Dreams From My Father and Ayers' book Fugitive Days:
Millican took a preliminary look and found the charges “very implausible” . A deal was agreed for more detailed research but when Millican said the results had to be made public, even if no link to Ayers was proved, interest waned.
Millican said: “I thought it was extremely unlikely that we would get a positive result. It is the sort of thing where people make claims after seeing a few crude similarities and go overboard on them.”
Millican: Claim is “far too easy to make,” analyses by Cashill and others “seem badly flawed.” Millican wrote in a separate November 2, 2008, Sunday Times commentary:
My Signature system acquired some publicity this year through its involvement in a heated debate about Coleridge's alleged authorship of a translation of Goethe's Faust. So some Republicans were keen to make use of my expertise to help them in their quest to unmask Ayers as the hidden puppet master behind the Obama of 1995.
The person who came up with this strange theory is Jack Cashill, an American author who claimed to find striking similarities between Dreams from My Father and Ayers's 2001 memoir Fugitive Days.
The trouble with these sorts of claims is that they are far too easy to make: take any two substantial memoirs from the same era and you are likely to be able to pick out a fair number of passages that have some similarities. Unless the similarities are really close (and they weren't), just listing them makes no case at all, even if it might be enough to persuade some readers.
Cashill and friends -- who were convinced but aware that more evidence would be needed to convince others -- enlisted teams of analysts to try to give the theory a solid statistical basis. All of these analyses supposedly delivered positive results, but they seem badly flawed.
Bob -- the man who brought me into all this -- seemed sincerely interested in getting to the truth about Cashill's dramatic allegation. He supplied me with the relevant texts and a number of appropriate “controls” .
Some preliminary tests, using various data measures and a range of powerful statistical facilities that were recently added to Signature, indicated nothing that would give Obama any cause for concern. So I felt that any analysis I did would be far more likely to put an end to the story than to substantiate it, by providing objective data against what looked like partisan allegations.
Andersen: “I definitely do not say [Ayers] wrote Barack Obama's book.” While Andersen writes in his book Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage (William Morrow, 2009) that Ayers' “contribution” to Obama's book was “significant,” he walked back the claim in a September 27, 2009, appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources. Andersen responded to host Howard Kurtz's questioning on Ayers' involvement in Obama's book by saying that while “there was a group of writers in Hyde Park, Chicago at the time who had input on each others' writings” and that Ayers “help[ed] a little bit, gave his opinions” to Obama, “I definitely do not say [Ayers] wrote Barack Obama's book.”
Klein promotes discredited claim Odinga is Obama's cousin
Klein uncritically forwards Odinga's reported claim that “Obama's father was his maternal uncle.” Klein writes that Raila Odinga, who was running for president of Kenya when Obama visited the country in 2006 (Odinga is currently prime minister), “has been described as Obama's cousin, but it was thought the family relationship was distant. Then, in a January 2008 interview with the BBC, Odinga stated that Obama's father was his maternal uncle." Klein went on to write that Odinga is a “social democrat” who “was accused of collaborating in a failed, bloody 1982 coup” and was “charged with treason” [Page 44].
Claim walked back by Odinga's spokesman, denied by the Obama campaign. An April 18, 2008, PolitiFact.com article reported that Odinga's spokesperson subsequently “said cousins in the African sense is very different from cousins in the American sense, so they might be distant relatives” ; that the Obama campaign says Odinga and Obama are not related; and that experts called Odinga's claim “opportunistic” and “stretched to the point of ridiculousness” :
In a discussion about the political situation in Kenya amid fallout from a disputed election -- where Odinga's party rejected official results and vowed to install Odinga as the “people's president” -- the following exchange occurs:
Odinga: “Barack Obama's father is my maternal uncle.”
BBC: “You're related to him?”
Odinga: “Yes, I am.”
No, you're not, says the Obama campaign.
We spoke to three Kenya experts who dismiss this part of the claim as well, suggesting Odinga made the connection to give himself more legitimacy during the political crisis [following a disputed 2007 election].
“It's stretched to the point of ridiculousness,” said Joel D. Barkan, political science professor emeritus at the University of Iowa and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “To my knowledge, they are not first cousins in the normal sense. To my knowledge, there's absolutely no relationship at all.”
Alex Awiti, a Kenyan postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, says you have to consider the context of when Odinga was speaking, that being in the middle of a political crisis.
“Raila Odinga was groping all over the place, trying to find some political legitimacy to get on a high pedestal to claim leadership and using Obama was basically going to add some political points,” said Awiti, who lived in Kenya until three years ago. “This is very opportunistic and it should be totally disregarded.”
[Salim] Lone, Odinga's spokesman, said cousins in the African sense is very different from cousins in the American sense, so they might be distant relatives.
Obama's uncle: Odinga “is not a blood relative.” A January 8, 2008, Reuters article reported that, in response to Odinga's claim, “Obama's uncle said that the two were not directly related. 'Odinga's mother came from this area, so it is normal for us to talk about cousins. But he is not a blood relative,' he said.”
Klein pushes birther arguments on Obama's “eligibility”
Klein: “Obama may not be eligible to serve as president.” While Klein concedes that there is “no convincing evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, nor that his birthplace was any place other than Hawaii, his declared state of birth,” he claims that because Obama's father was not a U.S. citizen, there should have been “congressional debate about whether Obama is eligible under the United States Constitution to serve as president.” Klein goes on to examine the meaning of the term “natural born citizen” as a qualification to be president, referencing the 1758 book The Law of Nations and Supreme Court decisions such as Minor v. Happersett, concluding under that and “scores of other Supreme Court rulings, Obama may not be eligible to serve as president.” Klein asserts that “a layman's reading of readily available legal resources ... clearly indicates a series of legitimate questions about Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency, given that Obama's father was not an American citizen” [pages 66-70].
Similar arguments advanced by birther lawyers. As Media Matters has noted, The Law of Nations and the Minor decision have been referenced by attorneys who have filed lawsuits questioning Obama's eligibility to be president.
Klein ignores contrary opinion by legal experts. Klein did not note in his book any legal rulings or views of legal experts contradicting the view that Obama “may not be eligible to serve as president.” For instance, conservative-leaning attorney Eugene Volokh stated in 2008 that “I have no reason to doubt that President-Elect Obama was born in Hawaii, and is therefore a natural-born citizen.” Volokh has also noted that while most courts have dismissed claims against Obama's eligibility on procedural grounds, one court that looked at it substantively rejected the claim that Obama is not eligible to become president because his father was not a U.S. citizen. Volokh added, “The court's reasoning strikes me as quite persuasive.”
Klein repeats dubious link between Ayers, Obama at CAC
Klein: “It is highly unlikely that Ayers would not have been involved in the selection of Obama.” Klein cited a statement by the Obama campaign that Ayers was not involved in recruiting Obama to the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) -- which, as Klein notes, was funded by a matching challenge grant from the philanthropic foundation of Walter Annenberg, “ambassador to the United Kingdom under Richard Nixon” -- then repeated a claim by National Review Online's Stanley Kurtz, who Klein said “diligently reviewed the CAC Archives,” that "[n]o one would have been appointed the CAC chairman without his [Ayers'] approval." Klein added, “It is highly unlikely that Ayers would not have been involved in the selection of Obama” [pages 12-13].
NY Times: Ayers “played no role” in Obama appointment, “according to several people involved.” The New York Times reported on October 4, 2008:
In March 1995, Mr. Obama became chairman of the six-member board that oversaw the distribution of grants in Chicago. Some bloggers have recently speculated that Mr. Ayers had engineered that post for him.
In fact, according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama's appointment. Instead, it was suggested by Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based group whose board Mr. Obama, a young lawyer, had joined the previous year. At a lunch with two other foundation heads, Patricia A. Graham of the Spencer Foundation and Adele Simmons of the MacArthur Foundation, Ms. Leff suggested that Mr. Obama would make a good board chairman, she said in an interview. Mr. Ayers was not present and had not suggested Mr. Obama, she said.
Ms. Graham said she invited Mr. Obama to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Chicago and was impressed.
“At the end of the dinner I said, 'I really want you to be chairman.' He said, 'I'll do it if you'll be vice chairman,' ” Ms. Graham recalled, and she agreed.
Klein baselessly suggests CAC grantee's project is “far-leftist.” Klein wrote that the CAC “granted money to far-leftist causes other than ACORN,” then cites as an example that “more than $600,000 was granted to an organization founded by Ayers and run by Mike Klonsky, a former top communist activist” and former “leader of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, which was effectively recognized by China as the all-but-official U.S. Maoist party” [page 13]. Later in the book, Klein describes Klonsky's group, the Small Schools Workshop, as an “outreach program founded in 1991 by Ayers with the stated goal of providing support for teachers who want to create smaller learning environments” [page 219]. At no point does Klein explain how such a “cause” is “far-leftist.”
Klein ignores Khalidi's ties to Republicans in attempting to smear Obama
Fund chaired by McCain awarded $448,873 to Khalidi-founded group. As an example of Obama's alleged “ties to Palestinian radicalism,” Klein cited Rashid Khalidi, “a harsh critic of Israel who ... makes statements supportive of Palestinian terror” [page 47]. Among the “ties” Klein listed were that the Woods Fund, while Obama served on its board, awarded a $40,000 grant to a group headed by Khalidi's wife. While Klein described Obama's links to Khalidi, he did not note that Khalidi has links to Republicans as well. As ABC's Jake Tapper reported in October 2008, the International Republican Institute -- chaired by Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 Republican presidential opponent -- awarded $448,873 in 1998 to the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, “an independent academic research and policy analysis institution” co-founded by Khalidi, who was on the center's board of trustees at the time the grant was awarded. The IRI continued to give money to the group after Khalidi left it, according to Tapper.
Rabbi: Khalidi “consistently in favor of dialogue and common ground.” An October 31, 2008, New York Times profile of Khalidi quoted Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, who “said he has known Mr. Khalidi for years,” stating of Khalidi: “In no way has he ever indicated that he favors the destruction or disappearance of Israel. ... He has always been consistently in favor of dialogue and common ground.”
Several investigations cleared ACORN of Klein's charge of their “alleged corruption”
Klein: Internal probe of “ACORN's alleged corruption” like “putting foxes in charge of the hen house.” After declaring Obama “The ACORN president,” Klein wrote that an independent investigation of “ACORN's alleged corruption” commissioned by ACORN's Advisory Board was “a move some liken to putting foxes in charge of the hen house,” adding, “Unsurprisingly, on December 7, 2009, the internal Board announced it had found no wrong doing [sic]” [page 138]. Klein referred to an inquiry into “circumstances surrounding” the release of selectively edited videotapes by conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles and an evaluation of “management and governance reforms” ACORN implemented since June 2008.
Independent NY, CA, CRS investigations also found no criminal wrongdoing. Several independent investigations have concurred with the ACORN-commissioned investigation's conclusion that the videos did not reveal any criminal conduct by ACORN's employees. The Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney's office investigated allegations arising from the O'Keefe-Giles videos and found no criminal wrongdoing by ACORN. The New York Daily News quoted a “law enforcement source” as saying, “They edited the tape to meet their agenda.” Similarly, the California Attorney General's office found that ACORN workers engaged in “highly inappropriate behavior” but committed no violation of criminal laws; Attorney General Jerry Brown said, “The evidence illustrates that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.” Further, the Congressional Research Service reported in December 2009 that a “search of reports of federal agency inspectors general did not identify instances in which ACORN violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years.”
Klein repeats discredited attack on WH political director Gaspard
Klein: Bloggers, Newsmax “rediscovered Gaspard's longtime ties to ... ACORN.” Writing about White House political affairs director Patrick Gaspard, Klein stated that “some right-wing bloggers and Newsmax.com rediscovered Gaspard's longtime ties to both SEIU and ACORN” [page 140]. Klein cites as his source a Newsmax article quoting Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center claiming that Gaspard “was the New York political director for top ACORN official Bertha Lewis before 2003,” a claim Vadum also made in an American Spectator article.
Politico's Smith: Vadum's claim “just isn't true.” Ben Smith of Politico wrote in a September 29, 2009, blog post:
I hate to put a damper on the day's firestorm on the right over a White House staffer, but an American Spectator report making the rounds this morning that White House political director Patrick Gaspard used to work for ACORN in New York just isn't true.
The Spectator (accurately) quotes ACORN founder Wade Rathke claiming that Gaspard was political director at the group's New York chapter at some point before 2003.
I covered New York politics at the time, and that was news to me; the also White House denies it. But just to be sure, I checked checked [sic] just now with Gaspard's former boss, whom he ultimately replaced as the political director of the giant New York SEIU local, 1199, Jennifer Cunningham. Cunningham confirmed to me that he'd worked for her starting in 1999; that he'd worked for a City Council member before that; and before that, for the Dinkins Administration.
The fact that Rathke got this wrong does provide more evidence of how totally decentralized and disorganized -- contrary to the claims of both fans and detractors -- the group is, but that's all it says.
The Spectator piece is a model of the sort of guilt-by-association Google work in which partisans of both sides specialize.
Klein pushes falsehoods to claim Holdren holds “bizarre and alarming views”
Klein suggests textbook examination of “involuntary birth-control measures” reflects authors' personal opinion. In a section on White House science and technology adviser John Holdren, Klein asserts that Holdren has “bizarre and alarming views on other ways to save the planet,” which demonstrate his “unsuitability for high office” [page 175]. Klein then repeats statements by fellow WND reporter Jerome Corsi that, according to a 1975 textbook Holdren co-authored, “compulsory, government-mandated 'green abortions' would be a constitutionally acceptable way to control population growth and prevent ecological disasters” and that “involuntary birth-control measures, including forced sterilization, may be necessary and morally acceptable under extreme conditions, such as widespread famine brought about by 'climate change.' ”
PolitiFact.com: "[T]he authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control." Responding to a similar claim by Fox News' Glenn Beck, PolitiFact.com concluded that “the text of the book” summarized by Klein and Corsi “clearly does not support” the idea that Holdren and his co-authors personally hold the views examined in the textbook. PolitiFact added: “We think a thorough reading shows that these were ideas presented as approaches that had been discussed. They were not posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Certainly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate for forced abortions.” PolitiFact gave the claim “pants on fire” status. Indeed, Holdren and his co-authors advocated for noncoercive means of population control.
Klein takes Brooks statement out of context
Klein falsely suggests statement on Al Qaeda reflects her personal post-9-11 view of terrorist group. In a section on Defense Department official Rosa Brooks, Klein wrote, “In 2007, she called al-Qaeda 'little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs, well financed and intermittently lethal but relatively limited in their global and regional political pull. On 9/11, they got lucky ... Thanks to U.S. policies, Al Qaeda has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001' ” [page 183]. In fact, the full context of the Los Angeles Times op-ed to which Klein is referring shows that Brooks was discussing what “most experts” thought of Al Qaeda in 2001 prior to 9-11, not, as Klein suggests, her personal view of the group in 2007.
Klein promotes links between Obama, “socialist party” denied by both Obama and the party
Klein portrays Obama's allegedly seeking endorsement from “socialist party” as “participation with” party. In the chapter “Obama Participated in Socialist Party,” Klein writes of Obama's “participation with a U.S. socialist party,” the New Party, which Klein claims had an agenda “of moving the Democratic Party far leftward to ultimately form a third major U.S. political party with a socialist agenda” [page 80]. The only evidence Klein provided is that Obama “sought and received the party's endorsement when he successfully ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996” and that some pieces of contemporaneous party literature called Obama a member [page 84].
Party founder denies Obama was member; campaign denies Obama sought party's endorsement. Klein quotes party founder Carl Davidson apparently contradicting Klein's suggestion Obama was an official party member, stating that Obama never signed a party contract Klein described as “stipulating [candidates] would have a 'visible and active membership' with the party.” Klein also quotes Davidson as saying, “Obama was never a man of the left, either in his view or in being a member of an actual socialist organization” [page 85]. Further, Klein's assertion that Obama “sought and received the party's endorsement” is contradicted by Obama's Fight the Smears website, which states that “The New Party did support Barack once in 1996, but he was the only candidate on the ballot in his race and never solicited the endorsement.” Klein does not acknowledge this statement in his book.
Klein disavows “guilt by association” -- but engages in it anyway
Book's introduction: “We do not believe in 'guilt by association.' ” The introduction to The Manchurian President states: “We do not believe in 'guilt by association' nor in 'the politics of personal destruction.' In other words, a political figured should not be judged by his casual political relationships, nor by personal vulnerabilities -- and certainly not by race. We have instead labored to uncover the actual political history, beliefs, mentors, associates, appointments, and motivations of the 44th president of the United States. Many of these he and others have tried hard to conceal behind the façade of soothing rhetoric and personal charisma” [page xii].
Klein attacks church where Obama attended Sunday school as a child. In the first chapter of the book, titled “Obama Tied to Bill Ayers ... At Age 11!” Klein claims that Obama received his “earliest exposure to Ayers' ideology” through the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, where Obama attended Sunday school. Klein offers no direct evidence that Obama was “expos[ed] to Ayers' ideology” ; instead, he portrays the church as a “hotbed of antiwar activism” for granting sanctuary to “U.S. military deserters recruited by” Students for a Democratic Society, a group in which Ayers served as a leader. But Klein also reported that SDS had splintered apart well before 1971 -- when Obama was age 11 and supposedly receiving “Ayers' ideology” [pages 4-5].
Klein baselessly ties Jarrett to views of her father-in-law. Klein writes of Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett: “Jarrett's background, her family, and her initial introduction to Obama all tie her to the now familiar radical milieu of this administration” [page 156]. Klein then describes Jarrett's father-in-law, Vernon Jarrett, whom Klein describes has having been linked to a “Communist Party-dominated organization,” “the communist-influenced, black-run Chicago Defender newspaper” and to former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who “was involved in communist-dominated circles in Chicago.” Klein provides no evidence that Valerie Jarrett shares “communist” views -- or any other views -- with her father-in-law.
Klein says FCC chief's “leanings are unclear” due to press secretary's former employer. Klein writes of Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski:
Genachowksi's [sic] leanings are unclear. For example, since early July 2009, Genachowski's press secretary has been Jen Howard, former press director at the liberal/left media think tank Free Press. This would be the same Free Press co-founded by Robert W. McChesney, about whom more follows, and on whose board sat avowed Marxist, and former Obama administration “Green Jobs Czar,” Van Jones. It is the same Free Press that, jointly with the Center for American Progress, co-published The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, of which Mark Lloyd was a co-author.
Klein finds purported namesakes significant enough to include. In describing Defense Department official Rosa Brooks, Klein writes that Brooks is "[r]eportedly named after communist heroine Rosa Luxemburg," citing no evidence [page 183]. Klein also notes that the son of Raila Odinga “is named after Cuban leader Fidel Castro” [page 44].