May 10, 2011
How the Media Falsify Obama's Origins StoryBy Jack Cashill
In her new biography of Ann Dunham, A Singular Woman, New York Times reporter Janny Scott corrupts Barack Obama's nativity story even more than a cynic might have thought possible. In so doing, Scott follows an ignoble media tradition that deserves exposure as does the story that it corrupts.
At the very first moment of his national acclaim, the 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama established the foundational myth of his political ascendancy.
Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., had grown up in Kenya "herding goats." His mother, Ann Dunham, Obama traced to Kansas, as he always did. "My parents shared not only an improbable love," Obama continued, "they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation."
In the frequent retelling of this tale, Obama Sr. left the family for Harvard well after the family had cohered. "I get it," Obama told America's schoolchildren in 2009. "I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother."
For the first five years of his national celebrity, the major media accepted the story as told. This included the four book-length biographies I consulted when researching my book Deconstructing Obama and any number of long-form articles.
Even before the 2008 election, however, the alternative conservative media began catching on that the story was false. How false would become increasingly clear.
In his self-published book, What Does Barack Obama Believe, conservative activist Michael Patrick Leahy established that Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, had left Hawaii without her presumed husband long before her baby's first birthday.
By 2009, WorldNetDaily had confirmed the specifics of Dunham's departure. WND posted Dunham's transcripts from the University of Washington in Seattle, which showed that she had begun taking two night classes on September 25, 1961, about seven weeks after the baby's birth. WND placed her arrival in Seattle about a month earlier.
This meant, of course, that the story Obama had been telling about his origins -- what Obama-friendly biographer David Remnick calls Obama's "signature appeal: the use of the details of his own life as a reflection of a kind of multicultural ideal" -- was profoundly false. There was no Obama family, no shared "faith in the possibilities of this nation," no "improbable love."
While writing his definitive Obama biography, The Bridge, New Yorker editor Remnick had access to all this information, which was also posted on apolitical history sites in Washington State. He could not ignore it, but he could not embrace it either. So he tried to finesse it.
In Remnick's butchered version, when the baby was born, "Ann dropped out of school to care for her infant son." In the months following, Remnick suggests that Ann grew restive at home "while Barack Sr. was in classes, studying at the library, and out drinking with his friends."
As far as I know, Remnick is the first mainstream reporter to place Dunham in Washington State, but he tells us that Dunham "registered for an extension course in the winter of 1961 and enrolled as a regular student in the spring of 1962." In the sentence that follows immediately, Remnick adds, "She moved to Seattle with Barack Jr ... and reconnected with old friends."
Remnick here creates the deliberate impression that Dunham lived with Obama Sr. after the baby's birth, took "an extension course" in the winter of 1962, and then moved to Seattle with the baby in the spring. He had to know this was false. According to the university's official transcript, Dunham had received 20 hours of academic credit through four evening classes at the Seattle campus by the time the spring semester began. Moreover, she had dropped out of the University of Hawaii not after the baby was born but seven months beforehand.
To further resuscitate the "improbable love" myth, Remnick tells the reader that in fall 1962 "Ann went with the baby to Cambridge briefly to visit her husband, but that trip was a failure and she returned to Hawaii." No remotely credible evidence supports this version of events, and all logic and logistics argue against it.
Janny Scott further muddies the water. Although she spent more than two years researching Dunham's life, the defining event of which was the birth of her son, Scott contributes nothing but misinformation to the public understanding of Obama's early years.
Scott seems almost reluctant to raise the subject of those years. On page 84 of the book, the reader learns that "Obama was twenty-four years old and Ann was seventeen when they met in the fall of 1960." On page 86 of the book, we are told that baby Obama is born in Honolulu, and, "Eleven months later, the elder Obama was gone." Improbably, this two-page account follows thirty well-documented pages on Dunham's high school years in Seattle.
According to INS documents, Obama was 26 at the time the couple met, but that is not the real problem here. The problem is that Scott obfuscates everything. About the wedding itself, Scott can tell us no more than that the couple married "reportedly on the island of Maui." As the authoritative source on Dunham's life, she should be embarrassed to use the word "reportedly."
Scott adds nary a detail to an otherwise undocumented ceremony. Critically, too, she fails to comment on Ann Dunham's whereabouts from the alleged wedding in February 1961 to Obama's birth in August 1961. In so doing, Scott does not quiet the skepticism about Obama's origins. She aggravates it.
To her credit, unlike Remnick, Scott does not cite the comically unreliable Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie as a source on the storied relationship. To her discredit, Scott cites no credible real time witnesses at all. The only person who bears witness on this subject is a woman who learned about it from Ann several years after the fact.
As to the birth, Scott provides no details other than what was available on the short form certification of live birth. She does not tell us where the happy newlyweds lived or even if they lived together, let alone if they were happy.
Recently posted INS documents note that the newborn baby Obama was "living with mother" and she in turn was living "with her parents." Obama Sr. meanwhile was living at a totally separate address. These documents were requested through the Freedom of Information Act by Heather Smathers, a young reporter for the Arizona Independent, a community weekly. No one at the Times apparently bothered.
Although sent by the INS, let me add a word of caution about these documents. In the 55-page release, only one page is fully hand written by an INS official. That is the page I cite above, confirming my argument that the Obama birth narrative was manufactured. That page also confirms, however, that "Barack Obama II" was born in Honolulu on "8/4/1961."
Smathers requested these documents in September 2010. They arrived conveniently on April 18, 2011. She posted them on April 26. Obama released his long-form birth certificate on April 27 with the unusual designation "II" after his name, not "Jr." as one might expect. The INS documents offer official backup to the date on Obama's birth certificate, but the official's repetition of the unusual locution "II" leaves me a tad suspicious as does the timing of the documents' release. A hand-written document copied to a CD cannot be hard to falsify.
There are more holes still. In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama observes that a newspaper story announcing his father's departure for Harvard in June 1962 failed to mention him or his mother, and he wonders if "the omission caused a fight between my parents." Scott comments, "Whatever fight there was may have happened earlier." Of course, it happened earlier. The two had not seen each other for nine months. Based on the available evidence, the two had surely broken up long before the baby was born, if indeed there was a real relationship at all.
Scott concedes Dunham did go to Seattle but, like Remnick, she plays games with the timeline. "In the spring quarter of 1962, as Obama was embarking on his final semester in Hawaii, Ann was enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle," Scott writes.
As in Remnick's case, this is borderline fraud. Scott credits her information about the spring semester to a university official, and although true, it conceals the larger fact that Ann had already been at the university for months. The maladroit Scott even cites a Dunham friend who places Dunham and the baby in Seattle in "late in the summer of 1961."
After reading Remnick and Scott, the public has absolutely no idea whether Dunham married Obama Sr. and where Dunham spent the next seven months. The story the two reporters tell us about the first year of Obama's life is conspicuously and consciously false.
And yet they and their pals get to mock us for the very act of asking questions about Obama's birth! Someone please wake me and reassure me I am dreaming.
Jack Cashill is the author of Deconstructing Obama.