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Birtherism: Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

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Birtherism: Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

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Republished with permission from Media Matters

Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

After a full year of the Trump steamroller — in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy — the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump’s campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trumpon whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that theUSS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.

It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American — almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii — and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don’t seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important — for two reasons:

First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism — a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.”

I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

* * *

Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

So, too, was Trump’s political career.

The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

Photo: CNN.



  1. Dominick Vila April 27, 2016

    Courtesy of the Grand Wizard, I mean the Junior High bully, running for the nomination of the not so Grand Old Party.

    1. FireBaron April 27, 2016

      I finally have to disagree with you on something, Dom. Frankly, I don’t think THE DONALD could get elected as Grand Wizard. He just isn’t whack-job enough.

      1. Jmz Nesky May 1, 2016

        I have to agree with you on this FireBaron.. The GOP realizes if the Trumpit becomes potentate he won’t listen to them nor follow their ideals. They know he will do exactly what Donny Trump wants to do and that could be anything imaginable at anytime especially if the conservatives try to push back. Trump is quite sane…. So long as he gets to do what he wants to do on his own. What people either don’t realize or else don’t really care is that Donald Trump is NOT an experienced politician, in fact he isn’t even a politician, thus electing Trump as president is like hiring a pie maker to replace your plumbing.

    2. TZToronto April 27, 2016

      And just like the bully who finds another victim, Trump’s sycophants will follow him wherever he takes them.

      1. A_Real_Einstein April 27, 2016

        And so will the entire GOP on Election Day.

        1. TZToronto April 28, 2016

          There are many who call themselves Republicans who are closer to the center than Trump’s most ardent supporters. They don’t know where their party has gone. They’re fiscally conservative, but they aren’t racist or xenophobic. They’re smart enough to know that Trump’s wall won’t get built and if built won’t be effective. They see the danger in Trump’s foreign policy–what there is of it–and just can’t see themselves voting for the tyrant wannabe that Trump presents. Frankly, Clinton’s appearance as a centrist is more traditionally Republican than is Trump’s Mussolini-lite ranting. Democrats will have an advantage in November because even those Democratic voters on the left, those go would prefer Sanders, realize that they can’t risk not voting and allowing Trump to win the White House and Congress as well. The Tea Party types will vote enthusiastically for the farthest-right candidates they can find, but the center-leaning Republicans will see Clinton as a reasonable alternative to a dictator. Left Democrats, knowing they need the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court, will hold their noses and vote for Clinton.

          1. A_Real_Einstein April 28, 2016

            I sure hope you are right but I fear you are grossly mistaken. Where are these many Republicans who are moderate? They are obviously not voting in the primaries. Moderate Republicans like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker got absolutely no support. Kasich is a punch line in the GOP. Trump is clearly consolidating his support with the base. I just don’t see the few moderate Republicans that are left voting in mass for a Democrat. I am guessing you are not aware of the dozens of Beghazi investigations that the GOP has launched against Hillary in both chambers. Or the huge unfavorable ratings that Hillary brings to this election especially among independents and republicans. If you think that right leaning voters are going to walk away from a trifecta (WH, Senate and House) with the Supreme Court at stake and their ability to turn over Roe v Wade or erase Obamas progressive policies then I believe you may be misguided.

          2. COMALite J May 1, 2016

            Most of the GOP primary voters who aren’t voting for Trump are voting for the even worse Cruz instead. Trump at least has expressed some centrist positions, and is no wannabe theocrat.

  2. Peter Rosenwald April 27, 2016

    We ought to thank James Carville for reminding the press that nothing accedes like access. And that their access is less important than their responsibility to ask the tough questions and like an aggressive dog with his teeth in your trousers, hold on until they have the answers.

    So far, Trump has been allowed to get away with anything he wants. All he has to say when he is really up against the wall is, “we’ll have to consider that”.

    I personally hope he gets the nomination because my faith in my fellow countrymen is (still) that they will give him such an electoral beating that he won’t even be able to blame his loss on ‘them’.

    The question we have to answer is: how have we come to this? I wish I had a good answer.

    1. johninPCFL April 27, 2016

      “ask the tough questions and like an aggressive dog with his teeth in your trousers”: Mainly because if you ask the wrong questions, you never talk to him again. Reporters only get paid if they can deliver the story.

      1. Sherrilljmorelock2 April 28, 2016

        “my room mate Mary Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”..,……..!wc487ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !wc487:➽:➽:➽➽➽➽ http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsMagazineGetPayHourly$98…. .❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦:❖❖:❦❦::::::!wc487..

    2. A_Real_Einstein April 27, 2016

      Unfortunately with Hillary’s unfavorables nearly as high as Trumps and the DNC disenfranchising millions of progressive voters, this race is a toss up. As Bernie has pointed out the corporate media is complicit in maintaining our rigged economy and corrupt political system. Why would they want to change a system that they benefit from so much? It is all about clicks, readership and ratings. Fox News and Rush have demonstrated just how lucrative bigotry can be in America. The media created Trump. They are hugely profitable as long as Trump is competitive. Don’t expect them to kill their cash cow. Journalism died decades ago. Maybe a some socialism would not be a bad thing.

      1. Marv Nochowitz May 1, 2016

        Explain how anyone was disenfranchised by the DNC this primary season How were the rules different than when Obama ran?

        1. A_Real_Einstein May 2, 2016

          I think when your candidate starts out 450+ Superdelegates behind before he has even declared his intention to run, that is disenfranchising. I think when you turn on MSM and your candidate is never mentioned or when he is it is with ridicule. you feel disinfranchised. When the race gets close and you turn on the so called left leaning media and there are 10 Hillary surrogates for every 1 Bernie supporter you feel disinfranchised. It is not difficult to legally disinfranchised voters. Congratulations you have successfully muted the revolution and have stopped the Progressive movement in its tracks. All of this to maintain the status quo and elect another Plutocrat to the WH. Well done!

          1. Marv Nochowitz May 3, 2016

            Your not really disenfranchised because you are allowed to vote. What you are is supporting a losing candidate and can’t accept that. Clinton has millions of more votes and plenty more pledged delegates . What would be disenfranchising would be to give Sanders the nomination advertising the election.Then you would be telling voters your votes don’t count. Yes your candidate had millions of more votes and yes your candidate had hundreds of more delegates. But we decided none of those votes really counted and we are going to give the nomination to someone else. That is what you want. You are the one doing the disenfranchising.

    3. COMALite J May 1, 2016

      The question we have to answer is: how have we come to this? I wish I had a good answer.

      The most important documentary of our time.

  3. RobertCHastings April 27, 2016

    That a supposedly serious organ such as The National Memo would lend credence to the rantings of Ron Paul AND the blathering of others regarding the imminent demise of Social Security I find somewhat confusing, at the very least. If this is advertisement for oppositional views, that is one thing; however, these items do not appear as mere advertising, which implies that, to some degree or another, the Memo sees them as serious issues facing America today.

    1. johninPCFL April 27, 2016

      They’re paid advertisements.

  4. Otto T. Goat April 27, 2016

    “Of all the nutty rumors, baseless conspiracy theories and sheer disinformation that we’ve dealt with at FactCheck.org during campaign 2008, perhaps the goofiest is the claim that Barack Obama is not a “natural-born citizen” and therefore not eligible to be president under the constitution.

    This claim was first advanced by diehard Hillary Clinton supporters as her campaign for the party’s nomination faded”


    1. Gary Miller May 1, 2016

      By one supporter. And quickly disavowed by Ms. Clinton and anyone with a brain.

      1. COMALite J May 1, 2016

        And that’s not even how it started, no matter what FactCheck says. It started at 6:02 AM on Friday, February 29, 2008, almost ½ a year before the alleged actions by any alleged Clinton supporters.

        I’ll post more details in a Reply to @OttoGreif:disqus.

    2. COMALite J May 1, 2016

      FactCheck needs to check their facts a bit better. They’re absolutely right that Birtherism is a nutty, baseless conspiracy theory and sheer disinformation, and is the goofiest claim of all conspiracy theories, but wrong about who first advanced it and when.

      A man named Loren Collins has thoroughly researched the origins of Birtherism and presented the results in two parts on his excellent blog on the subject, The Birth of a Notion. He provides direct links to the Internet posts which started and promulgated Birtherism starting ½ a year before the alleged actions by any alleged Hillary supporters.

      To summarize the first part of his research:

      • On Thursday, February 28, 2008, UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh, of the famous eponymous blog The Volokh Conspiracy, posted a short rebuttal to rumors that John McCain was ineligible to be President. In a comment to that blog entry (a Disqus thread, long since closed but still there for all to see and read without even having to resort to the Internet Wayback Machine!), a commenter named “Dave N.” posted a comment in which, as an analogy, he suggested a hypothetical scenario involving Barack Obama instead. His exact words:

      Let’s change the hypothetical (just for grins and giggles).

      Barack Obama’s father was a citizen of Kenya. What would Senator Obama’s citizenship status (and Presidential eligibility) be if:

      1) He had been born in Kenya, but taken by his mother to the United States immediately after birth and then spent the rest of his life as he has subsequently lived it?

      2) He was born in a third country, and like my first hypothetical, immediately taken to the United States? Does that change the analysis?

      3) Would these results change if Senator Obama had been raised in a foreign country for any length of time before his mother returned with him to the United States?

      • Almost exactly 24 hours after “Dave N” posted that hypothetical scenario comment as an analogy on The Volokh Conspiracy “just for grins and giggles,” FreeRepublic·com user “FARS” posted this off-topic comment as Comment #319 on the Freeper thread #1978110, “Pin the Middle Name on the Obama” (about suggesting humorous alternative middle names for the then-new Democratic Party Primary candidate for President):

      I was told today that Obama swore in on a Koran for his Senate seat. I do not believe he did. Can someone clarify this for me? I am under the impression only a Congressman has so far sworn in on a Koran.

      Also that Obama’s mother gave birth to him overseas and then immediately flew into Hawaii and registered his birth as having taken place in Hawaii.

      Again, any clarifications on this? Defintely [sic] disqualifies him for Prez. There must be some trace of an airticket [sic]. While small babies are not charged air fare they do have a ticket issued for them.

      Long time ago but there may be some residual information somewhere. Good ammo (if available and true) BEST USED AFTER he becomes PREZ (if that occurs) and it’s too late for Dems — except accept the VP.

      Immediately (as in, starting in the very next post!), other FreeRepublic posters lambasted FARS for posting such wild rumors based on nothing more than, “I was told today that…” Note that he used wording very similar to what “Dave N” had used in his hypothetical scenario analogy the previous day! This is the oldest Internet posting known to advance the full Birther hypothesis as an actual rumor, not just as an hypothetical scenario posted as an analogy “just for grins and giggles.”

      • Just four days later, vehement anti-Muslim fantasist “Alan Peters” (a pseudonym) posted this entry on his eponymous Alan Peters’s Ruthless Roundup blog. In it, he lifts the concepts expressed in FARS’s rumour-mongering Freeper post from four days previously, worded very similarly, without credit (though it may not be plagiarism, as Collins has found evidence that “FARS” either knows, or is, “Alan Peters”!). This is the oldest post on the Internet to assert the Birther hypothesis as truth, not merely rumor, let alone an hypothetical scenario posted as an analogy “just for grins and giggles.” See how it grows? Less than five full days had elapsed!

      The entire Birther movement can be traced to this blog post, which in turn apparently plagiarized an off-topic FreeRepublic comment posted as a rumor, itself apparently plagiarized from a hypothetical scenario posted as an analogy to a post about McCain’s Natural Born Citizenship!

      And that is how Birtherism started.

      Note that all of the underlined texts above are direct links to the actual posts and comments, still in their original forms, with date/timestamps attached (you have to hover over the “8 years ago” to see the timestamp of a Disqus forum post such as Dave N’s).

  5. mpjt16 April 27, 2016

    Well Carville, Trump buying the birther thing isn’t that much different than you buying the myth and superstition of the Catholic religion. When was the last time you saw anyone defer on a medical issue to a 2000 year old treatise on healing? Anti-gay, opposed to women’s right to choose, birth control? And you criticize Trump?


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