THE BLOG
08/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

'The Wacko Wing'

Last Thursday, CNN President Jon Klein sent an e-mail to a handful of the network's Lou Dobbs Tonight staffers informing them that he considered one of the stories pursued by the infamously anti-immigrant host to be "dead." On his radio show the week before, Dobbs declared that President Obama needed to "produce a birth certificate," picking up on a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that claims Obama was not born in the United States, and the birth certificate released by his campaign last year was fake. Dobbs repeatedly pushed the "birther" cause despite the fact that his colleagues at CNN have repeatedly called the story "total bull." In fact, while guest-hosting Dobbs' own show on July 17, Kitty Pilgrim refuted the fringe theory, saying, "CNN has fully investigated the issue, found no basis for the questions about the president's birthplace, but the controversy lives on, especially on the Internet." But Dobbs has persisted, attacking his critics as "limp-minded, lily-livered lefties" who hate him because he has "the temerity to inquire as to where the birth certificate was." As Dobbs continued to air the conspiracy theory, Klein backed off his admonition of the host, telling the Los Angeles Times that Dobbs had handled the issue in a "legitimate" manner and "if there are future news pegs, then we have to take that story as it comes." On Sunday, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz used his CNN show to chastise media outlets that "give the birthers any airtime" to repeat their "ludicrous claims." Kurtz specifically criticized Dobbs for not acting "responsible."

Born In The U.S.A.: Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. This date is on the Certification of Live Birth released by the Hawaii Department of Health last year at the request of Obama. Birthers like Dobbs point to the fact that the campaign released the "short form" certification rather than the "long form" -- which is drawn up by the hospital and contains more information -- as the crux of their argument that the president is hiding something. But as FactCheck.org noted when they investigated and debunked claims about Obama's birth certificate, "the Hawaii Department of Health's birth record request form does not give the option to request a photocopy of your long-form birth certificate," and "their short form has enough information to be acceptable to the State Department." Birthers, like conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, claim that the certificate posted by the Obama campaign was "a false, fake birth certificate," but its authenticity has been independently confirmed by FactCheck.org, which examined it in person and declared that "it is real and three-dimensional." Additionally, on Oct. 31, 2008, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii Department of Health, issued a statement saying that he had "personally seen and verified that the Hawaii State Department of Health has Sen. Obama's original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures." Definitive proof of Obama's Hawaii birth has also been found in the archives of two Hawaii newspapers, the Honululu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which both printed birth announcements days after Obama was born in 1961. Birth announcements in those papers are placed by the state Department of Health, not the family.

Right-Wing Media Gives Voice: Dobbs isn't the only media personality giving voice to the birthers. As PolitiFact's Robert Farley wrote last month, "the conservative WorldNetDaily.com Web site is the conductor of the Birther train." The far-right outlet, which sells "Where's The Birth Certificate?" bumper stickers, convinced someone to ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the conspiracy in May. The birther theory has also been pushed by bigger names in the right-wing media. Before the 2008 election, radio host Rush Limbaugh speculated that Obama may have gone to Hawaii to visit his dying grandmother to take care of "this birth certificate business." Since then, Limbaugh has joked, "[W]hat do Obama and God have in common? Neither has a birth certificate." Earlier this month, Limbaugh stepped it up a notch, declaring that "Barack Obama has yet to prove he's a citizen." Fox News has also elevated the birther conspiracy, running headlines like "Should Obama Release Birth Certificate?" on its Fox Nation website and running reports on birther-based lawsuits on its news shows. Fox's Sean Hannity has aired claims that "the president is not, in fact, a legitimate citizen by birth" and asked a caller on his radio show if he had "ever seen" Obama's birth certificate.

The Birther Bill: In March, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced legislation requiring "presidential candidates to produce copies of their birth certificates and other documentation to prove natural-born citizenship." Posey's bill has gathered nine co-sponsors in the House. Trying to explain why he introduced the bill, Posey issued a statement saying, "This bill, by simply requiring such documentation for future candidates for president, will remove this issue as a reason for questioning the legitimacy of a candidate elected as president." But Posey has undermined this seemingly innocuous rationale for his legislation by outright accusing Obama of hiding something on a right-wing Internet radio show. "The only people that I know who are afraid to take drug tests are the people who use drugs," said Posey. Claiming that he hadn't looked at the evidence, Posey previously told the Orlando Sentinel, "I can't swear on a stack of Bibles whether he is or isn't" a citizen. On MSNBC's Hardball last week, host Chris Matthews challenged one of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), telling him that "what you're doing is appeasing the nutcases ... you're verifying the paranoia out there." Asked if he believed Obama was a citizen, Campbell responded, "as far as I know, yes." Matthews retorted, "As far as you know? I'm showing you his birth certificate!" Matthews is correct that many conservative lawmakers are comfortable "feeding the wacko wing." Just today, Politico reported that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said birthers "have a point." "I don't discourage it," said Inhofe.

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile.

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