My favorite news story in recent memory is the repeated inept attempts at a smear campaign against Barack Obama. I didn’t make a big deal about it, because I assumed everybody would get a good laugh and then move on. Apparently I was once again being naive, giving the state of American politics too much credit.
Google’s current tv gives a decent run-down (warning: that link plays video). The comedy started when conservative genius think-tank Insight magazine (warning: that link is moronic) dropped the bomb that Obama attended a terrorist-training madrassa while growing up in Indonesia. The “article” couches the shocking allegation as political infighting between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Obama’s. It’s still up there, even though CNN shows how ridiculous the claim is.
Unfortunately, while that CNN article does debunk the claim, it doesn’t go far enough to show how ridiculous and irresponsible it is. Madrassa is the Arabic word for “school.” You might be inclined to say, “oh well, it’s an unfortunate but understandable mistake, no harm, no foul,” except for the fact that this is old news.
A couple of years ago, my friend Moe was complaining that “news” sites kept trying to link people with terrorism by pointing out that they attended a madrassa. Growing up in Egypt, he went to a secular madrassa, where he was taught terrorist activities such as reading and writing. (Moe would often then put a knife up to my neck and attempt to decapitate me, after which we’d just laugh and laugh. Good times.) Trying to forge a link there would be like saying that since George W. Bush attended a college, and there are known colleges of cosmetology, then Bush has a clear link with ladies’ and men’s hair sculpting. Ergo, Bush is a homosexual. You read it here first.
That tack having failed, the cheesy sleazemeisters at Fox News decided to expose Obama’s shameful secret: the man is a smoker! Don’t try to tell John Gibson it’s a non-issue; he raises the tough questions: why does Obama insist on keeping this scandal a dirty little secret? (The answer: he doesn’t. At all. Everyone knows, nobody cares, and like every other g-damn smoker in the US, he’s trying to quit).
The surprisingly ambidextrous Gibson attempts to back-pedal, cover his ass, and point fingers in this self-serving column. He claims the arguments are coming from Clinton’s campaign, and he once again brings up what? Obama’s terrorism training.
But instead of just pointing and laughing, people are treating this as if it were serious enough to warrant defending. Even normally sane pundits are trying to add perspective.
This isn’t just garden-variety ignorance, or Crooks and Liars‘ awesome term, “Fox stupid.” These guys know what they’re doing, to a degree — even though anyone with intelligence can tell that they’re grasping at straws in a desperate smear campaign, they’re planting seeds of doubt that the more susceptible will remember. Image manipulation, and teaching ignorance.
But what’s most amusing about the whole thing is the conservatives’ desperation at trying to smear a guy who on the surface, has so much going against him. I can imagine a roomful of Michael Moore’s prototypical angry white men just sputtering with rage that they’ve got a black man, who was raised Muslim, and is named Barack Hussein Obama, and the best they can come up with to discredit him is that he went to school and he smokes.
They’re trapped in their own minefield of spin and image, they never really understood the “political correctness” that they’ve tried so hard to vilify, to the point they don’t know what they’re allowed to criticize. (Of course, calling somebody a “liberal” is still fair game, and they’re doing all they can to make that word rank just below “baby-eater” in terms of acceptability). You get the sense that Obama could legally change his name to Barack Stalin Benedict Arnold Clinton Gaymarriage Hitler, and Fox would be scrambling in the archives trying to find video footage of him littering.