Political cockroaches

Curious about where the Obama-is-a-Muslim crap came from? So is Danielle Allen of the Institute for Advanced Study. Answer: a couple of Freepers and one of Obama’s former political rivals.

Just today I was wondering why no reporter had decided to report the “Obama-is-a-Muslim” slander campaign &#8212 not the substance of the slander, but he mechanism by which it has been spread &#8212 as a news story. Obviously, my wishes exert a mysterious power over the universe (or at least over the Washington Post). Matthew Mosk found Danielle Allen at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, who has made an academic study of that particular email chain, and did a little reporting of his own based on her work.

If there’s an organized effort with real money behind it, Swift-Boat style, neither Allen nor Mosk has found it. (Which doesn’t mean it’s not there.) Allen’s research leads her back to a couple of Freepers and one of Obama’s former political supporters. But they all say they posted the material rather than spamming it themselves, which might be true. (Mosk doesn’t mention the role of the Moonie media empire and Fox News in jump-starting the “madrassa” story, or the role of supposedly respectable mainstream news outlets in spreading it.)

It’s pretty scary how much damage a bunch of low-rent losers can do with the power of the Web at their disposal. They will be able to do less damage if the press consistently shines some light into their darkness. Cockroaches run away when the lights go on.

Update Naturally, cockroaches such as Byron York, Don Surber, and Michelle Malkin are more concerned to make fun of the rather simple research methods involved than they are with how a false rumor about he probable next President of the United States has been spread so silently and efficiently that 12% of the population now believes it.

York, never encumbered by considerations of intellectual honesty, even mentions that the Obama-is-a-Muslim theory “was based on arguments similar to an op-ed that appeared in the pages of the New York Times” without mentioning that the op-ed was written by one of his fellow right-wing lunatics, Edward Luttwak, or that Luttwak’s fantasy seems to derive from the sources identified by Allen, or that the “theory” is false. York also creates a straw-man proposal to regulate the internet in order to knock it down.

Malkin compares the whole thing to the 9/11 truthers; the difference of course is that the truthers don’t get their crap believed by an eighth of the population or published on the op-ed page of the New York Times. It’s been the genius of the far right ever since Nixon to make their paranoid ravings into respectable discourse.

If Allen’s methods were simple, which they were, the obvious question is why no journalist bothered to pursue them. But of course that question is strictly off limits to those who still believe in “liberal media bias.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com