Clinton supporters started the Obama “birther” movement

The level of ridiculous rhetoric is now going to rise in the US and it will be difficult for Clinton to match Trump. Yesterday he proclaimed (again) to the electorate that she had started the Obama “birther” movement. We can expect much more from Trump and Clinton’s staff may be hard put to keep up. In battles of exaggerated rhetoric, tempo is of critical importance. The person who makes the first claim always has an advantage. It is having the white pieces in a chess game.

But on the birther story, this certainly originated during the Clinton / Obama battle. There is still not much love lost between Clinton and Obama. The birther story was started, if not by Clinton, certainly by one or more of her supporters, and it was in 2008 during her primary battle with Obama.

The right wing is quick to point this out.

Hillary Team Started Birther Movement

  1. More than a full year before anyone would hear of Orly Taitz, the Birther strategy was first laid out in the Penn memo.

  2. The “othering” foundation was built subliminally by the Clinton campaign itself.

  3. Democrats and Clinton campaign surrogates did the dirtiest of the dirty work: openly spread the Birther lies.

  4. Staffers in Hillary’s actual campaign used email to spread the lies among other 0225_obamaturban_460x276Democrats (this was a Democrat primary after all — so that is the only well you needed to poison a month before a primary).

  5. The campaign released the turban photo.

  6. Hillary herself used 60 Minutes to further stoke these lies.

But even an objective review of the history does show that this narrative is essentially correct. The article reblogged below was published by FactCheck in July 2015, just after Trump had announced his intention to run for President.

Was Hillary Clinton the Original ‘Birther’?

 by , Posted on July 2, 2015

Two Republican presidential candidates claim the so-called “birther” movement originated with the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008. While it’s true that some of her ardent supporters pushed the theory, there is no evidence that Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with it.

In an interview on June 29, Sen. Ted Cruz said “the whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008,” and earlier this year, Donald Trump claimed “Hillary Clinton wanted [Obama’s] birth certificate. Hillary is a birther.”

Neither Cruz nor Trump presented any evidence that Clinton or anyone on her campaign ever questioned Obama’s birthplace, demanded to see his birth certificate, or otherwise suggested that Obama was not a “natural born citizen” eligible to serve as president.

For those unfamiliar with the controversy over Obama’s birthplace, it refers to those who contend that Obama was born in Kenya and ineligible to be president.

At FactCheck.org, we have written about the issue of Obama’s birthplace on multiple occasions — indeed we were the first media organization to hold his birth certificate in our hot little hands and vouch for the authenticity of it. But facts have done little to squelch the conspiracy theories that continue to bounce around online.

The issue arose again this week in an interview with Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Yahoo News’ Katie Couric asked Cruz if he thought that was going to be an issue for voters.

“It’s interesting, the whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama,” Cruz said (at about the 25:25 mark). Cruz then went on to say that he believes he clearly meets the constitutional requirement for a president to be a “natural born citizen.”

The claim about Clinton’s tie to “birthers” was made earlier by Donald Trump in February at the CPAC event (at 24:20 mark). Trump — who has a history of pushing bogus theories about Obama’s birth —  said, “Hillary Clinton wanted [Obama’s] birth certificate. Hillary is a birther. She wanted … but she was unable to get it.”

We asked the Cruz campaign for backup, and it pointed us to two articles. The first ran in Politico on April 22, 2011, under the headline, Birtherism: Where it all began.”

Politico, April 22, 2011: The answer lies in Democratic, not Republican politics, and in the bitter, exhausting spring of 2008. At the time, the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from Hillary Clinton and some of her most passionate supporters grasped for something, anything that would deal a final reversal to Barack Obama.

According to the article, the theory that Obama was born in Kenya “first emerged in the spring of 2008, as Clinton supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship.”

The second article, which ran several days after the Politico piece, was published by the Telegraph, a British paper, which stated: “An anonymous email circulated by supporters of Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama’s main rival for the party’s nomination, thrust a new allegation into the national spotlight — that he had not been born in Hawaii.”

Both of those stories comport with what we here at FactCheck.org wrote  two-and-a-half years earlier, on Nov. 8, 2008: “This claim was first advanced by diehard Hillary Clinton supporters as her campaign for the party’s nomination faded, and has enjoyed a revival among John McCain’s partisans as he fell substantially behind Obama in public opinion polls.”

Claims about Obama’s birthplace appeared in chain emails bouncing around the Web, and one of the first lawsuits over Obama’s birth certificate was filed by Philip Berg, a former deputy Pennsylvania attorney general and a self-described “moderate to liberal” who supported Clinton.

But none of those stories suggests any link between the Clinton campaign, let alone Clinton herself, and the advocacy of theories questioning Obama’s birth in Hawaii.

One of the authors of the Politico story, Byron Tau, now a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told FactCheck.org via email that “we never found any links between the Clinton campaign and the rumors in 2008.”

The other coauthor of the Politico story, Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, said in a May 2013 interview on MSNBC that the conspiracy theories traced back to “some of [Hillary Clinton’s] passionate supporters,” during the final throes of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. But he said they did not come from “Clinton herself or her staff.”

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said Cruz’s claim is false. “The Clinton campaign never suggested that President Obama was not born here,” Schwerin wrote to us in an email.

It is certainly interesting, and perhaps historically and politically relevant, that “birther” advocacy may have originated with supporters of Hillary Clinton — especially since many view it as an exclusively right-wing movement. But whether those theories were advocated by Clinton and/or her campaign or simply by Clinton “supporters” is an important distinction. Candidates are expected to be held accountable for the actions of their campaigns. Neither Cruz nor Trump, whose campaign did not respond to our request for backup material, provides any compelling evidence that either Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting the so-called birther movement.

— Robert Farley

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3 Responses to “Clinton supporters started the Obama “birther” movement”

  1. smrstrauss Says:

    It was the BRTHERS who lied and said that Obama’s Kenyan grandmother said that he was born in Kenya—when she actually said that he was born IN HAWAII in three interviews. Of those three, birther sites showed their readers only part of one, deliberately and carefully cutting off the tape recordings on their sites just before the grandmother was asked where he was born and replied that it was IN HAWAII. And they did not show their readers the other two interviews at all, and they certainly did not show their readers the FOUR officials in Hawaii, including the former Republican governor of Hawaii, who all confirmed the facts on Obama’s long form and short form birth certificates. Moreover, it was BIRTHER sites that concocted the LIE that Obama’s birth certificate is forged, and one way of doing it was not to show all (or any) of the real experts who say that it is not forged. And not only did they lie about Obama’s birth certificate being forged, birther sites themselves posted THREE forged “Kenyan birth certificates” and a forged video in which Obama seems to say “I was born in Kenya,” but you cannot see his mouth move when he seems to say it (and the original of the video is available, and it does not mention Kenya or Obama’s place of birth at all).

    BTW, it also was BIRTHER sites that concocted the notion that Obama became a citizen of Indonesia and lost his US citizenship in the process and that he traveled to Pakistan on a foreign passport and that he registered as a foreign student in college and that he “sealed” his school and college transcripts and other papers—NONE of which is true.

  2. smrstrauss Says:

    The Clinton supporters alleged that Obama was born in Kenya. But they did not make up stories in order to confirm their claim. For example, they did NOT forge three “Kenyan birth certificates.” And they did not forge a video in which Obama seems to say that he was born in Kenya, but you cannot see his mouth move when he seems to say it. And they did not say that Obama’s Kenyan grandmother said that he was born in Kenya, when she actually said that he was born IN HAWAII in three interviews.

    And they made their claims only during the 2008 campaign, not for seven or eight YEARS.

    Most importantly, however, is the fact that doing something started by Clinton supporters does NOT make it right. in fact, Donald Trump’s saying that he was emulating Hillary’s supporters in his claims about Obama shows how much he is like Hillary’s supporters—hardly a good thing.

    BTW, Trump claimed that he had sent private detectives to Hawaii and “they are coming up with all kinds of astonishing things.” But he never revealed what those alleged astonishing things were. In fact, he never even provided proof that he really sent private investigators to Hawaii.

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