All the smear tactics aimed at Barack Obama appear to be working with key segments of the voters who support Hillary -- no matter how false the charges. The Pew Foundation reports today, while noting that Obama is weathering the Rev. Wright storm:
White Democrats who hold unfavorable views of Obama are much more likely than those who have favorable opinions of him to say that equal rights for minorities have been pushed too far; they also are more likely to disapprove of interracial dating, and are more concerned about the threat that immigrants may pose to American values. In addition, nearly a quarter of white Democrats (23%) who hold a negative view of Obama believe he is a Muslim.
So when Hillary Clinton said in an interview that Barack Obama was a Christian..."as far as I know," that signal gave indirect credence to the Barack-as-Muslim smears circulating on the Web and elsewhere during this campaign season. It's also naive, as some progressives claim, or flatly disingenuous, to insist that such false allegations shouldn't be seen as smears at all, just because there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim.
To smear artists everywhere, it's a job well-done.
UPDATE: For the full story, check out the Anatomy of a Smear broadcast on PBS's Now from January, showing how it began in 2006 and filtered into the early primary campaigns and right-wing media. Here's how that Muslim smear -- along with the false claim that Obama didn't put his hand over his heart when doing the Pledge of Allegiance -- developed later in 2007, part of an in-depth timeline:
Nov. 29, 2007: The Washington Post publishes an article, "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him", by political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. exploring the rumors that Obama was Muslim. The article did not explicitly dispel those rumors.
Dec. 9, 2007: In response to "ferocious" criticism from readers and others, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell addresses Bacon's story in a column titled Refuting, or Feeding, the Rumor Mill. She writes: "My problems with the story...were that Obama's connections to Islam are slender at best; that the rumors were old; and that convincing evidence of their falsity wasn't included in the story."
Dec. 13, 2007: Despite being debunked by mainstream news organizations, the claim that Obama didn't place his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance is repeated on Bill O' Reilly's show. In response to a caller who says she's disturbed by Obama's alleged action, O'Reilly doesn't correct her and, according to MediaMatters.org, replies: "I think that Obama needs to answer some questions about his point of view, not only on the USA, but on a lot of things."
And now, thanks to the hard-fought Democratic primary campaign, such smears continue -- and have a clear impact.