Tuned In

Birthers of a Nation

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And speaking of hot-button issues involving the President… there is suddenly renewed media attention to the claim that Obama was not born in the United States and thus is not eligible to be President. This theory has been around for years, was hot on the Internet during the election, has been thoroughly debunked, and at this point, requires the belief in a birth-certificate forgery, the complicity of Hawaii’s government, misunderstanding of U.S. passport law, an elaborate deception plan hatched by Obama’s parents at his birth, the collusion of Hawaiian newspapers in 1961 and, I don’t know, possibly the use of a time machine.

It is not just tinfoil-hat stuff, but full-tinfoil-bodysuit stuff. It deserves as much credence as the fake-moon-landing theory got on the 40th anniversary of Apollo. 

So why is it now news again?

Well, for starters, some people really wish Barack Obama would stop being the President. And there was some video on YouTube. And it has “been raised in the mainstream media.” Which is true—because “the mainstream media” is now wide open to whackjobs, people pretending to be whackjobs for ratings (I cannot honestly know which category Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity fall into) or people glad to give a platform or credence to whackjobs, also for ratings. 

Last night, Brian Williams did a four-plus-minute segment on birthers: 

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To his credit, Williams does flatly call bogus on it. Which Jon Stewart did last night in somewhat, shall we say, more animated terms: 

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The bigger question: why is America so full of conspiracy-fearing nutballs? Obama was born in Kenya; Sarah Palin faked her baby’s birth to cover her daughter’s pregnancy; 9/11 was an inside job. This isn’t exactly new—see the moon landing, Vincent Foster’s death, etc. But we do have a greater apparatus for spreading and amplifying the fruits of the nuts than we did before.

As both the NBC and Daily Show pieces indicate, there’s a tendency to point fingers at the Internet. And OK, there’s something to that—not because the Internet is inherently untrustworthy or evil, but simply because it’s an incredible distribution medium for anything. But the “mainstream” media have as big, or bigger, a role here, in repeating the charges, in bringing on people like Liz Cheney to milk the doubts, in giving folks like Dobbs the chance to make dark insinuations—all because it gets people worked up, and that gets people watching. 

At the least, it’s a symbiosis. You might even call it a conspiracy. But that would be craaaaaazy.