Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comments on Ronald Kessler's Washington Insider Article

Ronald Kessler of Newsmax wrote a piece on Monday about Barack Obama's eligibility. I am always astounded at how little investigation supposedly serious journalists do on this issue. Permit me to make a few comments.

Obama Was Born in the United States

Monday, December 8, 2008 11:30 AM

By: Ronald Kessler

For months, I have been bombarded by e-mails claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya and therefore does not meet the constitutional requirements to be president. I have also received hundreds of e-mails from readers asking why I do not expose the truth about his birth.

The truth is that Obama was born in Hawaii. Hawaii, by law, does not make original birth certificates public, and this has enabled conspiracy theorists to claim that there is something nefarious about the circumstances of Obama's birth.

Instead, it provides those born in Hawaii with a so-called certification of their birth — also known as a short-form birth certificate — that lists the name of the baby and the date and place of birth but not additional details like the birth weight and the parents' hometowns.

As claims of a cover-up mounted on the Internet prior to the election, Obama posted a digitally scanned image of his original short-form birth certificate. But that enabled conspiracy theorists to say the image had been created by Photoshop. Obama then let FactCheck.org, a nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, view, handle, and photograph the short-form birth certificate at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago.

The "experts" at Factcheck.org are nonexsitent. If you investigate, you will find that these are people with undergraduate degrees in theatre and philosophy. There is no one on staff who has a technical background in microscopy or ink chemistry or fonts or Questioned Document examination. The claims that this study means anything are not particularly compelling.

Even more troubling is what the real experts say; real professionals including graduate degrees in technical subjects, licenses and decades of experience. One of them was the Forensic Document Expert who uncovered the "Dan Rather forged Bush letter" that ended Dan Rather's career. Take a look at just a couple of the affadavits of several experts who have examined these documents and found them disturbing, here and here.

The certificate has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport," FactCheck.org, headed by respected former Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson, concluded.

According to the State Department, that includes "your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records."

With the short form, there is no way to corroborate the information on the document by checking with the birth Hospital, or attending physician, etc. This document is not adequate for participating in the Hawaiian government programs. In some instances, the documents held by the Hawaii Health Department can be changed.

That led to claims by conspiracy theorists that the document shown to FactCheck.org was fake. However, on Oct. 31, the Hawaii Department of Health issued a press release saying that Chiyome Fukino, director of Hawaii's Department of Health, along with Alvin Onaka, the registrar of vital statistics, had "personally seen and verified that Hawaii's State Department of Public Health has Sen. Obama's original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures."

Fukino actually stated, "Therefore, I as Director of Health for the State of Hawai'i, along with the Registrar of Vital Statistics who has statutory authority to oversee and maintain these type of vital records, have personally seen and verified that the Hawai'i State Department of Health has Sen. Obama's original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures." Note that Fukino did not claim that Obama was born in Hawaii, or that the documents produced so far are valid documents; only that the Department of Health has valid documents on file. However, because it is possible to be born outside of Hawaii or even outside the US and still have a valid Hawaiian birth document, this statement does not mean much (in fact there is a box 7C on the Hawaiian long form certificate of live birth where one can register a foreign birth location).

Fukino told the Honolulu Advertiser that her department issued the press release after being barraged by calls about the issue, including some received by state officials at home in the middle of the night.

This has gotten ridiculous," said Fukino, a medical doctor.

Aside from that official verification of Obama's birth in Hawaii, back on Aug. 31, 1961, the Honolulu Advertiser ran an announcement of his birth.

Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama, 6085 Kalaniaaole Hwy., son, Aug. 4," the announcement said.

What exactly does a newspaper announcement prove? Anyone can pay for one and get one. And what is to say that the proud grandparents did not place ads in the newspaper about their first grandchild? Would seem fairly reasonable. The ad of course does not mention where the child was born.

What about claims that Obama’s paternal grandmother has said he was born in Kenya? At a dinner at the Ritz Carlton given by a conservative group, I happened to sit next to Philip Berg. Berg is the Philadelphia lawyer who is suing to have Obama disqualified as president because he is allegedly not a citizen of the United States.

A former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania, Berg has claimed that he has a tape recording of a phone conversation in which Obama’s paternal grandmother says she was in the delivery room in Kenya when he was born Aug. 4, 1961.

On Oct. 23, Berg told talk-radio host Michael Savage that he would release the tape “in a day or two.” To date, he has not done so.

At the dinner, I asked Berg how he knows that the voice on the tape is that of Obama’s grandmother. Berg was vague: He said he knows someone who vouches for the fact that the tape is authentic.

I have heard the recording. It is of course in Swahili. And I will try to get a link to the recording and affadavits and translation to post here. The fact that Kessler has not tracked this down just shows me that he did not try very hard to find it. Not much journalism there, I guess.

"Tape recordings" are never fool-proof evidence. For example, I remember a dinner my wife and I once had in Paris with a reporter for the National Enquirer while I was writing a book on arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Actor Richard Burton had just died, and the reporter said he was going to meet up later with other National Enquirer reporters at a bar so they could make up stories about Burton to run in the paper.

I knew a Williams & Connolly lawyer who reviewed the paper’s stories for libel before they were published. He had told me that he insisted on listening to any taped interviews that support sensitive stories.

“How do you get around that?” I asked the Enquirer reporter.

“Oh, that’s easy,” the reporter explained. “I get in a cab and pay the driver to say what I tell him to say into a tape recorder.”

On the radio show, Berg told Savage that he believes the birth certificate Obama showed FactCheck.org was forged.

“This has been a real sham he’s pulled off for the last 20 months," Berg told Savage.

Berg said he believes Obama's mother was near the end of her pregnancy and was unable to travel by plane, so Obama was born in Kenya. According to Berg, the family then traveled to Hawaii and registered the birth and submitted the birth announcement to the local newspaper.

Why would they do that? To any conspiracy theorist, the answer would be obvious: They knew that Obama would some day run for president.

This is just plain ridiculous. A strawman argument. And a silly one at that.

After all, Berg also believes that President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and other government officials had “adequate foreknowledge” of the 9/11 attack and “failed to warn the country or attempt to prevent it and have been covering up the truth of that day ever since,” according to another lawsuit he filed.

“I think that there is no question that President Bush knew about it [and] was very complicit in the events of 9/11,” Berg told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC on Jan. 28, 2004.

Berg has clients who are 911 families who are suing. And lawyers represent the views that their clients pay them to represent. That is what lawyers do. Even if they disagree with those views.

In response to Berg’s complaint about Obama’s citizenship, Obama and the Democratic National Committee asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. They said that Berg’s claims were “ridiculous” and “patently false” and that Berg had “no standing” to challenge the qualifications of a candidate for president, because he had not shown the requisite harm to himself.

Of course the defendents would attack Berg as having made "ridiculous" and "patently false" claims. Why would you expect anything else?

On Oct. 24, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick in Philadelphia dismissed Berg’s lawsuit. In a 34-page memorandum and opinion, the judge said Berg’s allegations of harm were “too vague and too attenuated” to confer standing on him or on any other voters.

Berg has appealed to the Supreme Court. A virulent Internet rumor claims that the court has agreed to take the case. In fact, as it does with all cases, the court has merely agreed to decide whether to take the case. Berg's petition is on the justices’ private conference list for today, Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, Berg has been collecting money through his Web site to support his case. When I asked him how much he has collected, he would not say.

If there were any basis for Berg’s claims, one would think that the John McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee would have supported the lawsuit or at least blasted out e-mails touting the case. In fact, a McCain campaign aide told me that McCain campaign lawyers had looked into the allegations about Obama’s birth and found them to be bogus.

I am working with some McCain campaign aides and Republican party officials who do not think they are bogus.

You would also think that Berg would be happy to be interviewed about the case by a journalist like me. But although he agreed to an interview at the conservative dinner, he has since failed to respond to my voicemails and e-mails asking for him to call.

Berg does not respond even to fellow lawyers at this point. He has been overwhelmed by the attention. And my team is well on its way to being overwhelmed as well.

Ever since President Bush toppled a man who killed 300,000 people, he has been the subject of vicious attacks and conspiracy theories from the left. Now is the time for the right to show that it will not tarnish itself by going down that road and that it will extend to the new president the fair play and respect Bush never received.

So we should just ignore the glaring problems in the interest of "fair play" and "respect"? Many on our team are from the left; Democrats, Green party supporters, Nader supporters, Clintonistas, Socialists etc. This is not a question of "left" or "right" but of law, and the truth. Projecting this issue onto the old red state-blue state paradigm is not helpful. And it is an example of just plain rotten journalism.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com.

Robert Stevens