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Terry Krepel Headshot

Birthers Gone Wild: A Review of 'A Question of Eligibility'

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Save your $17.99: WorldNetDaily's anti-Obama "documentary," "A Question of Eligibility," has popped up on YouTube (in six parts -- here, here, here, here, here, and here). I watched the whole thing, and found it to be every bit as biased and factually deficient as one would expect a WND production, with Joseph Farah serving as executive producer, to be.

Though WND has promoted the video as containing "the straight facts" on the issue, "A Question of Eligibility" rehashes claims regarding Obama that been proven to be shaky or outright false, repeats discredited conspiracy theories, makes irrelevant attacks on Obama's policies, and engages in at least one apparent violation of federal copyright law.

Near the beginning of the film, a serious-sounding voice, backed by serious-sounding music (the credits list song titles such as "Classic Horror 1" and "Classic Horror 3") intones the first dubious claim: "Obama's birthplace is contested even by his closest relatives -- his grandmother and one of his sisters. Was he born in Hawaii or Kenya?" (More on that later.)

It's not long after that that the conspiracy theories start rolling in. Jerome Corsi declares that the Obama campaign's release of Obama's "certification of live birth" was "the sign of a cover-up, because you wouldn't do that, you wouldn't go get a certificate of live birth, unless there were problems."

(Corsi is one of four birther "experts" appearing in the film. The others being Orly Taitz, the birther lawyer of questionable competency; Janet Porter, head of the right-wing group Faith2Action who seems to be using the group's resources for her own personal anti-Obama crusade; and Alan Keyes, the loopy birther obsessive and carpetbagger who flew into Illinois from Maryland to run against Obama for a Senate seat in 2004.)

Corsi then repeated a false conspiracy: "I hired a private detective. We went to all the hospitals in Hawaii that were claimed -- that were in existence at the time Obama was born and claimed they may have been where Obama was born. We could obtain records from none of them." In fact, as WND itself has conceded, federal privacy laws forbid the release of such records to the public. Of course, it put its own negative spin on that, claiming that "U.S. hospitals could conceivably refuse to confirm or deny if Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler were born in their facility" -- thus managing to yet again liken Obama to Nazis.

Corsi added: "Had there been a hospital where Obama had been born, I'm sure they'd have bronzed the delivery room by now and put a plaque on it." An unidentified interviewer (possibly Joseph Farah) then asks, "Why isn't the hospital using its public relations department to bring attention to this facility?" In fact, as WND well knows, the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women and Children posted a letter on its website from Obama stating that the hospital is "the place of my birth." But WND smeared the hospital by portraying the letter as fake, then asserted that the hospital was leading an "astonishing cover-up" of the letter. WND was eventually forced to concede that the letter was real.

The interview segments are curiously shot. Porter, Corsi and Keyes were apparently filmed in radio studios, as they all appear before large radio-style microphones as if they were speaking on-air. Taitz doesn't appear on camera at all in a staged segment, only in audio-only voiceovers and a video clip of her confronting Chief Justice John Roberts with WND's petition of people demanding that officials look into the eligibility issue. As ConWebWatch has detailed, WND has collaborated with Taitz on such issues, and the petition itself is highly dubious since it has no apparent verification mechanism to block multiple or ineligible signatures.

The film then addresses the claim alluded to at the beginning: that Obama's grandmother has asserted that Obama was born in Kenya. Corsi falsely claimed that "we do have an affidavit from a living person in Kenya who says she was there" -- the grandmother, Sarah Obama -- adding that she was "questioned by the Anabaptist ministers under oath."

In fact, Sarah Obama never filed an affidavit, nor was she placed under any sort of legally binding "oath." Rather, two Anabaptist ministers who interviewed her in a phone call, Ron McRae and Kweli Shuhubia, submitted affidavits as part of a lawsuit filed by Philip Berg, who has filed legal actions asserting that Obama is not eligible to be president.

Both McRae and Shuhubia cite "common knowledge" -- not any actual, verifiable facts -- to back up the claim that Obama was born in Kenya. McRae went on to assert (also citing "common knowledge") that "contrary to news media propagandas here in the United States, US Senator Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim and not a Christian" -- a discredited claim.

The affidavit by McRae -- who, as religious blogger Richard Bartholomew details, is founder of something called the Street Preachers' Fellowship and who apparently believes that the Bible endorses separation of the races -- also repeated claims propagated by Corsi last fall: that Obama "sent his foreign policy advisor Mr. Mark Lippert, to Kenya at least three times to advise Mr. [Raila] Odinga on his campaign strategies," and that "everyone in Kenya is well aware that Senator Obama donated over one million American dollars ($1,000,000.00) to his cousin's Mr. Odinga's campaign." ConWebWatch has documented how the documents Corsi cited as supporting those claims are discredited or fake. (Nevertheless, Corsi embellished the lie in the video, claiming that "Obama raised, like, $2 million.") Further, the October 2008 Washington Times op-ed by Mark Hyman that McRae cited to back up the Lippert claim doesn't support what McRae says; Hyman writes only that "Obama sent his foreign policy adviser Mark Lippert to Kenya in early 2006 to coordinate his summer visit." Further, Hyman's op-ed has been criticized as being "filled with lies and innuendo."

Those affidavits, by the way, appear nowhere in the film; WND did not even post them on its website until an Aug. 24 article by Corsi. As ConWebWatch detailed, the full version of McRae's audio interview with her strongly suggests that the claim was mistaken -- which the film makes no mention of and which Corsi's article obscures by attributing it only to unnamed "critics."

Corsi also asks, "Did [Obama] have an Indonesia passport when he traveled to Pakistan?" Porter later elaborated:

He goes back into Indonesia in 1981. If he went there to renew a passport, he then effectively renounced any citizenship he may have had. That's what allowed him, if that's the case, to travel to Pakistan, which did not allow American citizens to have entry.

In fact, Obama did not need an Indonesian passport to visit Pakistan 1981 and, contrary to Porter's assertion, could have easily done so on a U.S. passport. A June 1981 New York Times article states that "Tourists can obtain a free, 30-day visa (necessary for Americans) at border crossings and airports," and an August 1981 State Department travel advisory explains how Americans can obtain visas for visiting Pakistan.

"A Question of Eligibility" spends considerable time attacking Obama's policies as president, particularly financial bailouts and the government takeover of financial institutions and auto companies -- despite the fact that they have nothing whatsoever to do with questions of eligibility. The film also takes a swipe at ACORN; the apparent point of doing so -- since ACORN even less to do with eligibility issues -- is to suggest that Obama is evil and must be thrown out of office to reverse those changes. Keyes reveals the paranoiac attitude behind this: "We have to face the probability that the pattern of events we're seeing comes from a purposeful intention to destroy the constitutional sovereignty of the American people." Keyes adds that "Obama represents the imposition of a communist-style government in the United States."

Keyes also suggests that Obama advocates "the establishment of an American KGB, that is, a domestic security force as large and well-funded as the military." That's a false conspiracy theory -- promoted by WND -- that relies on taking an Obama statement out of context. In fact, Obama has explicitly described his idea for a "civilian national security force" as a reorganization in "the way the State Department is structured and [Agency for International Development] and all these various agencies."

The film includes a Fox News clip of Newt Gingrich claiming that the possibility that Congressional Democrats would attempt to pass health care reform with 51 Senate votes to avoid a filibuster, under an established process known as reconciliation, would be "clearly a power grab of unprecedented proportions. I think dictatorial is a strong word, but it may be, frighteningly, be the right word." In fact, when Republicans controlled Congress under President Bush, they used the reconciliation process numerous times.

The hatred of the video's participants for Obama is palpable. Corsi asserted that "I remind the Obama administration that as the Richard Nixon administration demonstrated, cover-ups don't last very long. ... The lies told within the White House have a way of surfacing. It will happen again to Barack Obama and all this documentary evidence that's now being suppressed." Porter likened Obama to "a terrorist from Pakistan" who might run for office and "become a senator in the United States Senate for, I don't know, a term and a half, and then run for president, and nobody apparently can question it."

Meanwhile, WND appears to have stolen the work of others for use in the film. The Washington Independent detailed how "A Question of Eligibility" includes a video that was actually compiled by the liberal-leaning watchdog group Media Matters:

At the height of its sloppiness, the producers use, in its entirety, a video that Media Matters put together to mock Fox News coverage of the president's first 100 days. You can spot the rip-off because the blue bars and white text that Media Matters mark the 100 days with are still on the screen. Where the liberal group meant to mock the hyperbolic rhetoric of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the network's line-up, WND treats this like pages from the Gospels.

Did WND compensate Media Matters for using this video in its for-profit "documentary"? Most likely not -- WND has an expansive view of what it considers "fair use" when it comes to its own appropriation of others' work, though it's much more narrow when others use WND's work. And WND did not credit Media Matters on-screen either during the video or during the end credits.

This means that WND is attempting to profit off the work of others without obtaining permission to use that work or even offering credit to the creators -- which appears on its face to be a clear violation of federal copyright law. The Media Matters page on which its video resides carries a copyright notice at the bottom.

While the film does credit other news organizations for use of their video, one has to wonder, given WND's theft of the Media Matters video, whether WND truly did obtain the rights to reproduce those clips in a commercial video.

It shouldn't be surprising, though. WND's sloppiness in stealing the work of others mirrors the factual sloppiness of the film's content.

The end credits claim that the people involved in the film's production "are being withheld at the request of the filmmakers. They fear reprisals from their government." It seems a more likely explanation is that they fear even more that if their names were associated with such a slapdash, factually challenged production as "A Question of Eligibility," they would be blackballed from the film industry.

(A version of this post can be found at ConWebWatch.)