One of the more unpleasant tasks in running this web site is wading through very long articles full of of misdirection, misinformation, rhetorical fallacies, plain stupidity and bald-faced lies. They offend my sense of honesty, insult my intelligence, and I feel obligated to comment on all of the misinformation — a tedious and tasteless task particularly with a long article. Case in point: FINAL REPORT: Obama’s Birth Announcements Fail To Indicate “Natural Born” Status by Penbrook Johannson on The Daily Pen blog.
Here’s the short form story of the birth announcements to set the context: Two competing Honolulu newspapers carried birth announcements from the Hawaii Department of Health. The DoH released the lists to the Hawaii
News Service , who in turn provided them to newspapers. This process was described in a Honolulu Advertiser article in November of 2008 and the Health Department confirmed that the newspaper listings came from the State Department of Health, who got them from the hospitals (the Hawaii Newspaper Agency is no longer operating and Honolulu Advertiser is no longer publishing). The announcements show that a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama on August 4 .
Such vital statistics, however, were not sent to the newspapers by the general public but by the Health Department, which received the information directly from hospitals, [DoH spokesperson Janice] Okubo said.
Now how does that simple story gets spun into this?
A new investigation of Obama’s birth announcements appearing in Hawaii’s two primary newspapers in August, 1961 shows, conclusively, they were the result of a registration record taken by the municipal health authority, not a medically verified “Live” birth documented as occurring at a Hawaiian hospital, per an officially defined “vital event” by the U.S. Department of Health, National Vital Statistics Division protocols.
The overall framework of the article is a straw man argument that attempts to impugn the newspaper announcements by saying that the newspapers didn’t verify the list of births from the Department of Health, that they were not “medically verified”. However, no one has claimed that the Health Department announcements in the newspaper were independent verifications by the newspaper, only that they were contemporary proof that the Health Department reported the birth in 1961, and didn’t just fabricate it when Barack Obama decided to run for President. The Heath Bureau Statistics are not newspaper announcements at all, but are rather Health Department announcements carried by the newspaper.
What follows in Johansson’s article can only be described as a recipe for converting hot air into bullshit. I’ll select comments from the article in quotes, and add my reply in bold type.
“For more than three years since Obama engaged his unvetted candidacy for the presidency, many of his supporters have lauded these blurbish announcements as the “holy grail” of proof that he was born in the state of Hawaii.” This sets up the straw man argument since no one describes them as the “holy grail.”The Certification of Live Birth is the “holy grail.”
“However, a detailed investigation of the history and procedures used by Hawaii’s municipal health department, and its relationship with the newspapers, shows that not only was it a matter of official policy that Obama’s birth would have been announced in the paper regardless of where he was born, the information used to publish the announcements is not even confirmed through any eye-witness medical authority or hospital in the state.” We’ll see further down why the words “regardless of where he was born” appear, and why they are false. This nastily worded section, when stripped of the spin, just says that hospital reports were funneled through local registrars to the State Department of Health, and then to the newspapers. The newspapers aren’t eye witnesses. However, all birth certificates in Hawaii are signed by a witness, and in the vast majority of births, that witness is the attending physician in a hospital.
“Also, in 1961, the two newspapers shared the same address and facility which means they received only one copy of the same vital records information from the Department of Health.” No evidence is presented to support this statement about shared facilities. Later on, Johannson says “The two newspapers have long since collaborated into one organization.” “Long since” hardly describes one paper merging with the other less than a year ago, June 7, 2010. The headquarters of the Star Bulletin was at “Restaurant Row, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210,500 Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. The Advertiser’s HQ was at “605 Kapiʻolani Blvd.,Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. With no details, I can’t tell where Johannson gets the idea that the Star Bulletin and the Advertiser were buddy-buddy and shared feeds from the Hawaii Newspaper Agency and in any case, it hardly matters how may copies were sent. What’s the point of this?
“Now, however, collaborative information from the archive of the U.S. Department of Health’s [sic] 1961 Report on Vital Statistics of the U.S – Volume 1: Natality, and Hawaii’s Administrative rules governing the creation of vital records finally reveals the truth about how these announcements were published and why they are mistakenly used by pundits to promote a misguided message about Obama.” Vital Statistics of the U.S – Volume 1: Natality, has nothing about publication of birth announcements and there are no details about who these “pundits” are, nor how they are misguided.
Supposedly somebody named Dan Crosby did a two-month “investigation.” Skipping to the meat of the following section we see:
“The birth announcements were printed from unconfirmed information provided to the Newspapers by the Department of Health without the DOH or newspaper editors confirming the actual location of the birth with any hospital in Hawaii,” says Crosby in a phone call from Oahu, “I found thousands of birth registration records of children born outside of Hawaii who have their announcements published in these two newspapers by cross referencing the announcements with the U.S. Department of Health Vital Records Report for Hawaii.” Again, stripping the spin off this, all it says is that the newspapers didn’t investigate the birth list from the Department of Health. Why should they? They are not newspaper announcements but Health Department announcements. Calling the information “unconfirmed” is misleading. The information is confirmed, but just not by the newspapers. What follows an incredible claim, one for which Crosby gives an absurd explanation: he says he compared newspaper birth announcements to “US Department of Health” [sic] Vital Records Report. But there are no names in the report; the states don’t even send names to the federal government. So what did he compare? He certainly didn’t compare what he said he did.
Recall that Hawaii Revised Statute 338-17.8 allows the state Health Department to register the foreign birth of any child as a native Hawaiian birth if the parents of that child can be proven to the satisfaction and criteria of the Director of the Department of Health only, they were residence of Hawaii within one year of the birth, regardless of the location of the birth. This law then mandates that the vital records registrar must register the birth with the vital records office in coordination with an official, original Hawaiian birth record. OK, here we see another transparent attempt to deceive the reader. The statue cited was not passed until 1982, (note “L-1982″ at the bottom of the law) 21 years after the newspapers carried the birth announcements. Further, inspection of the law in effect in 1961 (which is the 1959 revision) has no provision for the registration of out of state births. This is one of the oftenest cited, and most completely debunked claims in the birther repertoire. At this point a significant part of the article that follows relies on this non-existent law to suggest that an out-of-state birth could have been the source of the newspaper announcement; however, since there was no such law in 1961, the argument falls flat.
“The birth location is mistakenly implied by people because it appears in this newspaper. I also found several birth records in Japan for birth’s registered in Hawaii.” A review of all the birth announcements in Hawaii in 1961 reveals other evidence suggesting a disconnect between the Department of Health and Hawaii’s hospitals. First of all, as shown by Crosby, all the announcements show the parents as married and living at the same address. “This is not merely a majority of the announcements, this is actually all of them. Every single one! Approximately 16,000 in all!” Crosby said. I had to read that a few times, but basically what Crosby is saying is that all of the newspaper announcements indicate that the parents are married, and that both of the parents lived at the same address. This is not particularly surprising. When one looks at a hospital birth certificate from Hawaii, such as that of the the Nordyke twins, born the day after Barack Obama, one observes that only the Mother’s address is recorded. Since there is only one address recorded, the newspaper announcements can only have one address. Further, is extremely unlikely that the Department of Health disclosed the marital status of the mother to the newspapers, so the paper’s use of “Mr. and Mrs.” is just convention. So basically the observation is true, but it means nothing. Was this Japanese birth perhaps after 1982?
“Did anyone notice the announcements are not in any alphabetic order, or in order of birthdate [sic]? This is because, in 1961, birth registration numbers were issued based on the location of the local Vital Records office in which the registration was recorded. The hospital does not assign these numbers, the DOH does. It appears that Obama’s birth was registered in an office not used by any of the birth registrations offices who received birth certification from either Kapi-olani Medical Center [sic], or Queens Medical Center which use two local offices near those facilities,” said Crosby. There is no reason given for his claim of how records were sorted (or not sorted). There is nothing in the article to support its conclusion that Barack Obama’s certificate didn’t come through the same channel as other records from Kapi’olani. The writer doesn’t appear to have any knowledge of any specific office and no evidence of his claimed procedure, which suggests to me the whole thing is made up.
He continued, “It appears Obama’s birth was registered with the satellite office near his grandparent’s home some distance from the offices nearest to and most used by the hospitals. This particular office was commonly used by indigenous people of Hawaii wanting to record births of children outside of the city. This is why the U.S. Department of Health created the Certificate of Live Birth template in 1959 with a check box indicating whether or not the child was born in the city limits and if the residence of the mother was a farm or not. It appears Obama’s birth at least did not occur in the city of Honolulu and, at most, did not even occur in the state of Hawaii.” This is just so much made up bullshit about the satellite office and the grandparent’s home. Obama’s grandparents lived a mere
3.6miles from Kapi’olani hospital! The Certificate of Live Birth does have a check box indicating whether the birth was inside the city limits, but the presence of that box tells us nothing about where births are registered. The Natality publication informs us that there were only 92 (out of 14,906 infants) not born in a hospital on the whole island. Obama’s grandparents lived near the city of Honolulu (specifically miles from Kapi’olani hospital) where only 14 non-hospital births were counted in 1961. A separate office in the city of Honolulu to accommodate just the 14 non-hospital births a year strains credulity.
His alleged “Certification of Live Birth” is not approved by any federal authority as an official source of demographic data or medical verification of his birth. It is merely a record of birth registration. Therefore, the order of printing of announcements in the local papers comes directly from the list which is ordered based on the birth registration office location, not the chronological or alphabetical order of the medically verified birth.” This is very confusing. The “Certification of Live Birth” is a modern form (since 2001) abstracted from the original Certificate of Live Birth. It is an official source of demographic data (as evidenced by the phrase “prima facie evidence” that makes is really official) and it is federally accepted as proof of citizenship. It is not a medical record — it just says when and where someone was born and who their parents are. However, we aren’t talking about a form completed in 2001 (or 2007) but one filled out in 1961, which was called a Certificate of Live birth. That’s what is reported to the Health Department and listed in the newspapers. That form does have medical information. The text following “therefore” doesn’t follow from what precedes it, nor from any other argument in the article. It appears that a new strain in the birther mythology says that in 1961 there was a special form just for home births, and that form is here named a “Certification of Live Birth.” No one has ever seen such a form. From 2001 to 2009 all computer-generated birth certificates were called “Certification of Live Birth” so that provides no reason to think that the handful of non-hospital births in Hawaii had a special form.
Crosby’s says the difference between “medically verified” and “registration” are significant. He interviewed former Vital Records Adminstration [sic], Martin Hesch in order to gain understanding of the different procedures and authorities used to create vital records and public announcements in a medical verification process as opposed to merely registering a vital event with a municipal office. The bungled wording doesn’t tell us exactly who this Hesch character is supposed to be, what position he held and where he held it. A Google search for “martin hesch” hawaii just returns birther blogs and pages about folks not from Hawaii; his name isn’t in the phone book for Honolulu. What “Hesch” says indicates that he (if such a person even exists) is a birther as evidenced by his remark: “The media also wants Barack Obama’s natal circumstances and documentation to fit the traditional record model because it is too disturbing to them to think that they were so easily deceived… but we also now know they do not fit this model.” Most of what “Hesch” said is pretty dense, and of no actual consequence until he gets to:
“The birth announcement is automatically triggered by the creation of the registration through administrative process, when the municipal record is provided to the newspaper, not the creation of a medical verification record by a medical doctor or hospital,” he said. What’s misleading here is that while the birth announcement is triggered through an administrative process, the administrative process is triggered by the filing of a birth certificate, which is subject to verification. It’s like trying to argue that a car has no wheels because the dealer doesn’t put wheels on new cars. But cars do have wheels because the factory puts them on. I fail to see how this informs us about Obama’s birth information, nor how it individually was registered. Health Department birth announcements in the newspaper come from the Department of Health in the form of a list based on birth certificates they receive from hospital through local registrars, and in the case of a few rare home births, from certificates filed by parents. The announcements are actually Health Department announcements, and the health department registrations are directly based on an original birth certificate with witnesses.
As I said at the outset, newspaper ads are not primary evidence; they are secondary evidence. What they prove, as contemporary public testimony, is that the Hawaii Department of Health registered a birth for Barack Obama’s son in 1961 according to its rules and procedures. Since there was no provision for out of state registrations in 1961, one must conclude that that registration is for a birth in Hawaii. The primary evidence for us is the Certification of Live Birth, consistent with the newspaper announcements, that shows Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961.
The Daily Pen article mostly tries to refute an argument that does not exist and tries to make simple and normal things sound nefarious. In a few cases, it resorts to out and out lies.