Whatever you think of Breitbart.com’s punishing vetting process, it has exposed just how little work the mainstream media did in investigating candidate Obama back in 2008. Not all of Team Breitbart’s revelations have been election-deciders, but they have often been stuff that a simple Google would have uncovered. If they revealed tomorrow that he’d had his own cross-dressing-themed sitcom on primetime TV in the 1980s, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The latest find is a fascinating inversion of the birther conspiracy. Breitbart.com has discovered that in 1991 Barack Obama’s literary agent (who also represented New Kids on the Block) published a booklet that included a biography of the future President. The audience was “business colleagues” in the publishing industry and it was designed to promote Obama’s anticipated first book (later abandoned) called Journeys in Black and White. Here’s how it describes the author’s origins.
Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. The son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, he attended Columbia University and worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation.
The key phrase here is “was born in Kenya" – and this bio line was apparently being used as late as 2007.
Today, the President has satisfied all right-minded folk that he was in fact born in Hawaii. Breitbart.com itself has always rejected the absurd cult of birtherism. In fact, this story is really the opposite of birtherism – Breitbart infers that in the past Obama encouraged people to think that he was born abroad in order to establish an identity as an authentic, exotic voice in the debate on racial politics.
Obama’s old literary agent has issued a terse statement to the effect that the wording was all her fault and she never consulted her client. If that’s true, she’s a bad agent. A different agent, quoted by Breitbart.com, disagrees. He told the website “that while ‘almost nobody’ wrote his or her own biography, the non-athletes in the booklet, whom ‘the agents deal[t] with on a daily basis,’ were ‘probably’ approached to approve the text as presented.”
If we accept that Obama didn’t provide the biography, it would seem highly unlikely that he didn’t get a chance to vet it. Accepting that he didn’t do that either, it’s incredibly strange that the literary agent approached by Breitbart.com does not remember Obama calling the agency to register a complaint and make a correction. My mother spent a lot of her childhood in Grenada. If my literary agent told people I was born in the Caribbean, I’d at least pick up the phone to set the record straight.
Look beyond the sordid details and the big story here is that this nugget wasn’t part of the wider discussion had back in 2008 about Obama's background and credentials. And why not? The documents were easy to find – the one that showed that “born in Kenya” was still being used in 2007 was on the Internet.
As for Obama, the vetting continues and Republicans have yet more to play with – with the focus, sadly, once more on race. For those who think that the Tea Party media is being obsessive and nasty, think of this as an exercise in levelling the playing field. If The Washington Post is going to write about how Mitt Romney once cut the hair of a guy it presumes was gay (because, well, his hair needed cutting), then Breitbart.com probably thinks it has every just cause to shout about every occasion that Obama ate a dog or told someone he was half-Phoenecian to get their vote. Tit for tat, although the Rightwing's tat is a little better researched.