Obama Was the Original Birther

Barack Obama’s life story is back in the news after Donald Trump played rope-a-dope with the dopey media once again. Brilliantly he duped the major networks into giving him 30 minutes of free airtime culminating in a few sentences ending his involvement in the birther controversy. The only thing Trump could have added is a fourth sentence quoting previous birther Hillary Clinton, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Big media is howling after being played once again by the master showman. And the birther issue is back in the news at a point where it really doesn’t matter anyway given only a few months left in Obama’s presidency. Since the subject has been resurrected, it would be instructive to look back and see who started all of this.

Long ago in 1991 when Bill Clinton, to borrow Colin Powell’s description, was “D---ing bimbos” in Arkansas, Barack Obama was a Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. During his fellowship he began writing his first book, Dreams From My Father. The aspiring author had a literary agency, Acton and Dystel, which prepared a promotional booklet including a brief Obama biography. They printed similar bios for the other 89 authors they represented. Standard practice in the publishing world.

In the bio, Obama is described as “Born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii”. This booklet was first published in Brietbart and verified by Snopes. The excuse for the birthplace discrepancy is that the bio was written by some editor at the literary agency, not by Obama himself. Which may very well be true. But where did the editor get this information?

Remember that in 1991, the internet was just in process of being invented by Al Gore. One couldn’t run a web search for Barack Obama and his background and education. As president of the Harvard Law Review, he published nothing. As he was a recent law school graduate, there would be little in the public library about his background. The New York Times published a short article in 1990 announcing Obama’s election to the Harvard Law Review, but with no mention of his being born in Kenya. In fact, the article in the Times stated that he was born in Hawaii.

The logical conclusion is that what the literary editor wrote for the Obama bio, particularly the part of him being born in Kenya, had to come from Obama himself. Why would an editor cherry pick some information from the New York Times article and manufacture something else about his place of birth?

This is the Times bio. “His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.” The literary bio said essentially the same thing, except changing the birthplace to Kenya. This bio was written by a literary agency, not a politician’s press office. Literary publishing is about accuracy and it’s a stretch to believe the agent made this change without first running it by Obama.

The “Born in Kenya” certainly spices up the bio and that may have been the sole reason for Obama to alter his birthplace. After all, his goal at this point was to sell books. What’s a little stretch or exaggeration compared to the greater good of launching his writing career? Much like, “If you like your insurance” or “If you like your doctor.” Other tall tales used to promote a lofty agenda.

As Obama’s school records are sealed, there is no way of knowing if he promoted himself as “foreign born” earlier in his educational career. Perhaps for admission preference or financial aid, but pure speculation in the absence of his actual school records. Meaning that his literary bio represents the first promotion of his being born in Kenya.

If this was a mere oversight, it would have quickly been corrected. Instead 16 years went by with the bio neither revised nor updated. It was finally corrected in 2007 when Obama announced his Presidential candidacy. During that Presidential campaign, the birth issue was not raised by Obama’s opponent John McCain. McCain actually went so far as to chastise anyone for even mentioning Obama’s middle name of Hussein.

Instead it was Obama’s Democrat primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, who picked up on the birth issue. Not Donald Trump who was busy building hotels and hosting reality shows at the time. Mrs. Clinton’s surrogate Sid Blumental was pushing the Obama birth story so hard that McClatchy sent a reporter to Kenya to investigate. And don’t forget the now famous photo of Obama in Muslim garb distributed by the Clinton campaign in 2008 as, “A last-ditch battle to keep her hopes of the White House alive”.

Back to Trump and his recent “major announcement” on the birther issue. He was incorrect in his first of three sentences, "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.” It was actually Barack Obama himself, who willingly, or negligently by not correcting the error, allowed the Kenyan birth narrative to live for 16 years before saying otherwise. But Mrs. Clinton and her campaign resurrected the issue, which now continues to smolder.

Trump, after a 30-minute infomercial donated by the big media networks, wisely took the issue off the table. “I finished it,” he told the cameras. Leaving the real birther coughing and collapsing after Trump’s masterful manipulation of the dopey media. As the Washington Post concluded, “It was peak Trump”.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon, radio personality, and writer. Follow him on Facebook  and Twitter.

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