Anti-Bush 9-11 "Truthers" get a fair hearing from the New York Times, but anti-Obama "Birthers" are harshly criticized, and Rush Limbaugh is of course to blame.
Media reporter Brian Stelter's Saturday Business story, "A Dispute Over Obama's Birth Lives On in the Media," questioned those questioning Obama's birth certificate, his citizenship, and his resulting eligibility for the presidency. Good for the Times. But where is the Times's critcism when liberals gin up wackier conspiracy theories?
Back in June 2006, Times reporter Alan Feuer showed far more respect to a conspiracy theory many times more incendiary and implausible: That the 9-11 attacks were an inside job, that the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were engineered by President Bush. Yet not once did Feuer dismiss the 9-11 Truthers bizarre charge as a "conspiracy theory," as Stelter did in the first line of his Sunday piece on the Birthers:
The conspiracy theorists who have claimed for more than a year that President Obama is not a United States citizen have found receptive ears among some mainstream media figures in recent weeks.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the country's most popular talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, told his listeners on Tuesday that Mr. Obama "has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen." Lou Dobbs of CNN said that Mr. Obama should do more to dispel the claims. Larry King, also of CNN, asked guests about it. Chris Matthews debated it with guests on MSNBC, and "NBC Nightly News" even did a segment debunking the theory.
Cable news is often stretched for news in the summer, but the birth certificate case has been fueled by the combustible combination of luck, compelling video, media-savvy doubters -- and an outlandish topic.
By contrast, Feuer in 2006 treated the left-wing nuts with something approaching affection:
"[Group press director Michael] Berger, 40, is typical of 9/11 Truthers -- a group that, in its rank and file, includes professors, chain-saw operators, mothers, engineers, activists, used-book sellers, pizza deliverymen, college students, a former fringe candidate for United States Senate and a long-haired fellow named hummux (pronounced who-mook) who, on and off, lived in a cave for 15 years."
The text box to Stelter's piece marked a familiar Times foe: "Rush Limbaugh? Of course, but even Larry King has asked guests about a fringe belief."
Once again, Limbaugh is being used by the media as a stand-in for all of conservative talk radio, from the mainstream to the fringes. Limbaugh did hint at the issue briefly and facetiously in recent show patter, but the issue does not feature as a regular drumbeat on his broadcast.
Stelter called out "staunchly conservative elements" pushing the Obama birth story, and used a left-wing media watchdog source to back him up.
The theory that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya, his father's homeland, first took root among some staunchly conservative elements. In response, the Obama campaign scanned the candidate's "certification of live birth" from Hawaii's department of health and published it on the Internet. Numerous third parties have examined and confirmed the birth certificate and concluded that it met the requirements for citizenship.
"This smear was thoroughly debunked during the election," said Eric Burns, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal media monitoring organization.
MRC's Brent Baker remembered MSNBC host Keith Olbermann's paranoia about alleged Ohio ballot-box fraud, after President George W. Bush beat John Kerry in 2004, with the state of Ohio putting Bush over the top. Olbermann jumped on some minor anomalies to suggest Ohio voting machines had been manipulated to deny Kerry victory in Ohio, which would have awarded him the presidency. A Nexis search indicates the Times never mentioned Olbermann's Ohio obsession.