Why a 'Birther' Leader Is News
More than any other story this week, Post readers have responded to Tuesday’s profile of Orly Taitz, who has emerged as a leader of the “birther” movement challenging Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president. But what is fascinating about the reaction from the readers I've heard from is that most aren’t objecting to anything in the 2,500-word story. Rather, they’re angry that there was a story at all.
Bethesda reader Steven Berson complained in an e-mail that it was a “disgrace” that The Post would print such “trash.” He added: “What makes her claim newsworthy?”
More than 40 other readers e-mailed or called with similar objections.
For those who didn’t read it, the profile by staff writer Liza Mundy portrayed Taitz, a California lawyer and dentist who grew up in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, as a relentless crusader for a cause that has been widely discredited. Indeed, Mundy details Taitz’s numerous failed court filings, including those in a case pending in California, intended to show that Obama was born in Kenya or possibly Indonesia, despite repeated insistence by Hawaiian officials that he was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. They have even produced a digitally-scanned image of the president’s birth certificate.
“But never mind!” Mundy wrote. “The myth of ineligibility has embedded itself in the consciousness of determined adversaries, chief among them Taitz, who in her allegation-filled but congenial interview explains why she wants Obama to surrender the vital records that underlie the computer-generated document. She has developed a scenario whereby Obama's American mother gave birth in Kenya, his father's native country, then persuaded bureaucrats to falsify his records and ease him back into this country. She also conjectures that he may be a citizen of Indonesia, where Obama lived for a time after his mother remarried.”
“Ultimately,’ Mundy wrote, “her rhetoric is laced with a suspicion that Obama may be an agent for a foreign power, a modern Manchurian candidate.”
The many readers who complained about the story are right that Taitz operates on the fringe. They’re also correct that the claims of “birthers” have been thoroughly discredited.
But they’re wrong that she isn’t newsworthy. Every week, I receive dozens of e-mails from readers insisting The Post and other news organizations are hiding the truth about Obama’s birthplace. A Pew poll in August showed eight in 10 surveyed have heard "a lot" or "a little" about claims that Obama was not born in the U.S. and is therefore ineligible to be president. And Mundy’s story explained that Taitz has emerged as a sort of point person for a range of ardent anti-government groups embracing outlandish conspiracy theories that involve Obama, dictatorship and totalitarianism.
Editor Sydney Trent, Mundy’s editor on the profile, explained why they felt Taitz was newsworthy:
Long after President Obama's staff produced his birth certificate, the topic continued to circulate - at the health care town halls this summer and generally in the national conversation, to the point where most Americans were aware of the rumors but some people still thought there might be some truth to them. In other words, they have not been entirely disspelled. Also, while one birther case was dismissed in Georgia last month, others, like the California case we mentioned in the story, are pending. Liza talked to experts in the course of her reporting who said that the birthers campaign remains influential with right-wing militias and others.
Orly Taitz is arguably the most vocal and visible person behind this campaign. It made perfect sense to us to profile her. Ignoring an issue or someone you disagree with doesn't automatically negate their influence, and a rigorously-reported profile such as this is most definitely not an endorsement. I don't see how anyone could have read Liza's Style story and walked away thinking The Post is somehow siding with Taitz and her supporters.
Pultizer Prize-winning Post columnist Gene Robinson was asked about it Tuesday in an online chat. “All I can ask is: Why?” wrote a reader from San Diego. Robinson responded:
I'm getting a lot of questions about the Orly Taitz piece. I thought it did a great job of answering questions that have been nagging at me since the 'birther' thing began: Who is this woman, what's her agenda and why is she so impervious to established fact? So I was glad to see the story,” Robinson responded. “But I don't want to dodge your basic question, which is a good one: Why pay any more attention to these people than, say, to your average naked guy on the street corner screaming that the sky is falling? I guess I come down on the side of more information rather than less. I don't think sane people will be made insane by exposure to the life and times of Orly Taitz.
| October 8, 2009; 2:03 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Social Media Guidelines Renew "Transparency" Debate
Next: Omblog on Hiatus
Posted by: RG-Texas | October 8, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: d1carter | October 8, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fzdybel | October 9, 2009 1:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dutchess2 | October 9, 2009 2:17 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: martinduodu | October 9, 2009 5:54 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: lensch | October 9, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: davidsawh | October 9, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: davidsawh | October 9, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rayden1234 | October 9, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: kate32 | October 9, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jtfloore | October 9, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: reynard_muldrake | October 9, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fzdybel | October 9, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: carpentercb2001 | October 10, 2009 5:27 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gary4books | October 10, 2009 6:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: laboo | October 10, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pmi1027 | October 11, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tryks | October 13, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JakeD | October 14, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bobsewell | October 14, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.