Saturday, April 16, 2011

An American Expat's Autobiographical Exaggerations

Larry Martin is a Birther and blogger who lives in Malaysia, and does his blogging at An American Expat in Southeast Asia. Martin gained brief notoriety in mid-2008 when his blog was cited as a source in Jerome Corsi's The Obama Nation, and when he was subsequently profiled and interviewed by Time Magazine in an article entitled The Blogger Behind the Obama Hit Job.

The focus in both publications were several posts Martin made in January 2007 under the title "Tracking Down Obama in Indonesia." Most of these entries were explicitly identified as being foreign news articles that Martin had translated from Indonesian into English.

On January 24, 2007, Martin posted part 3 of that series, where he described information that appeared on school documents of Obama's from the Fransiskus Assisi school in Jakarta. He did not provide images of any documents, however. The Associated Press reported on the document and its contents at the same time.

At the time, Martin didn't frame his posts as being anything other than the fruit of online research. He wrote at FreeRepublic on January 17, 2007 that "contacts of mine informed me that there are some 'american' people in Indonesia looking for photos and other evidence." Not himself; just others. According to second-hand information.

A year and a half later, though, Martin's story had changed significantly. In June 2008, he said at FreeRepublic:
"Im been investigating this since 2006 at my own expense - I never questioned the school documents when I first saw them with my own eyes - even though he was listed as an Indonesian citizen - maybe I overlooked it - I asked for a certified copy and at the time was politely refused."
This new story of a personal journey to Jakarta was also relayed in the Time Magazine article two months later, in August 2008:
Martin says he got the information independently, having traveled to Obama's former school himself in January 2007 to view the documents. "They had it in a book and I just looked in a book," he says. "I just happened to say, 'Hey, I'm a blogger, can I see [the documents]?' and they said, 'Yeah no problem.' " Martin says the AP photo "vindicates" his research.
More recently, Martin has begun to embellish his story further at FreeRepublic:
What I can say now is that I have seen the BC with my own eyes and it does exist - however it was a BC for Barry Soetoro and not for Barack Obama - at the time I did not think to look at the copy or to write down what was on it - the concern was whether or not Obama was a Muslim - the school registration was all I saw that mentioned Islam and as such - it was reported by me on 24 Jan 2007.
and on his blog:
Barack Hussein Obama was known as Barry Soetoro when he was in Indonesia and was registered for school by Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo as first reported here on this blog on 24 January 2007. It would be August of 2008 before the Associated Press would release the photo of Barry Soetoro's school registration and as such vindicating what I originally wrote.
As part of my book research, I contacted Mr. Martin to inquire about this escalating account. How in January 2007 he'd focused only on translating online articles; how a year and a half later that changed to him claiming that he'd conducted a personal investigation to Jakarta and had seen the school document in person; and how after another two and a half years he suddenly claimed that he'd also seen a previously-unmentioned birth certificate during that trip.

In addition to this four-year-long evolving saga, Martin has also never produced any evidence of making this purported trip. Time Magazine apparently took his claim of an in-person visit to the school at face value; but all Martin has ever provided is his own incredibly-belated personal testimony.

Still, Martin has insinuated in the past that such a trip must have occurred because he posted about the registration form on January 24, 2007, and the Associated Press reported on it on January 25. (At other times, such as in the blog quote seen above, Martin has erroneously claimed that the AP didn't publish the information until August 2008.) If Martin didn't get the data from the AP, where could he have gotten it from?

That's easy. He got it from the same place he got all of the other information in the "Tracking Down Obama in Indonesia" series: from Indonesian-language news articles. Specifically in this case, a July 7, 2006 article from detikNews.

That detikNews article cited every single feature of the school registration form that Martin mentioned. Every date, description, name, and number. It did not include a photo, and so neither did Martin. And of course, it was published over six months before Martin's blog post.

Additionally, there's even good reason to believe that Martin read this very article. His first installment of "Tracking Down Obama in Indonesia", posted just four days before the one about the school form, was an English translation of a July 4, 2006 detikNews article.

This information was subsequently republished in Indonesian media. A December 7, 2006 Indonesian article on Obama casually tossed off several of the features of the document: the entry date, the classroom, and of course, the name 'Barry Soetoro' (which originated with the school document).

Martin wasn't even the first person to post online in English about the document. For instance, on January 22, a commenter at abcnews.com wrote "Indonesian journalist already investigated since July 2006 that Barack Obama, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, attended St Franciscus Assisi Elementary School...you should contact Detik’s editor at redaksi@staff.detik.com."

For some reason, however, Martin has decided during the past four years to escalate his story from 'I translated a six-month-old news story' to 'I traveled to Indonesia and saw school documents AND a secret birth certificate.'

To believe that he actually made such a trip in January 2007 is to believe that he failed to take a camera even though the document's existence was public knowledge (and thus obtaining first-hand proof would presumably be the goal of making such a trip in the first place), and to believe that when he copied down the information provided to him at the school, he only happened to copy down the exact same information that detikNews included in its story from six months earlier, and to believe that he failed to mention that it was an in-person investigation until 17 months later.

And finally, to believe that all of that is more plausible than accepting that he copied the information from a news site that he admits he reads, from an article just a couple of days removed from another Obama article he'd translated earlier that week.

So why make up a story about going to Jakarta in January 2007? And more importantly, why tell that lie to a national newsmagazine? I approached Mr. Martin for an explanation, but he declined to respond. Still, as we've seen time and again, Birthers are willing to go public with fictionalized first-person accounts. Ed Hale. Lucas Smith. Jim Bancroft. Tom Fife. Everyone who claims to have seen the non-existent Keyes/Obama Birther debate. Martin has ample company.

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