Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Birther Mythbusting: UPI and Queens Hospital

Of all the newspaper articles with mistakes that Birthers love to cite, among the most popular is a November 4, 2008 UPI article that originally said "Obama described his birth at Queen's Memorial Hospital in Hawaii Aug. 4, 1961..."

Although the article does not state that Obama identified Queen's by name in his speech, and although the article is somewhat ambiguous as to what speech it may even be referring to, and although there is no other news story claiming that Obama referenced Queen's, and although there is no video or audio of any speech wherein Obama referenced Queen's, Birthers have taken this article as gospel proof that Obama personally named Queen's Memorial Hospital as his place of birth in a speech.

Naturally, when this error was brought to UPI's attention, they corrected it and added an editorial note stating that the reference to Queen's was a mistake made by the writer. This did not dissuade the Birthers, as any correction of a mistake is viewed as "scrubbing" (whereas the failure to correct a mistake is viewed as continued endorsement of its accuracy).

In any case, exactly how reliable was UPI's reporting in this particular article? Did they write an article that was perfect on all factual details except for the name of the hospital?

No. Not by a long shot.

On a freezing day in February 2007, the first-term U.S. senator announced his candidacy for president outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., saying he could not wait until politics "boil the hope out of him."
The phrase "boil the hope out of him" was not used in Obama's February 10, 2007 speech announcing his candidacy. The only similar usage I've located is when Obama said "They say Obama has not been in Washington long enough. He needs to be seasoned and stewed to boil all that hope out of him," nearly a year later in January 2008.

His best-selling third book was called "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream."
"The Audacity of Hope" was Obama's second book, not his third. Obama has not written a third book.

He said his late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of cancer at 53,
Stanley Ann Dunham died at age 52, not 53.

and his grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, 86,
Although UPI identifies Obama's mother as "late," it fails to do so with his grandmother, who was also deceased at the time of this article.

taught him how to dream and value hard work, and were the guiding forces of his life.
I can't find anything resembling such statements in his February 10, 2007 speech. If UPI is referring to another speech during the two-year campaign, it offers no hints as to when or where.

Obama described his birth at Queen's Medical Center
Obama was born at Kapi'olani Medical Center, not Queen's.

in Hawaii Aug. 4, 1961, to a young white woman from Kansas and a father of Luo ethnicity from Nyanza province in Kenya,
Again, there does not appear to be any talk of Obama's birth in his February 10, 2007 speech.

as an "all-America" story transcending orthodox racial stereotypes and experience.
The quoted phrase "all-America" definitely does not appear in the February 10, 2007 speech. If it appears in another speech, I cannot determine where.

That fall he won his Senate seat with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Obama won slightly less than 70 percent of the vote, not more. 69.97%, to be precise.

(Edit: A commenter below pointed out that one reference in the article, involving merely the use of punctuation, might have been an understandable mistake. Since this is by far the most minor of the items in this list, I elected to remove it.)

They married in 1992 and have two daughters, Malia, 9, and Sasha, 7.
At the time this article was published, Malia was 10, not 9.

That's a total of 4 outright errors about Obama's personal life, 2 technical errors, 1 inconsistency in tense, 2 quotes of unidentified origin, and at least 2 topics that are said to have been discussed in a speech but were not. So why is UPI's reporting in this article assumed by Birthers to be impeccable?


  1. Good research as usual, Loren. I think the Sidley, Austin "mistake" is questionable, though. The firm's official name was Sidley & Austin from 1967 until 1999, at which time they merged with Brown & Wood and became Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood LLP. So, in 1989, the time period referenced in the piece, the firm WAS Sidley & Austin. And if it means anything, I worked with attorneys from their Chicago office in the early nineties, and they referred to their firm as Sidley & Austin, or more likely just Sidley.

  2. Fair enough. I'd grouped it with 'technical errors' at the end, along with the Senate election results, since that seemed more nitpicky than blatantly and unambiguously erroneous.

  3. Loren, since the reference to Queen's Memorial Hospital is absurd, I wonder if this article was written to provide future ammunition.

  4. Okay, I give up...What hospital was Obama born in?

    ex animo


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