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President Barack Obama‘s decision to release more information about his birthright than any elected leader in U.S. history speaks volumes about the out -of control conspiracy-driven culture that now drives American politics.
“There are no more arbiters of truth,” former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tells Politico.Com. “So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.”
Presidents have longed been dogged by unproven and often outlandish rumors but the blog-driven news cycle today puts undocumented speculation into the public debate with much greater speed and polls show an often-ignorant electorate buys into the falsehoods with little regard for truth.
The lunatic fringe accused Bill Clinton of plotting to murder White House aide Vince Foster — who committed suicide. George W. Bush, the same fringe claimed, was complicit in the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Facts don’t matter to the conspiracy theorists. They are driven by hate, political agendas and — in the Obama birth certificate case — thinly-veiled racism.
Reports Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris of Politico:
It’s hard to imagine Bill Clinton coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong. George W. Bush, likewise, was never tempted to take to the Rose Garden to deny allegations from voices on the liberal fringe who believed that he knew about the pending September 11, 2001 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.
Obama did something like the equivalent of this, by releasing complete documentation from his Hawaii birth and then making a sober West Wing appearance to explain himself.
He did so, senior Obama advisers say, because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.
It did not matter that the notion that Obama was born overseas (and thus constitutionally ineligible for the presidency) had been debunked by news organizations. Polls showed a startling percentage of Americans either still believed the myth or harbored uncertainty.
Truth no longer matters in a partisan era where most news is delivered with a slant and where unproven opinion replaces fact.
And it will probably get worse.