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Linguistic analysis expert debunks Obama ghost writer theory

Obama's memoir, Dreams from my is an academic website developed by Professor Peter Millican of Oxford University made in support of the “New Degree Programme in Computer Science and Philosophy at Oxford University.” I found the web site through some research on authorship identification software and a discipline called Stylometry. I didn’t have in mind Jack Cashill’s book that claims Bill Ayers is the ghost writer of Obama’s “Dreams from My Father,” but that is certainly within the purview of stylometry and Millican’s expertise.

Professor Millican provides a detailed analysis of Cashill’s claims that technically-inclined readers will certainly want to read, but the summary is this:

I have prepared the following analysis, which will I hope make clear how I see things in regard to the Ayers allegation made by Jack Cashill, an American author. In short, I feel very confident that it is false.

Millican notes that the writing styles of Bill Clinton and Bill Ayers are far more similar than Ayers and Obama.

A birther questions his assumptions

With the notable exception of Michael Shrimpton who has not really been a mainstay of the birther movement, birthers have been remarkably consistent in their agreement on President Obama’s day of birth, August 4, 1961. No matter where in the world they think the President was born, that date has always been the date, even though it causes problems for their alternate histories. Even the Lucas Smith fake Kenyan birth certificate has that date.

Now, however, Jack Cashill raises the issue and suggests that Obama could younger by 5 years! The article, “Obama Turned 53—Or Did He?” at WorldNetDaily and his own web site,, is the usual collection of petty smears and catty insults. Here’s an example:

If there ever were a romance between Dunham and Barack Senior, it likely started at closing time and ended when Senior sobered up.

In reality Cashill is not really suggesting Obama is impossibly younger than it says on his birth certificate, but actually criticizing a remark Obama made in a speech in Selma in 2007 where he talks about events in Selma making his own birth possible. The discussion of the date of birth, coincident with Obama’s birth day, is nothing more than a way to make a largely-discredited smear topical again. The alleged anachronism was analyzed at 6 years ago, and interested readers can follow the link and evaluate their argument.

Birther Etch A Sketch®

Love those viral videos, including some about Mitt Romney’s aide suggesting that they would hit the reset button when the general election campaign started, erasing past positions, starting over the way one erases an Etch A Sketch®.

EtchSometimes birthers hit the reset button too, like this from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s press conference on March 1 — can you believe we’ve been talking about this for 3 weeks? The following is from the March 1, Press Conference.

Mike Zullo: We have a retired government employee who had a conversation in the eighties with Barack Obama in the front yard of the home of the mother of Bill Ayers.

Shake the Etch A Sketch®

When I did Internet searches, I found many references to comparisons between the interview letter carrier Alan Hulton gave in 2009 and the current story. They all say that the two are identical except for the dates. However, the interviews also differ because in 2009 Hulton said the black man he met introduced himself as Barack Obama. Now he says it was a funny name and he can’t remember it. Maybe signing an affidavit made him a little nervous about being too specific.

Here’s a comparison of the various versions of the story from Hulton. I haven’t verified all of the references personally and I don’t know the source. In any case, this would be a good template for checking off differences found in the links at the end of the article.



Read more:

Maybe Bill Ayers’ parents sponsored foreign student

Corsi and Cashill crank up the innuendo machine

When my sons were growing up, I wanted them to be aware of the dangers of financial scams online. I taught them the common-sense rule: if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

The well-known political smear writers Jerome Corsi in his WND “exclusive” article: “Postman: Ayers family put ‘foreigner’ Obama through school” and Jack Cashill in his article: “What the Mailman Knows about Ayers and Obama”, at The American Thinker tell the story of a retired mail carrier, Allen Hulton, who somehow remember from over 20 years ago that he delivered mail to Bill Ayers’ parents, and that they told him that they were sponsoring some foreign kid from somewhere and he thinks it was Kenya, but probably Indonesia, a kid whose name he can’t remember except it was a funny name and who said that he was going to be President. Corsi has a video of the mail carrier in his article.

I think the birthers should really be looking at the “too good to be true” angle because this story sure sounds too good to be true (for the birthers) to me. 

Corsi: Do you recall the conversation in the early 1990’s with Mary [Ayers]?
Hulton: Yeah. One day she came up to the door when [unintelligible] when I came up to the house with mail. She started talking to me enthusiastically  about this young black student that they were helping out and she referred to him as a "foreign student."

What’s wrong with this picture? Barack Obama had graduated from Harvard in 1991. When he arrived in Chicago where Ayers lived, it was to teach at the University of Chicago Law School; he was not a student, foreign or otherwise.

Whether the elderly mail character is trying to save his country with a lie, or more likely just telling a true story embellished to be interesting, the details don’t hang together and there is no corroboration.

Perhaps seeing that there’s really nothing to the story, Cashill and Corsi dump everything but the kitchen sink in other unrelated smears to bulk up the word count.

Don’t take my word for it. The hyperlinks are provided for you to read it yourself. However, I wouldn’t recommend doing it on a full stomach.

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Jack Cashill’s confirmation bias

In a new article at the American Thinker (it’s just a name), Jack Cashill gives us insight into how his own confirmation bias colors his reasoning. Cashill writes:

I had not seen the letter [by Barack Obama from 1990]  in its entirety before this week.  Not surprisingly, it confirms everything I know about Barack Obama, the writer and thinker.

Cashill then goes to pick on the grammar (e.g. subject-verb agreement) in the letter and to conclude that it confirms “everything.” I don’t consider myself an expert on grammar, but I do wonder if Cashill is being a little too strict. Consider this one:

Another distinctive Obama flaw is to allow a string of words to float in space.  Please note the unanchored phrase in italics [refers to the last phrase in the example paragraph] at the end of this sentence:

"No editors on the Review will ever know whether any given editor was selected on the basis of grades, writing competition, or affirmative action, and no editors who were selected with affirmative action in mind." Huh?

It’s not the best, but if you parse it right, it can make sense. In any case, it is hardly fair to draw conclusions based on one letter.

Cashill goes on to sneer and deride Michelle Obama too, insinuating that she had “given up her law license” because she was in a downward spiral in her legal career. However, there are no facts given that back up the innuendo.

Cashill’s theory that Obama’s critically acclaimed book, Dreams from My Father, 5 years later was written by a ghostwriter has been rejected by all mainstream commentators.

I don’t know where Mr. Cashill studied writing, but in my day we were taught that there was more to writing than the mechanics of grammar. We were taught that objectivity and honesty were key points of expository writing. The techniques of the propagandist: innuendo, ad hominem, poisoning the well, appeal to unqualified or biased authorities and unsupported claims are more than bad writing, they are moral lapses. In my article last March, titled Deconstructing Jack Cashill, I showed just how his writing exhibits such moral defects. Grammar can be taught in school. Integrity, I’m not so sure about.