Much has been written in recent days about the White House’s War on Fox News, in which Administration officials have called the Republican-friendly network “the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party” and such like, excluded it from the President’s media tours, and even tried unsuccessfully to remove it from pool interviews of other officials.
This cold-shouldering is generally seen as a mistake even by reporters presumed sympathetic to the Administration. We’ve had some trouble seeing the point ourselves, as has our colleague Ward Harkavy.
But a few observers cautiously approve the strategy. “I think they want us to take sides,” says Michael Woolf. “Are you a Fox person or not a Fox person? And I think they want to identify Fox as the standard bearer of American conservatism. If you’re a conservative, you’re for Fox (ie, is that who you want to be?).”
That’s an interesting angle. Suppose a citizen were sufficiently interested in this conflict to visit the opinion site Fox launched in March, Fox Nation. At this writing he would find an invitation to join the Tea Party Express (“Are You On It?”), “Teleprompter Declares War on Obama” with video from TownHall, and links to American Thinker, Radio Equalizer, and Michelle Malkin.
In other words, he’d be directed into the world of the rightbloggers, the shadowy terrain that is this column’s bailiwick, and apparently a major part of Fox Nation. If Obama were trying to marginalize his media opposition, as Woolf suggests, he could hardly have picked better sources with which to do it.
Our focus this week is a topic covered by Fox Nation and many others which the Obama Administration may have been glad to see spread around: the alleged revelation of Barack Obama’s mysterious college thesis.
Conservatives have been looking for this document from Obama’s Columbia days since he was merely a candidate for President. Though it has been explained that Columbia didn’t require theses of its political science undergrads at the time, and that their MacGuffin actually seems to be a term paper on Soviet nuclear disarmament which has not been preserved, the hunt has never been wholly abandoned.
Way back in August, Jumping in Pools addressed “the secrecy regarding the President’s academic record,” and pretended to reveal sections of a “‘senior seminar’ paper,” allegedly discovered by Time‘s Joe Klein, in which the future President discussed not Soviet disarmament but “the long struggle of the working class against, as Obama put it, ‘plutocratic thugs with one hand on the money and the other on the government.'” This included ripe sentiments like “The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom” and “I see poverty in every place I walk. In Los Angeles and New York, the poor reach to me with bleary eyes and all I can do is sigh.”
The blog post included no link to Klein’s alleged revelation, and “satire” was among the tags with which it was fitted. Klein got wind of it only last week. “It is completely false,” he said. “I’ve never seen Obama’s thesis. I have no idea where this report comes from.”
It came to his attention only because prominent conservatives had started peddling the thing as real.
Michael Ledeen of Pajamas Media swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. “That’s quite an indictment, even for an Ivy League undergraduate,” he wrote on Wednesday. He threw a challenge to the defamers of Rush Limbaugh: “Maybe instead of fuming about words that Rush Limbaugh never uttered, the paladins of the free press might ask the president about words that he did write.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Barack Obama is seriously dangerous,” he told his listeners. “To say that distribution of wealth is economic freedom is intellectually insane… Why didn’t this come out before the election in November?”
Partway through the broadcast Limbaugh announced he’d learned the story was fake, and endeavored to make a lesson of it: “I have had this happen to me recently,” he said. “I have had quotes attributed to me that were made up, and when it was pointed out to the media that the quotes were made up, they said, ‘It doesn’t matter! We know Limbaugh thinks it anyway.'”
Logic — never, alas, a reliable guide in such matters — led us to expect that Limbaugh would then apologize for abusing Obama with fake quotes as he himself had been abused. But he concluded, “Good comedy, to be comedy, must contain an element of truth, and we know how he feels about distribution of wealth… So we stand by the fabricated quote because we know Obama thinks it anyway. That’s how it works in the media today.”
At least he debunked it, however ingloriously. TownHall’s Meredith Jessup ran the story Friday and added, “I’m working to confirm this information with multiple sources… Stay tuned for confirmation or correction.” On Sunday night that item stood uncorrected (with excitable comments: “He’s the Red Menace within our land,” “Did anyone doubt Obama hates this county,” etc), though Jessup revealed in a follow-up it had been proved false.
“Still,” she added, “it’s important to note that none of this nonsense would be running wild around the internet if the campaign had just released Obama’s thesis in the first place” — its non-existence notwithstanding.
Her colleague Carol Platt Liebau later amplified: “What’s interesting about hoaxes like these is that they’re often boomerangs. Sure, people can put an anti-Obama rumor like this out there in a supposed effort to showcase just how gullible and hateful the right is…”
A quick look at Jumping in Pools reveals that it’s a full-on rightblogger site and unlikely to be looking to smear “the right” — but forget it, she’s rolling: Liebau predicted the “phenomenon will hurt the President… So members of the MSM can chortle with elite condescension about the short-sightedness of Ledeen, Limbaugh and all… the joke ultimately may be on their hero, Barack Obama, rather than those who were fooled by the lies.”
Some went for deeper analysis. “While some of the claims on [Jumping in Pools] can be read as satire,” said Yes, But, However!, “much of the posting there is straight news commentary. For instance, a story currently running on the site is headlined ‘Sarah Palin endorses Doug Hoffman for Congress.’ Hardly satire in our opinion.” We think Y,B,H! means he was confused, though it may be a semiotic gloss we’re insufficiently educated to appreciate.
Other rightbloggers stood by the story as of Sunday night. “Open Disdain for the Constitution,” cried The Daily Instigator. “Is it doubt? Or contempt?” asked Ramparts 360. Conservative Mama allowed as how “no one has seen any references for this story,” but “let’s not forget Obama is already on the record saying the Constitution is flawed” — a reference to a 2001 Obama radio chat circulated during the 2008 campaign, which does not make the same points as the hoax and failed to damage Obama’s candidacy when it was revealed.
(This was also defense enough against “the tittering hyenas of the left” for Atlas Shrugs, who insisted, “The thing is, Obama did say these things” in his “bombshell” radio chat. “Maybe not in his thesis,” she added, “we’ll never know.” As the thesis doesn’t exist, she’s certainly on safe ground there, anyway.)
Maybe they’ll get to their retractions later. Still, it takes a little edge off Left Coast Rebel‘s claim on behalf of his colleagues that “The key here is that we all retracted the story instantly.” And such stories, like that of Obama’s Kenyan birth, need only be put in play, and then survive as fodder for the faithful no matter what.
Thus many “retractions” were offered as declarations of victory. “It was very good satire since it has many elements of truth,” said Bungalow Bill. Ric’s Rulez, under the title “Debunk or Confirmation?” yelled, “We still don’t have Obama’s thesis to look at, so its content is still subject to assumption and rumor… Don’t give me ‘nobody keeps old papers.’ A college thesis is supposed to be a contribution to scholarship which later writers can cite in support of their own contributions… If [this non-existent thesis] wasn’t, it confirms that young Barry was being given a free ride…” “I should have known,” sighed Anti-Strib, “that a liberal like Joe Klein would never report the truth about Obama.”
Also on the case was Fox Nation, which gave us some juicy bits and linked to Ledeen. Their regular readers may or may not have tumbled to the joke but that hardly matters. Those who are convinced of Obama’s duplicity need no further evidence, real or fake. And those who are interested to know how such people think need only spend a little time among the rightbloggers; they’ll get an eyeful soon enough. Fox apparently joins us in inviting you to do so, and we applaud them for this public service.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 2009