WaPo After Free Republic Again, Now Over Barack-is-a-Muslim Email
By: Warner Todd Huston
The Washington Post published a June 28th piece geared to protect Barack Obama from the nagging rumors that he is a secret Muslim, rumors that have been circulating since 2004. The Post’s Matthew Mosk penned an attack on Free Republic, based on an Obama flak who claims she has somehow discovered that Freepers are to blame, if not initially responsible, for floating the Barack-is-a-Muslim chain email that so many millions of Americans have found in their email boxes over the last four years. But, the Washington Post’s article is so filled with assumptions and a singular desire not to really investigate the matter that it boggles the mind. Naturally, all the journalistic missteps serve to shield Barack Obama from any controversy and make all opposition seem nefarious or unhinged.
The Obama flak in question is one Danielle Allen of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. Mosk wishes to assure us that she is one smart cookie, apparently. To settle any question to the contrary, we are treated to some earnest, if over-the-top, adulation for good Doctor Allen. Allen is called a “razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist,” that she’s “gained valuable insight into the way political information circulates,” and that she works at the institute “most famous for having been the research home of Albert Einstein.” Mosk tells us that Allen “boasts two doctorates, one in classics from Cambridge University and the other in government from Harvard University.” The Post tells us that one winter morning Allen was “studying in her office at the Institute for Advanced Study, the renowned haven for some of the nation’s most brilliant minds.” Mosk also tells us that Allen “works alongside groundbreaking physicists, mathematicians and social scientists. They don’t have to teach, and they face no quotas on what they publish. Their only mandate is to work in the tradition of Einstein, wrestling with the most vexing problems in the universe.”
Jeeze, next Mosk will be telling us that Danielle Allen is the virtual reincarnation of Einstein himself!
Byron York saw how silly all this puffery was, too. Over at NRO’s Corner Blog, York takes a jab at those vaunted â€œvexing problems in the universeâ€ and succinctly sums up the big nothing that is the real underlying conclusion of the Washington Post’s extensive four-page story.
And one of the most vexing problems in the universe, which Allen has decided to pursue in the tradition of Einstein, is the origin of a number of e-mails claiming that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Using the advanced research tools at her disposal, the razor-sharp Allen foundâ€¦a couple of posters on the Free Republic website, plus a former political rival of Obama’s who sends out zillions of e-mails to reporters every day.
The piece goes on and on in grave tones about the chain email that seems to have first surfaced sometime in 2004. Allen “obsessively” worries about such things as chain emails we come to discover. Allen tells the Post, “I started thinking, ‘How does one stop it?’” She then informs Mosk that the whole mysterious, shadowy email has a nefarious and unidentified genesis. Mosk assures us that this email is the “modern version of a whisper campaign,” and worries about the “secret identities” of the Freepers that Allen reveals to him.
We are dealt the conclusion that all this email and Freeper stuff isâ€¦ well, dontcha know it’s scary, kids? I wondered if Mosk wanted his Mommy to keep the nasty Freepers away from him by the end of this curious piece?
So, what about this email saying that Obama is a secret Muslim? Where did it come from? Matthew Mosk doesn’t know and neither does his main source, the brilliant Doctor Allen. But they are both sure it has something to do with the website Free Republic. Or maybe a perennial candidate from Illinois named Andy Martin… or a guy in Philadelphia who operates a website and posts on Free Republic… or maybe not. But whatever the case, Matthew Mosk of the Washington Post just took the word of open Obama supporter Danielle Allen as gospel, assuming that her “research” was indisputable.
Allen began her “investigation” by using key phrases that appears in the email and Googling them to see where else they appear. As a result, she found Andy Martin of Illinois.
Back in 2004 in Obama’s hometown, Chicago, a fellow named Andy Martin was attempting to launch his own attempt to become Obama’s opponent for the Senate. Martin is a political gadfly and perpetual candidate in Illinois who has never been elected to much of anything, the sort of guy who has been hanging on the fringes for decades without ever getting much traction. To be sure, he was an actual candidate in the last primary to determine who will be the poor GOP sacrificial lamb to face Dick Durbin in the coming general election, so he did get on a ballot for a change. One thing is for sure, that Martin is tenacious and knows how to publicize himself is beyond doubt.
In the run up to the 2004 election, Martin admitted to the Post’s Mosk that he had circulated the claim that since Obama was born to a Muslim Father, Barack himself would be considered a Muslim by birth to any other Muslim. Martin also pointed out that the Obama campaign then, as now, rejects any claims that Barack is now or ever has been a Muslim. Martin was quite upfront that he believes that Obama is not being truthful over the whole Muslim question.
But, it is also completely obvious that Martin did not write the original email nor that he is a member of a secret anti-Obama conspiracy. Martinâ€™s activities are well known to many and are completely out in the open.
On top of all that, there is no indication that Doctor Allen ever contacted Andy Martin during her “investigation.”
Next Allen found some similarities in the posting of Andrew Walden, founder of an alternative newspaper in Hawaii. Then it was on to one Ted Samply. Allen informs Mosk that she saw an “important pattern” with each of these sources, too. The same info appeared on Free Republic almost immediately after the web articles appeared.
From here we get the ominous revelation that about “23 Freepers” were “among those engaging in regular discussions about Obama’s religion.” Freepers Beckwith and Eva are focused upon as chief culprits. Allen tells Mosk that she has “identified” the key phrases of the Barack-is-a-Muslim story in these Free Republic postings. Mosk “outs” these two Freepers giving their names and places of residence and highlight how they post under “secret” names on Free Republic.
Yes, it’s all so nefarious.
So, what is the conclusion of all this “investigating”?
“What I’ve come to realize is, the labor of generating an e-mail smear is divided and distributed amongst parties whose identities are secret even to each other,” she says. A first group of people published articles that created the basis for the attack. A second group recirculated the claims from those articles without ever having been asked to do so. “No one coordinates the roles,” Allen said. Instead the participants swim toward their goal like a school of fish — moving on their own, but also in unison.
In other words, even this Obama flak is unwittingly admitting that there really is no grand conspiracy here and that this rumor, like all rumors in every area of human interaction, was started somewhere — no one knows where — and then took on a life of its own as people of like mind came to the story entirely on their own.
In other words, for all the supposed “investigating” there is no secret, shadowy group pulling the strings as this entire piece tries to make the reader believe there is. So, what IS the point to this article? Byron York thinks the subtext is that the Post and the Obama supporter might be trying to promulgate the idea that the Internet needs to be “controlled,” presumably by government.
But the article has a pretty clear subtext, and it is that the exchange of such information on the Internet should be controlled. “I started thinking, ‘How does one stop it?’” Allen told the Post. “Citizens and political scientists must face the fact that the Internet has enabled a new form of political organization that is just as influential on local and national elections as unions and political action committeesâ€¦This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment. It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one’s accusers.”
Personally, I think it is less the Washington Post, writer Mosk and Obama supporter Allen suggesting that there needs to be some sort of control on the Internet than that they are suggesting that any opposition to Obama is only made by what they consider to be fringe political candidates, conspiracy nuts, and Freeper nutcases. I think the purpose is to discredit Obama’s detractors far more than to attempt a silencing of the Internet.
Still, there is another aspect to this story that impugns Matthew Mosk’s journalistic integrity. He seems to have done little real investigating himself and merely took the word of our purportedly purely motivated Dr. Allen. Worse, Allen’s “investigation” seems to consist of a bunch of print outs from webpages she tracked down and little else.
For instance, Freeper Beckwith posted a response to the Washington Post story at his The Obama File web page, and he informs us that Danielle Allen never contacted him during her so-called investigation.
The first thing I have to say about “An Attack That Came Out of the Ether,” published by The Washington Post on June 28th, is that at NO time was I ever contacted by this woman, Danielle Allen. I spoke to two male Post reporters, who spoke to me over the phone for a period of months. The first contact was in the fall of 2007. They told me they were trying to track down the source of emails they considered negative to the Obamamessiah.
How much “investigating” could Allen have done if she never even actually talked to and interviewed the people she claims are at fault for this whisper campaign against Obama? It looks increasingly like all she did was Google stuff, use a printer and let it go at that. Voilaâ€¦ â€œproofâ€ of her â€œinvestigation.â€
The story also seems to have some misconceptions that result from Mosk merely taking Allenâ€™s word as gold or not doing enough fact checking. One falsehood that Mosk hands us shows that Mosk didn’t seem to do much by way of fact checking. “Beckwith said he built a Web site that features hundreds of pages of material intended to undermine Obama,” Mosk wrote. Turns out that Beckwith only has 18 pages of web material at his Obama Files website.
18. That’s a tad less than “hundreds.”
Mosk also repeats the claim that Beckwith had an “unnamed ‘colleague’ in Europe” as if Beckwith had some secret source for some of his anti-Obama claims. But, according to Beckwith, there is no “unnamed” to it because the “colleague” is fellow Freeper ExpatGuy who runs a website called An American Expat in Southeast Asia. Not very secret, that.
What I am pointing out here is that Danielle Allen and the Washington Post is building a case of some underlying conspiracy with “secret” names and “unnamed” sources, but in reality it’s all pretty easy to discover the who, what, and where of the anti-Obama blogosphere. It’s all readily available right out in the open on the Internet for all to see.
In other words, it ain’t very secret.
It is also sad that if Beckwith is telling the truth when he said that the Post contacted him way back in 2007 about this story and THIS is all they could come up with after all that time then there is no hope for the Post at this point.
So, what we can take away from this is that the Post and Allen are all up in arms about this darn rumor mongering, I guess? Of course, it all makes one wonder how upset they were at their own paper, the Washington Post, when the rumor mill was buzzing and the Post was printing stories about the rumored cocaine use of George W. Bush back in 1999? Or how about the fake-but-true story of Bush’s supposed AWOL status from the Texas Air National Guard? Bet neither Mosk nor Allen were much worried about THOSE rumors being bandied about, eh?
Naturally, as is his penchant for dirt slinging, the redoubtable Andy Martin is positing that if Danielle Allen is using her tax exempt facilities to do Barack Obama’s dirty work she might be breaking the law. Martin is also alarmed by the possibility that writer Mosk was “steered” to Allen by the Obama campaign in a back door effort to defame Martin and to further promulgate lies about Barackâ€™s Muslim past.
And what of Allen’s real association with the Obama campaign, anyway? For one thing, Beckwith helpfully tracked down the fact that Allen donated $2,700 to the Obama campaign. And, it seems to me that Allen is a bit less of a mere “Obama supporter” as Mosk says in his piece and a bit more of an active player in his campaign, at least tangentially. Allen is a bit higher up the food chain than simple “supporter” as her April 6 Philly Inquirer pro-Obama editorial proves. Ties to Obamaâ€™s campaign might be even closer, but who knows?
Finally, perhaps Byron York isn’t too far off the mark when he says that the “subtext” of the piece is that the Internet needs to be controlled. Take a look at one of the last paragraphs of this exhaustive piece.
“Citizens and political scientists must face the fact that the Internet has enabled a new form of political organization that is just as influential on local and national elections as unions and political action committees,” she says. “This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment. It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one’s accusers.”
Who doesn’t know that those “unions and political action committees” of which Allen speaks are entities regulated by the Federal government? Who could easily miss that Allen must think that the Federal government should regulate political free speech on the Internet just as it does the political actions of PACS and unions? Allen seems overly worried about the “secret” identities of Freepers, but curiously hasnâ€™t seemed to have become alarmed about a similar situation at the Democratic Underground website or the Daily Kos which also routinely allows users to use kitchy screen names instead of their real identities.
So, York could be right. Perhaps Allen does think we should outlaw anonymous free political speech? At least where it concerns the speech at Free Republic and other conservative sites, Allen seems to be saying.
Do we have to point out that one of the most important American political documents ever published was written under the pen name Publius? In fact, it was decades before it was generally known that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were responsible for writing the Federalist Papers. Even more to the point, the three authors were so secretive that there is still some debate as to which of the three wrote some of the papers.
It all begs the question: in the minds of the Washington Post and the Obama campaign is anonymous political writing good for the Founders but to be forbidden to us now?
Maybe one bit of “change” the Obama campaign wants is to outlaw political opposition ala Mugabe or Chavez? That would be “change,” indeed.