THE BLOG

Cyber-Swift Boating Obama

04/25/2008 03:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There are a few things you should know about John McCain that the media is not reporting. He was born in Panama and played as a child with future narco-dictator Manuel Noriega. McCain crashed five Navy jets during his military career, usually because the planes were overloaded with narcotics. Finally, McCain is the father of a black child whose mother was Noriega's housekeeper.

I assure you that it is true that Senator McCain was born in Panama, crashed five jets and adopted a Bengali child (which the Bush 2000 campaign exploited to create a whisper campaign in South Carolina that McCain was the father of a "black child"). The remaining 98% of the claims are pure fiction.

Fortunately, Senator McCain has been in the public spotlight long enough for most of you to have reached that conclusion independently. Unfortunately the same is not true for Senator Obama whose campaign must overcome the latest incarnation of the whisper campaign - the chain email.

In ancient times, Americans relied on what was called "the news", which principally consisted of Walter Cronkite and their local newspaper, to inform themselves about Presidential candidates. Tabloids were not news but were merely entertaining gossip rags. This changed in 1992 when the mainstream media began disseminating tabloid allegations about the candidates so that the notion of news changed to include tabloids, then blogs and eventually even Fox News.

Apparently, "the news" now includes chain emails - as over the past few weeks I have had a number of people forward me various chain emails about Barack Obama claiming that he was a jihadist Muslim, a raving anti-Semite or closet Black Panther. I appreciate and respect the fact that some forwarded these emails in friendship with an open mind hoping to discern the truth. What is troubling is where they are forwarded as "authoritative" statements by politically savvy people who are the very "Brie-eating . . . Volvo-driving, New York Times reading, elite liberals" vilified by the right but have now become their unwitting tool.

Let's start with the basics. Chain emails are not news nor are they to be used to select our commander in chief. For those who may be struggling with this point, please print and then roll up your copy of this column (or a nearby magazine) and hand it to a loved one so that they may smack some sense into you. The fact is that just as the Internet can be a wonderful source of information, it can also be a powerful tool for disinformation.

In December 2006, a writer for the New Republic's weblog predicted that the right would "launch a savage and despicable whispering campaign against [Obama] and then blame it all on Hillary." Guess what - they did.

A month later the Washington Times' online magazine reported "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background" which sent Fox and the right wing media into a frenzy, although it was quickly debunked by CNN through basic fact checking. Undeterred, the right has used this report to form the basis of countless chain emails following the Nazi maxim that "if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe."

This report was quickly followed by emails claiming Obama was anti-Semitic, prompting the leaders of nine national Jewish organizations to condemn such "despicable and false attacks," while seven Jewish Democratic Senators released a letter stating that "Jews, who have historically been the target of such attacks, should be the first to reject these tactics." That generally, however, has not been the case.

What is amazing is that journalists and sophisticated consumers of news of all faiths who are quick to delete emails offering riches from purported Nigerian millionaires, are eager to believe (or at least reluctant to dismiss) inflammatory claims in an anonymous email that not only have been denounced by well known publications such as Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times as "false" and "vile" "appeals to bigotry and fear," but the falsity of these allegations can be readily ascertained through sites such as factcheck.org or snopes.com (a point recipients should quickly point out to the sender).

The important question is why are we so willing to entertain the thought or even conclude that Barack Obama is not "one of us"? That was at the heart of the Rev. Wright controversy and Senator Obama calmed that storm by having an honest dialogue with voters about race in America. This is a discussion we should continue with ourselves before forwarding any further emails.

Responding to the 2000 whisper campaign, Senator McCain declared that "there is a special place in hell for people like those." The same is true for these emails, except in cyberspace the gates of hell are opened by simply hitting delete.