Breitbart News published a publicist’s client list brochure from 1991 that includes Barack Obama, a description of a book project, and the curious statement that Barack Obama was born in Kenya—the exact words: “Born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.” Breitbart News did not claim that Barack Obama was born in Kenya based on that brochure, but rather that the brochure was an example of Obama trying to, in their words, “manipulate his public persona.” You can read my full story on the brochure from 2012 for more details.
The publicist’s assistant who edited the brochure, Miriam Goderich, describes the statement as “erroneous,” a “fact checking error,” and “never any information given to us by Obama.” Birthers, or course, latch onto anything they can find, and they stretch plausibility arguments to conclude Obama must have provided the information, approved the biographical statement, knew about its inclusion, and made no effort to get it corrected for over a decade.
There is one gaping hole in both what Breitbart News suggested and what the birthers believe, and that is found in an article in the New York Times the year before the brochure was made that says, “Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.” It was an article on Obama being the first black elected as president of the Harvard Law Review. It is wildly implausible that Obama would attempt to publicize a book project with a biography saying he was born in Kenya the very year after the New York Times, the country’s newspaper of record, published an article about Obama saying that he was born in Hawaii. Nobody would expect to get away with something like that. A publicist’s assistant fact checking error is plausible—Obama telling a contradictory story in such a public way is not.
That’s old news. What is new is a conspiracy theory promoted by the birther who posts as rtm9999 at Birther Report: the denial that the New York Times article from February 6, 1990, actually says Obama was born in Hawaii, and that the text version available online has been altered to add that sentence. Here’s the BR comment by rtm9999:
The NYT article is only found in an archive in an electronic format.
We already know that Obots edit text in newspaper and magazine articles . Especially the ones that stated Barry was foreign born (Tammy Duckworth interview. Hilariously it took several years before that edit happened.) or that stated that Barry was born in Kenya.
Let me teach you some words….
“The NYT article is only found in an electronic archive dated after Barry announced” and “Electronic media even one stored in an archive can be easily edited.”
rtm9999 attempts to support this argument by citing a wire service article about Obama’s election as president of the Law Review that did not mention him born in Hawaii and suggesting that the Times article must then have not had that information either.
I quoted the article that quoted the earliest wire service take on his background….
“from Hawaii” and NOT born in Hawaii”.
The insurmountable problem with that plausibility argument is that the New York Times story is not attributed to the wire service, but rather an interview conducted in Boston on February 5, the day Obama was elected to the Law Review. The attribution is: “By Fox Butterfield1 – Special to The New York Times.”
I would further call the statement by rtm9999 a lie when he says, “The NYT article is only found in an archive in an electronic format.” I suppose what rtm9999 meant was that the article is not found online archive except in text format. That’s not true either. The Huffington Post ran a screenshot image of the Times article on the article’s 25th anniversary in 2015. I didn’t know about the HuffPo article until I found it by accident today, and I can excuse rtm9999 for not knowing about it. What I cannot excuse is the irresponsible raising of doubt when it would have been easy to check another archive: the microfilm edition of the New York Times, widely available at public libraries across the country. I find it hard to believe that someone could graduate from school and not know about microfilm at the library.2
In contrast to birthers, I prefer to resolve issues rather than nurse doubts, so I dropped by the Spartanburg County Library to look up the Times article there. It’s on page A-20 in the February 6, 1990 edition. Below is my own cropped screen shot of the article, but you can click on the image to view the entire page in PDF format, exactly as it was created by the library microfilm scanner. It says, “Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.”
I made a suggestion in reply to rtm9999 that finding the NY Times on microfilm without the “Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii” text would be an important smoking gun to prove that newspapers were trying to change history to cover up the place of Obama’s birth. Either he didn’t take my suggestion, or chose not to disclose his findings.
1Fox Butterfield served as the NY Times bureau chief in Boston.
2The University of South Alabama library, where I attended college, had both the New York Times and the London Times on microfilm. The Greenville County Library has it, as does the Spartanburg County Library in South Carolina. From that anecdotal evidence, I concluded that the NYT on microfilm is widely available; however, not every library has it. For example, I checked the Laramie County (Cheyenne) Wyoming public library, and they don’t have it, but their librarian suggested that it might be obtained through interlibrary loan.
Update: I was contacted by the Laramie County Library to say that they found the NYT microfilm.