Maraniss Bio Deepens Obama Birth Mystery
David Maraniss has no use for "birthers." In a recent interview, he dismissed their beliefs as "preposterous" and wonders why they cling to them, since "every fact and document leads in another direction."
Yet the one core belief that has united the birther community -- if there be such a thing -- is that Obama dissembled when he talked at both the 2004 and 2008 Democratic Conventions about his parents' "improbable love" and "abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation."
Birthers have known for years that there was no Obama family, that the couple never lived together, that Obama campaigned on a lie, and that the major media covered for him every step of the way. This, ironically, Maraniss confirms in Barack Obama: The Story, a book that has to be parsed as carefully as the Talmud or Finnegan's Wake to be made sense of. Despite his slam on birthers, the facts herein will come as more of a shock to the Obama faithful than to those who have questioned the official birth narrative.
"In the college life of Barack Obama [Senior] in 1961 and 1962," writes Maraniss, "as recounted by his friends and acquaintances in Honolulu, there was no Ann; there was no baby." Although Maraniss talked to many of Obama Sr.'s friends, none of the credible ones ever so much as saw him with Obama's mother, Ann Dunham.
One Obama friend, a Cambodian named Kiri Tith, knew the senior Obama "very well." He had also met Ann through a different channel. "But he had no idea," writes Maraniss, "that Ann knew Obama, let alone got hapai (pregnant) by him, married him, and had a son with him."
Having established the facts, Maraniss turns protective. He refuses to explore the implications of his own reporting. The most consequential is that Obama grounded his 2008 campaign -- his very persona, for that matter -- on a family story that was pure fraud. Lyndon Johnson's masterful biographer, Robert Caro, would never let his subject walk away from such a lie unscathed.
The casual reader of the Maraniss book is left with the impression that Ann and Obama had a one-night stand that they both regretted, but that they consented to marriage because that is what people did back in 1961. The more informed reader wonders whether Barack Obama, Sr. was fronting for the real father, the best candidate being Obama's future mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. Maraniss opens the door on both possibilities but fails to even peek through.
As to the presumed February 1961 wedding, the usually thorough Maraniss offers no detail at all. His endnotes say only this: "Marriage facts recorded in divorce records." To be sure, Ann and Obama claimed a wedding. It suited both their purposes: Obama to extend his visa, and Dunham to legitimize her baby with a black husband.
As to the divorce, Dunham at the time was desperately trying to keep her future husband Lolo Soetoro in the country. The INS believed her to be married to Obama. Even if she were not married, a divorce would have been useful to clear the way for a marriage to Soetoro. Maraniss explains none of this.
Like all other mainstream biographers of the Obama family, Maraniss tells us not a single word about Ann's life in the six months between the February wedding and Obama's August 1961 birth. Given the controversy surrounding Obama's place of birth, Maraniss should have commented on a void of this duration, and he knows it.
Later, when discussing Obama's murky New York years, he opines, "Nothing is so tempting for conspiracy theorists as what appears to be a hole in a life." Maraniss attempts to flesh out the New York years. He makes no effort to fill this critical hole in Ann's life.
On the subject of the birth, the usually voluble Maraniss is as tight-lipped as he is on the wedding. He reports that Obama was born at 7:24 in the evening of August 4, 1961 at Kapi'olani Hospital. As reference, he cites "State of Hawaii Certificate of Live Birth," presumably the unverified document posted online last April.
In the way of confirmation, Maraniss offers only one story -- an elaborate one that he takes two pages to tell. It comes down to this: a woman is having lunch shortly after Obama's birth with an OB/GYN, who tells her, "Stanley had a baby. Now that's something to write home about."
The woman, Barbara Czurles-Nelson, has been telling this story for several years. Maraniss adds the clarification that the doctor in question was not the one who delivered the baby, as first reported, but someone who had heard the "Stanley" anecdote on the grapevine.
One serious flaw in Maraniss's reporting is that he gives too much credence to obviously inflated memories. A glaring example, one that has been cited often as fact, is of the paper Obama allegedly wrote as a schoolboy in Indonesia in which he said, "Someday I want to be president."
Maraniss quotes the entire, seemingly impressive paper, both in English and in the Indonesian language, Bahasa. He then adds, "The paper no longer exists, though [the teacher's] memory is precise and there is no reason not to trust it." No, David, there is every reason not to trust it.
Czurles-Nelson also remembers her story much too well. In the gratuitously lengthy account of the "Stanley" anecdote, the reader learns, for instance, that 50 years earlier, Czurles-Nelson and the doctor were sitting "near the lunch buffet." This is the kind of confirming detail Maraniss likes to provide.
All the stranger, then, is his failure to provide a single shred of information regarding the circumstances surrounding Obama's birth. The reader has no idea who took Ann to the hospital, who delivered her baby, who took her home, or even where "home" was.
Maraniss hints at where home was not -- namely, the residence her parents shared with the Pratt family at 6085 Kalanianole Highway, the address listed on the birth certificate. As Maraniss relates, the Pratt daughter, then an adolescent, "has no memory of the Dunhams' daughter bringing an infant home." He adds, "[Ann] and Obama and the infant never lived [at 6085 Kalanianole]."
Indeed, the young family never lived together, and this Maraniss concedes. "Within a month of the day Barry came home from the hospital," he writes, "he and his mother were long gone from Honolulu, back on the mainland ... ." They had decamped for Seattle, where they would live for the next year.
Maraniss interviewed not a single person who saw the newborn in Hawaii. It is likely that Obama Sr. never saw young Barry. Barry Obama's first sighting was in Seattle. Maraniss tells us nothing about how Ann and the baby got there.
In the blogosphere, these revelations do not comes as news. In the mainstream media, however, they must stun. In their respective biographies of Obama and his family, all published 2010 or later, the New Yorker's David Remnick, the Boston Globe's Sally Jacobs, and the New York Times's Janny Scott and Jodi Kantor each consciously skirted the facts to sustain the illusion of a functioning Obama family. More troubling, conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza did the same in his disingenuous 2010 bestseller, The Roots of Obama's Rage.
As recently as Father's Day 2012, Obama was telling America's schoolchildren that his father "left when I was two years old." The media let him get away with it. Is it any wonder that birthers don't take their criticisms too seriously?
Maraniss debunks this fraudulent birth narrative much too quietly. Perhaps he feels guilty about contributing to it himself. He wrote a 10,000-word Obama bio for the Washington Post in August 2008, and he made a total botch out of the birth narrative. Had he gotten the story straight then, he might have turned the election.