This is the second in the new series “In Depth,” longer reflections on the events of the day. In this post, Gary Alan Fine, examines the problematic relationship between truth and politics. He considers “rumors, doubtful truth claims, misleading information, and, yes, even lies,” using the case of President Barack Obama as a provocative case study. The post begins on this page, but you can go to the full post by clicking here. -Jeff
In January 2008, during the Presidential primary season, a man by the name of Larry Sinclair posted a video on YouTube that claimed that Illinois State Senator Barack Obama had supplied him with cocaine and that they had sexual relations in the back of a limousine. Mr. Sinclair subsequently took a lie detector test, which, seemed to suggest that he was telling the truth. This was a powerful claim, particularly since now four years later few Americans have ever heard of it. Mr. Sinclair appeared on the Jeff Rense radio talk show and his story was posted on the Drudge Report and other political websites interested in alternative knowledge and conspiracies.
Early on the Obama campaign realized that they would be beset by a torrent of rumors. Perhaps, this was because of the historic nature of his candidacy. Perhaps this was a function of the bitter political strategies of his opponents. Perhaps, it was a function of the Internet as an unregulated site for absurd claims, or perhaps, this was politics as currently played. To cope with these rumors, the Obama campaign established a website, “Fight the Smears,” with the goal of helping voters to “Learn the Truth about Barack Obama.” Or at least, the truth as the Obama campaign claimed it to be. The website claimed that the truth included that “the McCain campaign is maliciously distorting Barack’s strong record on crime,” and “Barack Obama is a committed Christian and not a Muslim.” Both political opinions and rumors are targeted on this website.
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