The birthers made him do it.
The White House did something remarkable on Wednesday morning, releasing President Obama’s long-form birth certificate in an effort to tamp down talk that is based entirely on conspiratorial nonsense.
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That’s right: Even though every news organization that has examined the matter has concluded that Barack Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961, POTUS was forced to play defense on the matter.
You can thank Donald Trump, who single-handedly revived the faux controversy by making it a centerpiece of his presidential flirtation.
“I’m proud of myself,” The Donald declared in New Hampshire. “I’ve accomplished something nobody else has been able to accomplish.” Now, he says, “the press can stop asking me questions” about the issue, as if he hadn’t pushed it. Obama, said Trump, “should have done it a long time ago.”
Bragging aside, it does make Trump look like he is driving the agenda and forced the White House to react.
In a way, you can also thank the media, which loved to flog this issue even as journalists said there was absolutely, positively nothing to it. There were, among other things, the two birth announcements in Honolulu papers days after the future president was born.
By bringing out the president himself to address the non-issue, the administration is blotting out any other news he planned to make today. ( Panetta to the Pentagon? Petraeus to CIA? Yawn.)
Obama told reporters he has watched with “bemusement” as the birther controversy has dragged on for more than two years. “I’ve been puzzled at the degree to which this thing has just kept on going.”
And in a jab at the 24/7 media, he said that with a crucial budget debate going on, “the dominant news story…was about my birth certificate.” He said the country can’t “get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers…We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I have better stuff to do.”
Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer put it this way: “The president believed the distraction over his birth certificate wasn’t good for the country. It may have been good politics and good TV, but it was bad for the American people and distracting from the many challenges we face as a country.”
White House correspondents were surprised at an early-morning briefing as the “Certificate of Live Birth” was released. The White House appeared to be capitulating to Trump’s demands after years of calling the debate "ridiculous" and "ludicrous" and "distracting."
"This went from the nether regions of the Internet to mainstream political debate," Pfeiffer told the half-full briefing room. For several beats, reporters sat silent, not sure what to ask, or even think, of the White House answering calls from the fringe right about an issue Obama's campaign said was settled back in 2008.
If Obama’s gambit works, the birther business evaporates in a day or two. If he miscalculated, he’s just fanning the flames.
With polls showing that nearly half of Republicans didn’t believe Obama was born in this country, perhaps the White House had to find a way to change the subject. But there’s something depressing about the president having to orchestrate a media offensive to combat an outright lie.
(Daniel Stone contributed to this report.)
Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.