EDITORIALS

‘Birthers’ and Politics

Posted April 17, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.

Why should anyone care about the so-called birther movement, which claims that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born American citizen?

The answer is their numbers. In a Harris Poll survey in March 2010, 25 percent said they believed that Mr. Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president.”

That’s a large enough segment to matter in the 2012 presidential election. Donald Trump, the real estate and reality TV figure, and possible Republican presidential candidate, obviously thinks so. He has been insisting that President Obama’s grandmother is on tape saying that he was born in Kenya. A few likely Republican candidates have flatly denied the birther fantasy, while others dance around the subject for fear of offending such a large body of Republican voters.

Consider two of the “facts” that have been circulating and how thoroughly they have been soundly debunked by investigations by newspapers and reliable online fact-checking organizations. Perhaps the clearest refutation came from the McClatchy Washington Bureau in a July 30, 2009, report.

The report said that the certificate of live birth issued by the state of Hawaii that the Obama campaign displayed in 2007 has been examined by Hawaiian officials and FactCheck.org at the University of Pennsylvania and found to be genuine and not a forgery as the birthers claim. It shows that President Obama was born there. Also, two Honolulu newspapers carried brief announcements of the birth.

As for the alleged tape, his grandmother Sarah Obama was interviewed in October 2008 through a translator on the telephone by a self-described American bishop. It was arranged by a Pennsylvania attorney, Phil Berg, who had been insisting that President Obama was born in Kenya. When asked if she was present “when he was born in Kenya,” the translator replied, “She says yes she was. She was present when Obama was born.” The tape ended abruptly.

But the full tape tells a different story. The bishop went on: “I would like to go by the place, the hospital where he was born. Can you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?” The translator answered, “Obama was not born in Mombasa [Kenya’s second largest city]. He was born in America.” The bishop persisted: “I thought he was born in Kenya.” She replied, “He was born in America, not in Mombasa.” The translator went on: “Hawaii. She says he was born in Hawaii.”

Still, fringe theorists and a few pandering politicians keep spreading doubts, proving that distraction is a lot easier than talking about issues that matter.

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