Saturday, February 6, 2010

Birther Mythbusting: Maya Soetoro and The Rainbow Edition Newsletter

Patrick McKinnion has been doing a good series on Birther Mythbusting, and there's one myth that's irritated me enough that I want to take it down. I speak of the fabled Maya Soetoro interview in the Rainbow Edition. I'll let Jerome Corsi summarize it briefly for me:

"In a November 2004 interview with the Rainbow Newsletter, Maya told reporters her half-brother Sen. Barack Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961, at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu."

This myth originated, as with so many of Birtherism's core beliefs, with Phil Berg. In his Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in September 2008, Berg wrote:
Furthermore, the Rainbow Edition News Letter, November 2004 Edition, published by the Education Laboratory School, attached as EXHIBIT “1”, did a several page article of an interview with Obama and his half-sister, Maya. The Rainbow Edition News Letter reports Obama was born August 4, 1961 at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Note that Berg does not explicitly state that Maya was quoted as saying Queens, though he would appear to want the reader to draw that conclusion. Also, Berg erroneously claims that the article included an interview with Obama, and to be nitpicky, even the most generous definition of "several" does not encompass the actual two-page length of the article.

Berg, however, does get right what Corsi and many others have subsequently gotten wrong: the Rainbow Edition Newsletter is nothing more than a high school newspaper. The article in question was written not by a reporter, and not by a colleague of Maya Soetoro, but by a high school junior.

Additionally, what is immediately obvious upon actually viewing the article is that the "Queens Medical Center" reference is not a quote from Maya at all. It's simply referenced in the introductory paragraph. In fact, it's such a mundane fact that it's hard to imagine even an amateur journalist wasting time asking for it during an interview. Still, the fact that the reference is not credited to Maya, and the fact that the article is full of mundane facts that it would be foolhardy to attribute to Maya, this has not stopped some Birthers, like BP2 (or as I'll call him, Beeps), from insisting that the source must have been Maya Soetoro.

Sadly for Beeps and others, the source was not Maya, but rather Wikipedia. The Rainbow Edition author actually cribbed a considerable portion of his article straight from Wikipedia, as I'll now illustrate:

From the Rainbow Edition:
Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961 at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama lived here with his parents Barack Obama, Sr. and Ann Dunham until they divorced when he was two. Obama moved back to Hawaii when he was ten and lived with his grandmother Madelyn Dunham and half-sister of our very own, Maya Soetoro.

From Wikipedia:
Barack Obama was born at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. His parents were economist Barack Obama, Sr., of Kenya and S. Ann Dunham,...When Obama was two years old, the couple divorced...When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandmother Madelyn Dunham.

In addition to the textual similarity, notice what's missing from the Rainbow Edition account above. It describes when Obama "moved back to Hawaii," but gives no prior indication that he'd ever left. That's because the Rainbow Edition omitted the Wikipedia information (between the ellipses above) about his childhood move to Jakarta.

Further down the article, from the Rainbow Edition:
His Republican opponent, Jack Ryan was forced to dropout of the race after Republican leaders questioned his integrity.

Mike Ditka, former NFL Coach, was going to be the new Republican candidate but he decided not to join because of family and business reasons. Alan Keyes, from Maryland, was nominated by Illinois Republican Chairwoman, Judy Baar Topinka. It looked like Obama was guaranteed a win because of his growing popularity around the state of Chicago. In the end, Obama won almost seventy percent of the vote.

From Wikipedia:
...leading Republican leaders to question Ryan's integrity. Ryan was forced to leave the race...

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka had considered running as a Republican to replace Ryan, but opted not to because of family and business considerations. On August 3, Illinois Republican Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka announced two possible replacements: Alan Keyes and former presidential advisor Andrea Barthwell. After much deliberation, Keyes, at the time living in Maryland, was nominated...Obama received nearly 70% of the popular vote.

Again, from the Rainbow Edition:
Obama first became involved with politics when he was voted onto the Illinois State Senate in 1996. During his time, he helped to provide the poor with benefits andpassed bills for increased funding for AIDS programs. In 2000, he ran in the Democratic primary for Illiois’ 1st Congressinoal district but he lost to the incumbent Repersentative Bobby Rush.

From Wikipedia:
In 1996, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate...during his tenure in the legislature, he helped to author a state earned income tax credit providing benefits to the poor...he successfully passed bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs. In 2000, he ran in the Democratic primary for Illinois' 1st Congressional district against incumbent Representative Bobby Rush, but was badly defeated.

Finally, from the Rainbow Edition:
This past year, he became the third African-American to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. After winning his race, Obama became only the fifth African-American Senator in our nation’s history. Right now, Obama is also a law professor at the University of Chicago.

The reference to his professorship is an odd non-sequitur to close out this unrelated paragraph. But, from Wikipedia:
A University of Chicago law professor, Obama in November, 2004, won an open seat in the U.S. Senate against Republican candidate Alan Keyes, becoming the only serving black U.S. senator in 2004 and just the fifth in the country's history...Obama was chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, and became the third African American to do so.

Berg and Beeps have argued that the high school student also interviewed Obama himself, and "Queen's" came from him. But in addition to the above, there is no evidence in the article that Obama was interviewed at all. One of the two Obama quotes included in the Rainbow Edition ("The irony is that my decision to work in politics...") is taken straight from the Wikipedia page. The only other Obama quote came from this January 2004 video interview. In our discussion some months back, Beeps initially argued that the high school kid must have personally interviewed Obama to obtain this quote, and then when I confronted him with this video transcript, he resorted to allegations of historical revisionism, and then abruptly changed the subject. Typical Birther behavior, in other words.

Beeps also argued that "They properly checked the spelling, grammar, punctuation, style – ONLY to get that birth place wrong." Which is, again, grossly inaccurate. There are, in fact, multiple spelling, grammatical, punctuation, and style errors throughout the Rainbow Edition article. In the category of spelling errors alone, the author wrote "Illiois," "Congressinoal," "Repersentative," "whoe," "chilhood," "competetive" and "accoplishments."

And who, you may ask, was Wikipedia's ultimate source for "Queen's Medical Center," since no source citation was given in the Wiki entry? It was simply a Hawaiian college kid who liked editing Wikipedia, and took a guess as to which hospital Obama was born in. He explained his reasoning to me, saying it "was based on presumption without original source. Conjecture based on Queen's being the largest hospital in Hawaii, near the University of Hawaii at Manoa where the Obamas went to school, presumed that they were still in school and probably lived near campus. Queen's is in a central location and a place of power, a block away from the Hawaii State Capitol, Iolani Palace and the governor's residence at Washington Place. As it turns out, the Obamas lived in an apartment just across the street from the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, a location even closer to the university campus." And he concluded, "Put in simple terms: I was the source and the source was wrong."

So there you have it. Maya Soetoro never told the Rainbow Edition or any other publication that her brother was born at Queen's Medical Center.