New Yorker's under-fire cover illustrator Barry Blitt says his infuriating cover was intended only to show that the incessant rumor that Obama is a closet terrorist is preposterous and ridiculous fear-mongering. Team Obama's rage at the inflammatory cover was beyond ballistic and nearly everyone with eyes and an opinion about it, and that included Republican rival John McCain, who expressed the same ballistic anger at the New Yorker. But Blitt's point that the ridiculous rumor mongering, gossip, slurs, and flat out falsities about Obama's religion, patriotism, birth, and, of course race, are deep and widespread is horribly true. Even more frightening is that those slanders may touch a nerve in an unknown but frighteningly large number of voters. That danger was there from the start and there were packs of websites ready to deepen that danger.
Obama had barely finished his announcement on the steps of the State Capitol at Springfield, Illinois in February, 2007 that he was in the hunt for presidency when the site Barack Exposed popped up on every search engine. The website was a put up job by Human Events, a fringe, ultraconservative outfit. It promised to expose the "truth" about Obama, from his alleged role in corruption scandals to doubletalk on the issues, and of course the signature hit item, his patriotism. At the time, it was rightly laughed off as a typical smear and slander by one of the pack of ultra-conservative hit squads.
The laughter didn't last long. Obama's breakout win in the Iowa Caucus in January instantly marked him as the potential Democrat's presidential go-to guy. It also set off alarm bells among the blog hit squads. Here's a check list of the biggest, best known, and most virulent Obama dirt dealer sites that sprouted up after Iowa:
The anti-Obama bile, complete with the scurrilous and phony doctored photos of Obama as a Muslim terrorist is the staple on many of the sites, and is repeated as a sickening mantra by the Obama character maligners. Obama's White House bid has virtually breathed new life into the unabashedly white supremacist group Stormfront's site (stormfront.org). The group claims to get about 40,000 hits a day.
Google belatedly realized that its engine was rapidly becoming a top conduit for spreading the anti-Obama rumor mongering hate and shut down several of the more blatant anti-Obama sites. It sternly warned that any site that engaged in lathering Obama with vicious personal slurs would be promptly shut down. This drew some mild criticism that Google was stifling free speech, but the right to propagate malicious slander and lies hardly qualifies as a free speech protection, let alone legitimate political criticism.
There were early warning signals of the on-line ugliness that could come. Talk show gasser Rush Limbaugh took the first real swipe when he derisively sneered at Obama as the "Magic Negro." Limbaugh kind of sort of backed away from it. But the message was that Obama was not exempt from a racial dig. That was much evident in the short-lived furor over Obama's former Southside Chicago church, and the controversial outbursts of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.
The inference was that Obama's guilt by membership and friendship with him made him a closet radical and a race-baiter. But long before the Wright controversy broke in the national media, more than a few of the above mentioned anti-Obama sites had a field day lambasting him and Wright.
The nitpicking continued on the most trivial things such as his chain smoking, his admitted flirtation with drugs, and pokes at his wife Michelle as outspoken, bossy and domineering, and America-hating. This slander against her has been almost as popular on the sites as knocking Obama as unpatriotic and inferring he's a closet Muslim terrorist.
The great danger is that the lies and maliciousness the Obama slander sites busily fan could or has had some resonance with some voters, especially the much fought-over independents. They make up about one quarter of American electorate, and the overwhelming majority of them are white, and centrist to conservative in their views.
The fear that the rumors could hurt prompted Obama and the campaign to take the unprecedented step of putting up an anti-smear website to counter the lies. It also prompted Obama in January to do a teleconference call with Jewish reporters to refute the rumors that he was a Muslim.
The New Yorker's editors may well as the claim depicted Obama and Michelle as flag hating, unpatriotic, violent terrorists to show the absolute vileness and absurdity of the rampant slanders. But the magazine -- which is the nation's staid, bastion of highbrow culture -- in thinking inadvertently or deliberately, imprinted the damaging slanders in the thoughts of an even more unknown number of voters. The same as the legion of dirt dealing Obama blogs have done.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).