07.27.09

5 Birther Myths Debunked

With the Obama birth-certificate conspiracy theorists—known as birthers—gaining more publicity by the day, The Daily Beast breaks down the movement’s biggest rumors, from the president’s birth announcement to his purported Islamic schooling.

With the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theorists—known as birthers—gaining more publicity by the day, The Daily Beast breaks down the movement’s biggest rumors, from the president’s birth announcement to his purported Islamic schooling.

1. The Birth Certificate. More than a year ago, the editors at FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan fact-checking group at the University of Pennsylvania, tracked down Obama’s original birth certificate, and posted nine photographs of it. “FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate,” the editors wrote. “We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false.”

2. The Birth Announcement. The Honolulu Advertiser ran a birth announcement for Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama on August 13, 1961, announcing the birth of a son on August 4.

3. The McCain Investigation. The McCain campaign probed the rumors and dismissed them. Trevor Potter, general counsel of the campaign, told The Washington Independent’s David Weigel: “To the extent that we could, we looked into the substantive side of these allegations…We never saw any evidence that then-Senator Obama had been born outside of the United States. We saw rumors, but nothing that could be sourced to evidence. There were no statements and no documents that suggested he was born somewhere else. On the other side, there was proof that he was born in Hawaii. There was a certificate issued by the state’s Department of Health, and the responsible official in the state saying that he had personally seen the original certificate. There was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, which would be very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance.”

4. The Pakistan Ruse. One claim made by the birthers is that since Obama traveled to Pakistan in 1981, when there was a travel ban against American citizens visiting the country, he could not be an American citizen. Except there was no travel ban. Obama did visit the South Asian country then—he even used the experience as an example of his foreign-policy bona fides during the campaign—but the trip was legal. The New York Times ran a story that year about traveling to Pakistan, and the U.S. consul general in Lahore wrote a letter to the newspaper encouraging “an influx of Americans who might have been inspired to come by [The Times] piece” to visit the country. FactCheck.org has located a U.S. Department travel advisory from 1981 concerning travel to Pakistan, which confirms that it was legal for Americans to visit.

5. The Indonesian Islamic School. Part of the conspiracy is tied to questions about Obama’s religious beliefs. Surely, birthers say, the fact that Obama attended an Islamic religious school while living in Indonesia casts doubt on his claims to being an American. Back in the winter of 2007, CNN visited the school Obama attended from 1967 to 1971. It was no madrassa, or fundamentalist school, the network reports. “It’s not [an] Islamic school. It’s general,” one of Obama’s classmates told CNN. “There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian... So that’s a mixed school.”

Xtra Insight: The Daily Beast’s Benjamin Sarlin On Presidential Conspiracies

Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.