New York Times Again Fumbles ‘Birther’ Controversy, to Benefit of Hillary Clinton

July 9th, 2016 1:47 PM

The New York Times once again conveniently fumbled recent political history (to the benefit of Hillary Clinton) on the origin of Barack Obama’s birth certificate controversy. Ashley Parker and Steve Eder’s “How Trump’s ‘Birther’ Claims Helped to Stir Presidential Bid,” on the front page of the Sunday July 3 edition, laid out how Donald Trump came to embrace and then distance himself from the controversy. According to the Times, the conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya not Hawaii and was thus ineligible to be president, was wholly a “right-wing” job (the story opens with conservative WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah) though actual facts show otherwise.

The Times has long been unable to commit itself to the journalistic fact that the conspiracy was in fact “birthed” by Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic campaign. A 2011 Times article wrongly suggested the “Birther” theories only erupted after Obama became president, among conservatives, when in fact they first circulated during the Democratic primaries, stirred up by Obama's Democratic opponents.

Parker and Eder wrote for Sunday’s front page:

Mr. Trump’s eagerness to embrace the so-called birther idea -- long debunked, and until then confined to right-wing conspiracy theorists -- foreshadowed how, just five years later, Mr. Trump would bedevil his rivals in the Republican presidential primary race and upend the political system.

Actually, the rumor that Obama was not a U.S. citizen was initially spread in April 2008 by a group of Hillary Clinton supporters, as reported in April 2011 by Politico’s Ben Smith and Byron Tau: “If you haven’t been trolling the fever swamps of online conspiracy sites or opening those emails from Uncle Larry, you may well wonder: Where did this idea come from? Who started it? And is there a grain of truth there? The answer lies in Democratic, not Republican politics, and in the bitter, exhausting spring of Obama marched toward the presidency, a new suggestion emerged: That he was not eligible to serve. That theory first emerged in the spring of 2008, as Clinton supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship.”

Undaunted or unaware, the Times again tied the movement explicitly to white, racially uncomfortable Republicans.

In the birther movement, Mr. Trump recognized an opportunity to connect with the electorate over an issue many considered taboo: the discomfort, in some quarters of American society, with the election of the nation’s first black president. He harnessed it for political gain, beginning his connection with the largely white Republican base that, in his 2016 campaign, helped clinch his party’s nomination.


The more Mr. Trump questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Obama’s presidency, the better he performed in the early polls of the 2012 Republican field, springing from fifth place to a virtual tie for first.

That frenzied period culminated six weeks after it began in a surreal televised split screen between Mr. Trump and the White House briefing room, where aides released an image of the president’s birth certificate proving he was born in Honolulu and Mr. Obama directly addressed the issue.

It was a remarkable moment that Mr. Trump celebrated as a political victory.

Then Mr. Trump did something decidedly un-Trump-like: He dropped the issue and rarely spoke of it publicly again.


Indeed, damage had already been done. Some black leaders denounced him, with Jesse Jackson accusing Mr. Trump of appealing to the president’s detractors with “coded and covert rhetoric for stirring up racial fears.”

And if you lose a racial healer like Jesse Jackson...

Given a second chance to clarify that the issue first rose among Democrats, the Times again whiffed.

Mr. Trump, who declined to be interviewed about the subject, was not the first to question Mr. Obama’s birthplace. The narrative that Mr. Obama, whose father was Kenyan and mother American, might not meet the requirement that the president be a “natural-born citizen” first arose during his 2008 bid.