Fighting “Smears,” Selectively

The Obama campaign has set up a web site called Fight the Smear, dedicated to debunking alleged “smears” about the candidate. Coverage of the site has been overwhelmingly positive. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, a Democrat, writes:

[T]he sheer level of misinformation/whispers/innuendo is FAR higher as it relates to Obama than any candidate in recent memory. ***

Given the seeming determination of some people to traffic in negative and false information about Obama, there is a far larger burden on Obama than on previous presidential candidates to fight back hard and quickly.

The Associated Press is similarly sympathetic to Obama:

The site is a response to the realities of a brave new world, where information travels 24 hours a day on blogs and voters are increasingly turning to the Internet for information. It’s a particular problem for Obama, a relative newcomer to national politics who is still unknown to many voters and has been the target of persistent misinformation campaigns online.

Actually, the politician who has been most targeted by “misinformation/whispers/innuendo” on the web has undoubtedly been President Bush. Maybe he should have put up a “Fight the Smear” web site a long time ago. Somehow, though, I doubt that it would have been greeted with the same enthusiasm.

No one, least of all us, is in favor of smears, so a lot of what appears on Obama’s site is easy to applaud. The site effectively disputes the claim that Michelle Obama railed against “whitey” at the Trinity Church. That rumor, apparently started by the Clinton campaign, should now be regarded as false. Likewise, Obama has now made his birth certificate public; there is nothing odd about it.

The problem with Obama’s site is the issues it doesn’t address. Thus, Obama’s debunking of the “whitey” tape appears under the heading, “The truth about Michelle.” But what about the other questions that have been raised about Michelle Obama, such as her claim to have been proud of her country for the first time when her husband ran for President? The “truth about Michelle” is very much in doubt.

Similarly, another “smear” is the claim that “Obama’s Books Contain Racially Incendiary Remarks.” This “smear” is disproved by quoting several emails that are either false or out of context, none of which I had ever seen. The fact is, though, that Obama’s books do include racially incendiary comments–for example, Obama’s account of how he was inspired to join Trinity Church by hearing Rev. Wright preach that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.” So Obama’s debunking, while not false as to the instances it addresses, is misleading.

The site proclaims that “Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.” I’ve seen what appears to be credible evidence that Obama was raised as a Muslim as a boy, during the time he lived in Indonesia. But that is of little importance. What concerns me, and millions of others, is not the idea that Obama could be a Muslim–he clearly is not–but rather the fact that the religion to which he was drawn as a young man, and in which he participated for twenty years, is not Christian at all. Rather, Rev. Wright preached hatred, paranoia and racism, the opposite of Christianity, and for twenty years, Obama treated Wright as a spiritual mentor. This is, obviously, a legitimate concern which Obama’s “smear” site does not address.

It will be interesting to see what “smears” Obama chooses to rebut as the campaign continues, and whether he ever uses this site to respond to the many legitimate concerns that have been raised about him and his candidacy.

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