Widespread Panic

I was going to debunk Andy McCarthy’s un-sourced descent into the fever swamps of ”Obama Birther-ism”, but Philip Klein has already gone and done the work for me, so go give his piece a read. How McCarthy’s “article” got through editing unscathed is beyond me (Did no one think to mention that one of his primary sources is the crazed purveyor of the infamous Michelle Obama ‘whitey’ tapes?), but what’s even more bizarre is the reaction he’s elicited from several other prominent conservative commentators. Here, for example, is Quin Hillyer giving McCarthy a friendly “attaboy!” over at The American Spectator. National Review’s Mark Steyn is similarly enthusiastic. At First Things, The Anchoress has also decided to dive in head-first, approvingly linking to this conspiracist fantasy. For those of you keeping score, that makes three mainstream conservative publications – National Review, The American Spectator and First Things – now publishing this tripe.

One response to a poll indicating that nearly a third of Republicans have bought into the “Birther” conspiracy is to recall a similar poll from 2003 that showed conspiratorial sentiments among a wide swathe of Democratic voters. And fair enough – after enduring three presidential election cycles, it has become abundantly clear that the ignorance of the American electorate transcends party lines. But it’s more than a little jarring to watch conservatives who should know better actively egging the conspiracists on. As Klein notes in a later post, it’s not as if we’re running short on substantive issues here.

More jarring still is the obvious double-standard at work here. Andrew Sullivan – whose pointless indefatigable pursuit of Trig Palin’s “real” mother is just as silly as the “Birther” obsession – was roundly (and rightly) condemned by conservatives for harassing Sarah Palin.* Ron Paul – whose associations with racist and conspiratorially-minded newsletters came out during the campaign – was also read out of the movement after those connections were exposed. I’m OK with ignoring racists or people who operate outside the bounds of rational discourse, but I can’t help noticing that McCarthy’s latest rant is at least as unhinged as any theory involving Trig Palin or the North American Union. And yet McCarthy’s thinly-sourced “article” has barely attracted a peep of protest from the rest of National Review’s contributors, while Sullivan and Paul continue to be condemned for their views. Why does the movement’s response vary so dramatically from person to person? I can’t help noticing that Paul and Sullivan (whatever their faults) at least raised uncomfortable questions about torture, surveillance and the War in Iraq, whereas McCarthy is basically a doctrinaire conservative. As with so many other things, toeing the party line – as opposed to faulty logic or distasteful views – has now become the litmus test for determining whether a conspiracy theorist is worth listening to.

* Obligatory Sullivan disclaimer: As with every other contributor to this site, I’m an unabashed fan. I continue to enjoy reading his stuff on a range of issues, but the Trig conspiracy is quite clearly nuts.

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31 thoughts on “Widespread Panic

  1. Keeping in tune.

    With apologies to Trent Reznor, the movement conservatives have constructed a “Pretty Hate Machine.”

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  2. I think at least part of the difficultly with Sullivan was that, as I’ve pointed out in my comments to an earlier post on this blog, he failed to familiarize himself with the basic background facts required for any intelligent discussion of the issue. At least McCarthy, as Klein tacitly acknowledges, was able to distinguish between certification and a certificate.

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    • “…was able to distinguish between certification and a certificate.”

      “Certificate” defined,
      A document testifying to the truth of something: a certificate of birth.
      A document issued to a person completing a course of study not leading to a diploma.
      A document certifying that a person may officially practice in certain professions.

      “Certification” defined,

      1. the act of certifying : the state of being certified

      2 : a certified statement

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      • Bob,

        I was referring the specific 1961 and 2007 documents in question, not dictionary definitions of the terms generally. Sullivan erroneously thought that the 1961 certificate had been posted by FactCheck.org when in fact it was the 2007 certification. He had previously called for production of the 1961 certificate under the correct assumption that it was not posted anywhere.

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      • 1. Words mean something and that is the reason I put forth the definitions. The two words are synonymous as far as I’m concerned.

        2. You are concerned that Sullivan confused “the 1961 certificate” with the “2007 certification.” Do I have that correct? He called the 1961 document, which the public has not seen, a “certificate” when in fact it was really a “certification” issued in 2007. Right? Or is it the other way round? Jeez.

        3. What is his fatal flaw? What is Sullivan’s great sin? Or are you just picking at some inconsequential mistake?

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        • 3. What is his fatal flaw? What is Sullivan’s great sin? Or are you just picking at some inconsequential mistake?

          Sullivan committed a gaffe of major proportions which had nothing to do with confusing two words. I’ve explained it several times in the comments to earlier posts on this blog, but I’ll repeat it here.

          Sullivan originally demanded production of the 1961 document because he recognized that it had primary information created by doctors and other actual witnesses to the birth. He argued, correctly, that the 2007 document was merely a statement from current state offficials attesting to the fact that they had examned the 1961 document. Sullivan said that the public should have a right to examine the 1961 document itself, and not be forced to take the word of bureacrats regarding it’s contents.

          However, Sullivan then abandoned this argument upon being incorrectly persuaded that FactCheck had posted the 1961 original. It had not. What it had posted, and what Sullivan linked to, was the 2007 document authored by current public officials.

          Two seconds of research would have avoided this amateurish mistake. Nobody disputes that what FactCheck posted was the 2007 document. Nobody disputes that FactCheck never posted the 1961 original, or that the 1961 original has never been released. A central part of the debate for the past two years has centered around the fact that FactCheck posted the newer document but not the older. But then Sullivan blundered into the debate, and in an incredibly lazy and stupid way, declares that the original 1961 certicate has been produced. Inexcuable.

          Sullivan was boasting last night about the popularity of his blog. It is shameful that he lacks the research skills to pin down the simplest of facts. And since I have no doubt that he has receive countless emails from readers on both sides of the disputes pointing out his mistake, it is shameful that he has not posted a correction. It is also shameful that this blog has perpetuated Sullivan’s error and refused to set the record straight.

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          • Sorry NE, I’m going to have to go with my third option, “Or are you just picking at some inconsequential mistake?”

            The more you explain the sillier it gets. Sullivan got his facts wrong, BFD. What horrible consequences flow from his error?

            In honor of Helen Rittelmeyer I’ll end by encouraging you to get a life.

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            • Sorry NE, I’m going to have to go with my third option, “Or are you just picking at some inconsequential mistake?

              Inconsequential? It was the foundation of his entire argument regarding the release of Obama’s records.

              The more you explain the sillier it gets. Sullivan got his facts wrong, BFD. What horrible consequences flow from his error?

              No “horrible consequences,” other than squelching intelligent debate on an issue that both Sullivan and this blog considered enough of a BFD to devote a series of posts to (and Obama has spent $1 million blocking the release of the original). So perhaps your BFD comment is better directed to them than me. I’m just commenter.

              I’ll also note that it’s enough of a BFD to this blog that they’ve turned down my $200 offer to get Sullivan to correct what you now admit was a mistake. I hereby up that to $500, but I’m convinced that it’s too much of a BFD to anyone here to get the facts straight that I’ll still have no takers.

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      • “No ‘horrible consequences,’ other than squelching intelligent debate on an issue that both Sullivan and this blog considered enough of a BFD to devote a series of posts to (and Obama has spent $1 million blocking the release of the original). So perhaps your BFD comment is better directed to them than me. I’m just commenter.”

        How and where is debate, intelligent or otherwise, being squelched? Your statement asserting such is just incorrect.

        I’m regretting asking this even as I type. Where does the $1 million figure come from?

        I share your lowly status, “just a commenter.” I also answer all placement ads seeking “peons*.” But even that job market seems is hard to crack.

        *”One social level below serfs, untouchables, and freshmen.” Urban Dictionary.

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        • How and where is debate, intelligent or otherwise, being squelched? Your statement asserting such is just incorrect.

          For starters, it’s being squelched on Sullivan’s blog because he withdrew his demand for the 1961 certificate on the express, mistaken ground that it had already been posted by FactCheck.org. In fact, he said he “was done now” with the issue after the erroneous revelation. The falsehood has been repeated on countless blogs, and no intelligent debate can occur when one side is saying “let’s see the document” and the other side is mistakenly saying “we already gave it to you.” Another example is Chris Matthews recent discussion of the issue with G. Gordon Liddy — Matthews tried to shut him up by shoving a copy of the 2007 certification in his face and claiming that it was the “original” birth certificate. And CNN’s President Jon Klein went even further, issuing a false story that his researchers had determined that the original had been discarded by the State of Hawaii in 2001. (The State of Hawaii was forced to issue a statement refuting this a few days later).

          I’m regretting asking this even as I type. Where does the $1 million figure come from?

          Oh, it’s a competely made-up figure I decided to throw out there. It’s actually only $950,000, and it comes from a widely-circulated HOAX email that was debunked here. But putting that aside, can we have an intelligent discussion about why Obama would spend so much to hide his birth certificate? Yes, I KNOW the story’s a hoax, but BFD, get a life, and let’s pretend I didn’t retract it and discuss this terrible waste of tax dollars.

          So, why is he spending so much to protect the certificate?

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          • 1. Yesterday, 7/31/09 Sullivan was still posting on the birther issue, http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/07/the-fox-base.html
            So I think you are incorrect on Sullivan squelching debate, or being done with it.

            2. Mathews is often criticized for his continued interest in the subject. Now you accuse him of squelching debate. The poor guy, he just can’t win. Full disclosure, I’m no fan.

            3. I continue to see a lot of coverage on CNN, hardly a way to squelch debate.

            4. I must confess I find your discussion of the $1 million/$950,000 bit totally incoherent. I’d be pleased to read another attempt at an explanation.

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            • Yesterday, 7/31/09 Sullivan was still posting on the birther issue. So I think you are incorrect on Sullivan squelching debate, or being done with it.

              Bob, either you’re not reading my posts carefully or you haven’t properly educated yourself about the issue. If your next response is as uninformed as your last, I’m not going to engage you in further discussion.

              Sullivan’s last post wasn’t a discussion of the merits of the case for disclosure of the 1961 certificate. Rather, it was a link to a poll which, to Sullivan’s mind, proves that birthers are idiots for continuing to harbor doubts and demanding the original certificate. However, the reason Sullivan now believes they are idiots is that he is under the mistake impression that the 1961 document has been released. So — who’s the idiot? Do you think he’s promoting an intelligent debate on the issue by doing this — calling people names for asking to see something he was asking for just last week, until he got fooled?

              Mathews is often criticized for his continued interest in the subject. Now you accuse him of squelching debate. The poor guy, he just can’t win. Full disclosure, I’m no fan.

              He’s trying to squelch debate by claiming that there’s nothing to debate because the 1961 certificate has already been produced. What I am talking about is intelligent, meaningful debate, not merely bringing up a topic to spread misinformation about it in the hope that it will go way. Both Sullivan and Matthews are both doing that. Sullivan is just calling people dumb for not realizing that the original has been produced (it hasn’t) and Matthews is trying to convince people it has been produced (it hasn’t). I suppose I could “debate” you about the topic by saying “nyah nyah nyah” in response to everything you said, but you would then accuse me of squelching the debate rather than participating in. Matthews and Sullivan are doing the same thing — every time the certificate issue comes up they put their fingers in their ears and say “you got the certificate already you got it you got it!”

              I continue to see a lot of coverage on CNN, hardly a way to squelch debate.

              As noted: CNN has either (1) claimed the 1961 document has been destroyed or (2) claimed the 1961 has been released. Both statements are incontestable lies. They’re not interested in a real debate.

              I must confess I find your discussion of the $1 million/$950,000 bit totally incoherent. I’d be pleased to read another attempt at an explanation.

              Exactly! I was “debating” you in the same incoherent way Sullivan is “debating” the issue. I started with a demonstrably false premise (that Obama has spent $1 million protecting the document) , refused to retract it, and then pretended that YOU were the idiot for not being outraged that he’s spending so much. In Sullivan’s case, his false premise is that the 1961 document has been publicly posted, and he’s pretending that everyone’s an idiot for demanding that it be released when it already has (it hasn’t).

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  3. Just for the record, that old poll about Democrats believing that Bush did 9/11 was a Rasmussen poll. Considering their record, I would highly suspect some sort of weasel-wording or whatever it is they do over there to make polls seem so amenable to conservative talking points.

    But, surely, the key difference must be that no Democrat with any authority entertained the Bush did 9/11 theories, while many Republicans are playing both sides on this. “Well, I think he’s a citizen, but there are some unresolved questions…” That’s positively weasely, and even Roy Blunt, the former GOP #2 man in the House, and a Senate candidate, is descending to it. It’s a false equivalence here. As soon as Steny Hoyer starts talking about alternate 9/11 theories, I’ll grant the point.

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  4. I’m not sure about the validity of McCarthy’s research, but, although there are many kooks, both left and right, who become paranoid over these issues, I think we should be careful not to allow another McCarthy’s tactics to create an atmosphere where everyone is afraid to ask pertinent questions about Obama and his past out fear of being labeled a “BIRTHER!” (insert spooky music).

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  5. The oddest part for me is that NR editorialized against birtherism, and yet still published McCarthy’s loopyness like 2 days later. Did conservative central command change marching orders in the meantime?

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  6. Seems quite an overreaction to and a misreading of McCarthy’s piece. He does not once take up cause with the Birthers. He simply bemoans the poverty of research done by investigative reporters whose job it is to, ahem, investigate. Burden of proof is the operative concept underlying McCarthy’s point, as I understand it. That is, to waive McCarthy off because he cites to questionable sources misses the issue entirely. The burden of proof does not lie in favor of the subject of a news investigation, viz., the President of the United States. Every hint, every lead, every suspicion is to be ferreted out with the zealous assumption that the fellow is a rat and a sneak and a crook ready to yield his tale of lies to that would-be case-cracker with the tenacity and contempt for public figures’ privacy to go the distance and get the story, dad-gummit.

    Instead, somehow the burden of proof is now shifted to those who would challenge the “official” record provided by the Administration. A formal investigation is not warranted, under this view, unless and until substantial and corroborated evidence has already been amassed. Proffering less than this with a request for further investigation is derided as crackpot paranoia fit for scorn, contempt, and general hecklery.

    That’s not how this is supposed to work. No, McCarthy’s is not piece of investigative reporting. But it doesn’t purport to be. McCarthy is not an investigator or a prosecutor—he was a fine one of those already, and I doubt he would volunteer to continue doing it on an opinionator’s wage. His piece simply suggests that there are some clues here, the sort that investigative journalists used to take up and sniff down and let us know at the end whether there is anything to jump up and down about. The observation here is that there is a curious lack of interest in the sniffing.

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    • Tim Kowal –

      I think it’s frankly absurd to suggest that nutty Internet conspiracism is enough to shift the burden of proof to Obama. I mean, that’s like suggesting that because some crazy person claims that Obama fornicated with a duck, the burden of proof is now on the president to prove he did not have sexual relations with a farm animal. Re-read Klein’s takedown of McCarthy – he’s literally relying on un-sourced claims from crazy bloggers to raise “reasonable suspicions.”

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  7. I did read (carefully enough the first time, I think) Klein’s post and the sources cited by McCarthy. I disagree with McCarthy that those sources could be said to definitively “debunk” the “official” story, even given that that “official” story was provided by Obama’s own self-serving autobiographies. But on the other hand, I don’t see how he is “literally relying on un-sourced claims from crazy bloggers.” On what grounds do you call Obama’s supposed former co-worker “crazy”? I didn’t see any confirmation that the guy’s story was actually true, but I also didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be. That Obama told lies about his job, and that Africa and the Americas were joined at one time both sound pretty plausible to me. Certainly unlike your implausible and obviously facetious instance of out-of-wedlock, inter-species duck-human love-making. Were it my job to investigate and report things about public officials, I’d have no trouble discerning which of those things ought to be on my radar and which can safely be filtered out.

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    • On what grounds are you taking his coworker’s claims seriously? There is literally no source for the assertion that Obama’s biography was exaggerated. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that he was simply lying about his employment experience, but the link provided by the blogger McCarthy cites is dead. So you have an author who is citing an unsourced blog post on a dead link as “evidence” that Obama’s biography is exaggerated or incorrect. And this nonsense was somehow published by a putatively respectable publication.

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  8. When cops get anonymous tips, they can get a general sense of the veracity of the tips by gauging the context. Does the tip refer to a real place? Is it fairly specific in its description of the various people, vehicles, crimes, etc.? Thus, even though the cops cannot subject the tipster to even rudimentary tests of his or her tendency to tell the truth, the likelihood of the truth of the tip can be determined from the tip itself, and may be enough to constitute probable cause to make an arrest.

    If cops can use the context of a story to get legal authority to arrest a person, we can do the same to form a hypothesis that Obama just might be a lying liar who lies. And the story here seems pretty specific in its description of the nature of the job, what Barry’s responsibilities included, etc. And it doesn’t seem titillating or inciting enough to be dismissed out of hand as a complete fabrication.

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  9. You have to admit that any leads like this which would catch Cheney, Bush, Palin, Limbaugh, etc. in a lie would be thoroughly investigated no matter how questionable the source — wasn’t it Dan Rathers who ran with flimsy proof and got egg on his face when the new media called him on it? I think McCarthy’s point of the media going soft on Obama is well established and needs to be pointed out as often as possible. I know that those who support Obama get tired of hearing it, but when it’s considered objectively it really is a major problem — one that needs to be revealed and condemned regardless who they are favoring. The MSM’s performance in the last few years is a serious problem, one that all intellectually honest observers ought to clearly see and criticize. You know damn well that if Palin writes a book, every lead and detail will be investigated furiously.

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  10. I read your email very carefully, that is the reason for my responses/questions. The fact that you are unable to respond in an intelligent manner indicates the hollowness of your position, whatever that may be.

    If I had not asked you to source your $1 million BS it would have remained unchallenged. So you had to fess-up it was BS, perhaps an April Fools joke. Classy. (I said I would regret asking and you proved me correct.)

    You may have the last word, because, dear, you are not worth any more of my time. Full Stop,

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  11. read your email very carefully, that is the reason for my responses/questions. The fact that you are unable to respond in an intelligent manner indicates the hollowness of your position, whatever that may be.

    I provided detail, fact-based responses, supported by links, explaining the consequences of Sullivan’s confusion regarding the documents relevant to this controversy. Your inability to counter my arguments with anything but conclusiry suggestions that my answers were unintelligent or hollow demostrates the limits of your reading comprehension.

    If I had not asked you to source your $1 million BS it would have remained unchallenged. So you had to fess-up it was BS, perhaps an April Fools joke. Classy. (I said I would regret asking and you proved me correct.)

    No, I included the false information to make a point and was going to point out the hoax regardless of how you responded. The fact that you were unaware of the hoax, which anyone following the birther story would have spotted immediately, shows that your just as lazy and uninformed as Sullivan. It is interesting that you’re more concerned with a test planted in a blog comment than the falsehoods spread worldwide by Sullivan.

    You may have the last word, because, dear, you are not worth any more of my time. Full Stop,

    Good strategy when you’re out if ammunition, but you came unarmed in the first place.

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  12. I’m so sick of this ‘Dem’s had these weird beliefs, too’ meme that seems to be making the rounds. There is an attempt to link those who believe the government had advance knowledge of 9/11 to the birthers. There is only one problem with this; the 9/11 pre-knowledge theory (NOT the – it was the govt who blew up the building – theories which is an entirely different group) was proven correct when the CIA, NSA and NIA released their 9/7 report that stated A.Q. was an imminent threat via civilian air transport.

    The difference is huge. Here we have physical documentation that was backed up by congressional testimony that stated we knew A.Q. was an imminent threat. What do the birthers have? Nothing. In fact, the only evidence they rely upon to prove the president was not born in the U.S. is the documentation provided by the president.

    These are two different movements with two very different sets of evidence.

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  13. hehe…..birfer infestation at the Gentlemen’s Club?
    lol
    let me help.

    To paraphrase Eric K…..
    Shorter GOP:
    “50 years ago we shouted nigger, 30 years ago we talked about States Rights, now we ask to see the president’s birth certificate.”

    You guyz might not be, but the base is racist.

    Shorter 3700 word McCarthy:
    Yes, hes a lying nigger even if he wasn’t born in Kenya, and hes going to take your stuff and give it to other niggers….and also you birthers are not craziee to want the certificate [but you really are].

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  14. Pingback: No, it really is the Republicans who are pushing this nonsense | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

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