Main Menu

Tag Archives | Western Center for Journalism

Googling Obama’s birth certificate

imageI wanted to get a sense of what the Internet was saying about Obama’s birth certificate–what does someone coming fresh to the issue get from the most popular Internet search engine1? To find out, I sent a naive query2 to Google: obama birth certificate. The top 10 results with some commentary and conclusions follow:

1-2

The first article that comes up is the White House web page announcing the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate, and the second is the Wikipedia article on “Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories.”

3

Someone who skips the official announcement and thinks the Wikipedia is unreliable (and many do) might go to the third result and get an article at what appears to be a conventional news site, the World Tribune, and find an article titled “Forensic findings on Obama’s birth certificate: ‘A 100 percent forgery, no doubt about it’” by Grace Vuoto that opens:

There is a problem with President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate: It’s a forgery, say multiple forensic experts who have examined it. A report detailing the evidence will soon be presented to Congress.

The article goes on to state as fact many discredited claims of Mike Zullo and the Cold Case Posse, and to pretend that there is no “other side” in the controversy. The naive reader might well be fooled into thinking that this is a mainstream publication with the integrity and fact checking that comes with that. An interesting article about the World Tribune, by Ben McGrath in The New Yorker, says otherwise:

In fact, the World Tribune is not published in the United Kingdom, nor is it, to be precise, a newspaper. It is a Web site produced, more or less as a hobby, in Falls Church, Virginia, and is dedicated to the notion, as its mission statement explains, that “there is a market for news of the world and not just news of the weird.”

…Although [editor and publisher of the World Times Robert] Morton said, “We emphasize newspaper standards to counter the half-baked, unfiltered content on some online sites,” World Tribune.com more fairly qualifies as something between a newspaper and a rumor-mongering blog. Call it “blews.”

McGrath goes on to document some “faux news” stories published at the World Tribune including the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

4

At the number 4 slot, we’re in pretty deep trouble with an article from the epicenter of birth certificate doubt mongering, WorldNetDaily with the unattributed article, “Obama birth-certificate doubts head to Capitol.” I has quotes from Zullo, video clips from Carl Gallups and a side order of the McInnish v. Chapman case before the Alabama Supreme Court. In typical WND fashion, much “old news” is tacked onto the article to make it longer.

5

Finally, in 5th place, we arrive at a respected news source, that specializes in investigating claims by others, and has some real journalistic standards–PolitiFact. Their article is a compendium of things said about the birth certificate, rating them from “True” (“a federal judge sanctions Tennessee ‘birther’ lawyer …  for bringing a frivolous lawsuit.”) to “False” (“President Obama has spent over $2 million in legal fees defending lawsuits about his birth certificate”) to “Pants on fire” (“Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie made a late-night visit to Kinko’s to forge President Barack Obama’s birth certificate two days before Obama unveiled it to the media.”)

6

Returning to the WorldNetDaily lineage (WND publisher Joseph Farah founded it), we have an article at the Center for Western Journalism, a wrapper for a video interview with Mike Zullo, “Under the Microscope: The Obama Birth Certificate.”

7

At lucky number 7, we find the popular debunking site Snopes.com and their article “Barack Obama Birth Certificate.”

8-10

Rounding out the top 10, we have:

Renew America: Obama’s reckoning to come November 19 by birther attorney Larry Klayman. “Klayman calls for the masses to force resignation of convicted President.” (Klayman had held a mock trial in Florida.)

Politico.com: “Trump spars with ABC reporter over Obama’s birth certificate

The Inquisitr: “Birthers: Obama has until Nov. 19 to show his birth certificate or else…

Summing up

At least according to the search engines, Mike Zullo and the Cold Case Posse is the main story on the Internet about Obama’s birth certificate. That’s what’s news, and a number of older articles carry some background and debunking of the issue in general (but most are pre-Zullo).

Here’s my opinion about the web sites returned by Google in two categories:

Reliability

  • Reliable: 5 (1, 2, 5, 7, 9)
  • Unreliable: 5 (3, 4, 6, 8, 10)

Bias

  • Pro Obama: 2 (1, 10)
  • Anti Obama: 4 (3, 4, 6, 8)
  • Neutral: 4 (2, 5, 7, 9)

The naive searcher faces an uphill battle using search engine results to evaluate claims that there is something awry with Barack Obamas’ birth certificate. They have to wade through a great deal of misinformation and bias (50% of the articles on Google’s first results page) in order to get to the facts. While claims by Mike Zullo are front and center, debunking of the Cold Case Posse is on the back pages.

I suppose it’s an unrealistic expectation to get truth from a search engine. Nevertheless, it’s how many get their facts. I’m concerned about the spread of the birtherism disease, and will continue to think about how to help make things better.


1Would another search engine would give better results. I gave Bing a try.

  1. WorldNetDaily: “Obama birth-certificate doubts head to Capitol” (Zullo story)
  2. ABC News: “Obama’s Birth Certificate Could Be a Forgery” (Zullo story)
  3. Snopes: “Barack Obama Birth Certificate
  4. White House: “President Obama’s Long Form Birth Certificate
  5. Was Obama Born in Kenya?  “Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate” (Lucas Smith)
  6. Wikipedia: “Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories
  7. BarackObama.com: “Fight the smears: The Truth about Barack’s birth certificate.”
  8. Huffington Post: “Obama Birth Certificate
  9. YouTube: “PROOF!!! Obama Birth Certificate Fraud” (this Alex Jones 2011 video has almost 1 million views)
  10. Factcheck.org: Born in the U. S. A.

2Google has an option to get results tailored for the user, or world-wide results; I picked the latter.

Barnett @ Western Journalism

I was somewhat bemused, in the wake of so much fizzling and popping among the birthers after they proved ineffective at changing the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, to see a new article published today trying to discredit Obama’s birth certificate. I didn’t think I would ever publish another birth certificate image analysis article. (The birthers never fail to surprise.)

imageLong-time birther and birther plaintiff Pamela Barnett, author of the book, Obama Never Vetted: The Unlawful President, has a new article published by Joseph Farah’s Western Center for Journalism. The WCJ has been a home for a long string of birther nonsense, and continues with this new article: “Obama’s ‘Birth Announcement’ Microfilm Reels Are Very Different.” (Note that “reels” refers not to the microfilm itself, but the reels that hold it.)

She starts out off topic by taking images from Obama’s long form birth certificate PDF and blowing them up larger than the original images. The result is that the software algorithms have to make stuff up to show at the larger size, and Barnett then points out that the made up stuff in one place is different from the made up stuff in another. Well, duh, it’s all made up in the first place. Any sensible analysis would begin with the much higher resolutions images available from the press which don’t make stuff up so much.

She trots out the old “TXE” thing, which also is an illusion caused by low resolution images, and easily understood by looking at the higher-resolution versions. I debunked this ages ago.

Barnett then estimates based on WorldCat that there are only 70-100 copies microfilm copies of the Hawaii newspaper announcements of Obama’s birth—easy to replace them all, says Barnett, and according to Barnett, easy to cut and paste on microfilm and make a new reel. She never explains the “very different” in the article’s headline, but I know from her book that she means that at one library she visited, the Obama birth announcements appear on microfilm on a black reel and the others on a gray reel. No doubt some birther checking the film wound it onto the take-up reel rather than rewinding it. I’ve run across bad winding before and had to fix it by winding onto a different real.

Just for good measure, Barnett tosses in some nonsense about “lax” procedures for getting birth certificates in Hawaii, despite no birther ever finding a single incident of birth certificate fraud in Hawaii since statehood, much less a pattern of it!

Barnett makes another bizarre argument. She found a couple of 1961 birth announcement columns from the Hawaii papers—the original newspaper hard copies. She argues that the fact that no one has brought forward an original with Obama’s announcement in it says there is no such thing. Rich Obama supporters would have found it and published it if exists. Of course that argument goes the other way: rich Obama opponents would have published it if the papers exist without the announcement. After all, the Koch brothers are richer than George Soros.

I must say, this latest article is only for the really meat-headed true believers.