Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Feel Dirty, But I Have to Say It....

Rumor mongering is the dark underbelly of the already sordid business that is politics. When victory seems elusive, the desperate will fabricate and fan the fictitious to the fearful, who get flimflammed. Disgusting, right? But here are two “rumors” that were originally denounced as “completely despicable.”

Jim McGreevy and Larry Craig are gay.

Uh, yeah, these rumors don’t seem so “baseless” now, do they?

While false rumors can demolish people’s careers, every hidden truth starts as a rumor. Hadn’t we all heard rumors that an intern told a friend she had a tryst with the President long before we knew about a DNA-enhanced blue dress that cinched the deal?

By definition, a rumor is just an unverified statement about something or someone. In application, a political rumor can be lethal and deliciously Machiavellian. In an internet environment, knowing how, or if, to disseminate and how, or if, to respond is part of the political tactician’s toolbox.

Come along class. Professor IPOPA knows of a doozy floating around the internet that serves as a perfect case study.

Go to Google. Type in “Michelle Obama” and “railing against Whitey.” I did this three days ago, and I got 950 links. I did it this morning, and I got 21,500. Welcome to the information superhighway and all its viral tendencies.

What is this about, Professor?

A blogger named Larry Johnson (, an adamant opponent of Barack Obama, claims that four Republican sources have told him that Karl Rove possesses a videotape of Michelle Obama “railing against Whitey” at her church. One of the sources claims that Rove is showing it to big money donors while telling them that the RNC will wait to unveil it (a/k/a “the October Surprise”) after Obama gets the nomination and starts to gain traction. Wait, it gets better. Apparently, a Republican billionaire who cannot stand McCain has allegedly offered a million dollars for a copy of the video so that Obama’s people can do damage control in advance of its airing.

Here’s the post that started it all:

So, let’s dissect the levels of deviousness that could be at play here.

If you are Clinton (or a Clinton supporter), you want this rumor out there, and you want it out there huge. Even Obama fans (IPOPA included) know another unflattering race-based disclosure, even from his wife, makes Obama unelectable. He can’t win. This rumor is an IV for Clinton’s barely-breathing campaign, which should make us all rather skeptical. Clinton’s been saying all along that she can get elected but Obama can’t. Without putting the campaign’s imprimatur on this, Clinton’s people are praying it gets wide circulation, I assure you. But they might not want it to rise to the level where it gets refuted because Clinton’s folks probably doubt its veracity, and at best, they can only say they don’t know for sure. In other words, Clintonites want the “whisper campaign” to doom Obama while praying that their hoped for truth comes out.

If you are a Republican or a McCain supporter, you’ve just “gone fishin.” There are three sets of statements that are either true of false:

(1) Michelle Obama either did or did not “rail against Whitey” at her church;

(2) Republicans either do or do not have this on tape; and

(3) Michelle Obama either has or has not referred to white people collectively as “Whitey” in her lifetime.

If 1 and 2 are true, somebody in the R camp has screwed up. You would definitely want to keep a lid on this. If it breaks too soon, now you’ve got Clinton against McCain, and she'll dust him in the debates.

BUT let’s say you don’t have one or two, but you think, having read Michelle Obama’s thesis or going on Rove’s gut that she’s “militant." What if you just thought she MIGHT HAVE said something like this before. How would you make that come forth without real evidence? Well, one thing you might do is fabricate a rumor that you have something on tape while saying you’re not going to show it. If the rumor gains enough traction, at some point, it will go from viral to mainstream, and somebody somewhere is going to ask Obama about the tape specifically.

If Obama responds narrowly by saying, “My wife never used the term “whitey” in the pulpit,” the follow up will be, “Did she EVER use it?” Now, Michelle Obama is in a position of having to make a categorical denial that she has NEVER said “Whitey,” even in jest. While review of thousands of web pages helped me conclude that the word “Whitey” is mostly used by white people when they are making mocking comments about what they believe angry black people call them behind their backs, I’m sure more black people have said “whitey” in jest than Whitey thinks.

This is why, if you are Obama, you might be hoping that Al Gore does something to make the internet disappear as quickly as he created it. To acknowledge this rumor as anything more than cranksterism gives it legitimacy, and you’ll spend the rest of the campaign responded to every allegation that you are really an alien from a neighboring galaxy, or that you had a secret lunch with bin Laden at a Manhattan bistro last week. But to not deny it outright might give it ongoing “viral” life instead of smacking it down with internet Zithromax.

But that’s ingeniousness of the rumor in the first place. By NOT denying it, Obama will have people like me who now wonder. If she’s never said it, why not say so? That ends the madness, right?

And also by not denouncing this weirdness, you are able to speculate about “ulterior motives” in everything Obama does. I have to say that when Obama made the VERY strong comments cautioning the Republicans about attacking his wife, I thought, “This can’t be just about what the Tennessee Republican Party is doing” (showing film clips of Michelle’s “first time I’ve been proud to be an American” remark) because he is referring to the fall. It DID seem like Obama was expecting a much more diabolic attack in the fall.

Maybe like his wife in a pulpit.



Anonymous said...

To be fair, though, Larry has made a number of predictions about Obama going down - that there was definitive proof linking him to Rezko's crimes, etc. I really respect Larry's analysis of national security issues, but he's got a terrible track record when it comes to elections and campaigns.

Chris Worden said...

Brian K.,

I agree completely that Larry seems off, and the story itself seems crazy. But what IF he's right? That information has GOT to be known now, rather than later. If I learned that Obama knew of this tape's existence and tried to keep the lid on it only to cost the Democrats the election, man, he couldn't get a check from me in the future as dog catcher, and I'm a HUGE fan.

Anonymous said...

Advance Indiana has already written about this....I am inclined to believe that it is NOT desperate, cut throat and lowdown as the Clinton campaign is, they would have gotten a copy and used it......

Chris Worden said...

Anon 7:52, that's my thought as well. That if it COULD be found, the Clintons would have found it already, so it's probably crap. (But I'm going to feel like an idiot for not pushing harder if this tape springs up after the nomination is clinched).

Anonymous said...

I read a similar rumor--maybe back in February?--about the existence of an audio tape of Barack Obama saying "fuck the white man." According to this rumor, he had been giving a speech at Johns Hopkins University (a year and month were given, but I don't recall now what they were) and this comment was made, not to the public or while he was at the podium, but rather, to the person next to him, privately.
That rumor did not seem to gain any traction at all. I read it once and never again (the person also claimed to have a republican source for the information).
Assuming both rumors are false, it is interesting that the second one has circulated so widely, but you give strong arguments for why that may be the case.
It is interesting, however, how the narrative has sort of flipped on Hillary: the wisdom used to be that she would be an easier candidate for the Republicans to defeat since they could be unified in their hatred of her. According to the logic of the rumor, though, that is no longer the case.