Friday, May 09, 2008

Trashing easy for spies...

From :

Obama targeted by ugly -- and untrue -- Internet rumors
By Matt Stearns -
Last Updated 6:06 am PDT Friday, May 9, 2008
Story appeared in MAIN NEWS section, Page A1

WASHINGTON – Some things about Barack Obama rub some voters the wrong way.

"We don't need a Muslim," said Jannay Smith, a retiree from Kokomo, Ind. "Who's to say if he gets in there what he'll do?"

Added Steve Shallenberger, a Kokomo electrician: "He's just calling himself a Christian because he knows that's what we in Indiana want to hear."

Then there's Sherry Richey, also from Kokomo: "He wouldn't put his hand on the Bible; he wanted the Quran. He won't put his hand over his heart during the anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance. He's too un-American."

All of these slurs on Obama are categorically untrue.

Obama, the front-running Democratic presidential candidate, is a Christian, has never been a Muslim, swore his Senate oath on the Bible, says the pledge and generally puts his hand over his heart when he sings the national anthem.

So why were people aware enough of current events to attend political rallies in the days leading up to the Indiana primary saying such things? They'd been misled by the Internet.

In the ugly new world of online political rumor-mongering, aggressive Googling and e-mailing allow anyone to join the cacophonous misinformation campaign against a politician – in this case, Obama.

Dirty tricks have been a part of politics for as long as there's been politics. But the Internet has taken "the old-fashioned slanderous whispering campaign to a completely new level," said Brooks Jackson, director of the Annenberg Political Fact Check, a nonpartisan organization that monitors the truthfulness of political discussion. "They are more dangerous and more insidious."

E-mails falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim, that he took the oath of office on a Quran and that he refuses to take the Pledge of Allegiance have stormed inboxes. A newer e-mail has a picture, allegedly of Obama posing with his African family, with the title, "Say Hi to the next potential first family."

In addition, virulently racist e-mails are making the rounds, too.

"These things have a heft to them that gives them a seeming credibility that a verbal rumor wouldn't have," Jackson said. "You can replicate them infinitely. We've all got crazy relatives or friends that are sure they're right and the world's wrong. They just blast them out."

The anonymous nature of the Internet also makes the origins of the allegations impossible to trace, Jackson said.

Still, it hasn't hurt too much: Obama is almost certainly the Democratic presidential nominee.

"He's proven to be pretty resilient," said Burdett Loomis, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.

Addressing the Internet rumors at a January debate, Obama said: "Fortunately, the American people are, I think, smarter than folks give them credit for."

Obama isn't the only victim. Last week, in a dirty trick that couldn't have occurred in the pre-YouTube age, a video ricocheted through cyberspace that appeared to show Clinton adviser Mickey Kantor using slurs and obscenities to describe Indiana people in a documentary about the 1992 election – potential political dynamite in a tightly contested election.

A link to the video arrived in a reporter's e-mail inbox, along with the admonition "You must report this. It will change the election."

Within an hour, the Clinton campaign issued a statement from the filmmaker saying it was bogus: The video had been doctored, by attack artists unknown.

In fact, they tend to be the work of committed political amateurs.

One practitioner in Virginia led a reporter through his efforts. Because the man is a retired clandestine CIA officer, identifying him could endanger officers or operations that remain classified, so McClatchy will not reveal his name.

In late 2006, convinced that an Obama presidency would be disastrous, he decided to start an anti-Obama operation. He combed the public record on Obama. He used a couple of allies and informants – half-jokingly dubbing his group "The Crusaders" – to learn about Obama's background.

He assembled a dossier on Obama, including allegations that Obama attended a madrassa, or Islamic religious school, in his youth in Indonesia.

Then the retired spook tried to get Israeli intelligence officials interested in his Obama dossier. They weren't, to his chagrin. He also shopped it to some foreign reporters. Again, no luck.

He wound up posting some of it on a blog.

A few months after the man began his work, the allegation that Obama was educated in a madrassa appeared in an anonymous article in Insight Magazine, an online publication of the Unification Church, in January 2007. The article was cited by several conservative commentators, including on Fox News, before it was debunked


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