The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois — still battling rumors about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s religion, heritage, wife and even his citizenship — today launched a Snopes-like myth-busting website in an attempt to correct the record.
The first issue tacked on the website, FighttheSmears.com deals with the rumor that "Michelle Obama Says ‘Whitey’ On a Tape." The Obama campaign’s new website labels as lies: claims by conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh that "a tape exists of Michelle Obama using the word ‘whitey’ from the pulpit of Trinity United"; blogger Larry Johnson’s similar claims; as well as "Proven GOP sleazemeister Roger Stone" saying "he has ‘credible that some indelible record exists’ of a tape of Michelle Obama using the term ‘whitey.’"
"TRUTH," declares the website. "No such tape exists."
Other sections deal with Obama being willing to say the pledge of allegiance, and his being a Christian, not a Muslim. A March poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicated that one in ten Americans in general, 16% of conservative Republicans, 16% of white evangelical Protestants, 10% of Democrats, 8% of independents and 19% of rural Americans think Obama is Muslim.
Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says the campaign "isn’t going to let dishonest smears spread across the internet unanswered. Whenever challenged with these lies we will aggressively push back with the truth and help our supporters debunk the false rumors floating around the internet." He calls the website "an action center that allows supporters to upload their address books and send emails to all of their friends. It’s not enough to just know the truth, we have to be proactive and fight back."
Obama and his campaign haven’t been consistent as to how to deal with the rumors. In January 2007, after Fox News Channel passed on the false story reported that Obama had been educated in a Muslim madrassa in Indonesia, painting it as an extremist school where hatred of the U.S. was taught, prompting the senator to go on a campaign to correct the record.
"It was an ordinary public school," he told ABC News at the time. "The kids ran around in short pants and learned math and science and participated in the Boy Scouts. It was comparable to any school here in the United States," he explained
Towards the end of 2007, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, was forced to fire Linda Olson, an Iowa County volunteer coordinator, and Judy Rose, Jones County coordinator for circulating emails claiming Obama is a Muslim. During that time, the Obama campaign attempted to correct the record by asking supporters and precinct captains to forward response emails of their own. "But that was nowhere near as centralized and coordinated" as the current plan, Vietor says.
Obama has tried humor. Speaking before the pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee the day after the primary season ended, Obama acknowledged to the largely Jewish audience, "I know some provocative e-mails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President. And all I want to say is, Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening."
But last week Obama expressed indignation after a reporter asked Obama about the apparently non-existence "Whitey" tape, saying there are "dirt and lies that are circulated in email and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about them. And then that gives legs to the story."
"If somebody has evidence that myself or Michelle or anybody has said something inappropriate, let them do it," Obama said. "This is the same kind of nonsense that we started with the madrassas…and frankly my hope is that people don’t play this game. It is a destructive aspect of our politics right now. And simply because something appears in an email that should lend it no more credence then if you heard it on the corner. And you know presumably the job of the press is to not go around and spread scurrilous rumors like this until there’s actually anything, one iota of substance or evidence that would substantiate it."
After that exchange, Obama spoke on a call with senior staffers and decided a more aggressive approach was necessary. He came up with the idea of the website.
He hasn’t always had the most help from his opponents in clearing up the rumors. Clinton told 60 Minutes in March that Obama wasn’t a Muslim "as far as I know." Last week Obama confronted Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn, Add-on., a supporter of the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for not defending him sufficiently when Lieberman has been asked about the rumor. Lieberman had been asked about the story and later told the New York Observer his response was, "Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian."