Viral Emails have Obama's Attention

by: Daniel De Groot

Sat May 17, 2008 at 13:12

Hurting in Kentucky:

Obama blames Fox News, e-mail for likely loss in Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, facing a likely defeat in next Tuesday's primary election, won't travel to Kentucky before the voting, but said he hopes to have much more time to win over Kentucky voters before the November general election.

He also blamed Fox News for disseminating "rumors" about him and said that that and e-mails filled with misinformation that have been "systematically" dispersed have hurt him in Kentucky.

Now I'm not really in a position to judge whether Obama is just offering politically expedient excuses, or whether he has polling showing that his popularity in Kentucky has been particularly hurt by the specific charges found in the most popular Obama smear-mails.  Having been studying this issue since I wrote about it last week, I tend to believe him.  I can't speak to particular impacts in Kentucky, but I've been able to put some figures down to give some scope to this problem.  I think by more accurately describing the problem will put us closer to discussing a solution.  If not that, at least, what a solution would look like, and what it would be able to do.

PEW did some polling on this in March:

The impression that Barack Obama is Muslim crosses party lines with 10% of registered voters overall, including 14% of Republicans, 10% of Democrats and 8% of independents, telling [a] recent Pew poll that they think the Illinois senator is Muslim, compared with 53% who correctly identify him as Christian and about a third who say they don't know what his religious beliefs are. Fully 79% of the public say they have rumors that the Democratic presidential candidate is Muslim.
Daniel De Groot :: Viral Emails have Obama's Attention
Specific Analysis on the Muslim Rumours

Now some may find that 10% figure reassuringly low, I do not.  While it is better than the 60% of Americans who believed at least one of the three lies about Iraq, that set of misbeliefs was the result of one of (if not the) greatest propaganda/marketing misinformation campaign in history.  So that's something of a "high water" mark for a literate, educated population with access to information  believing falsifiable claims.  This 10% is the result of nothing more than millions of people forwarding emails to their friends and colleagues on their own volition.  I'd like to make something of the figure that 79% of people had heard the muslim rumours, but then it has been discussed on television and print media too much to infer anything reasonable.  You might also use that fact to dispute the significance of the 10% believing the rumours but I don't:  Most of the television and print coverage of the rumours actively debunks them.  Sure, Fox News did the madrassa story, and that sort of thing helps account for the higher proportion of Republicans believing them, but not the 10% of Democrats and 8% of independents who do.  

In fact, absent the MSM debunkings of the email rumours, I think the figure would be higher.  After all, Obama was actively rebutting the madrassa story Fox played in January of 2007.  His campaign site has a lengthy page of rebuttals including press mentions of Obama's Christianity back to 2004.  So despite at least 18 months of push-back from Obama, his supporters, and legions of mentions in the mainstream press, still approximately 30 million Americans believe Obama is a muslim.  That's the population of Canada.

What about Wright?

I also guess that some reading this will want to point out that the 10% figure will have dropped somewhat as a silver lining to the Wright affair.  I expect that's somewhat true (though not as much as you'd hope, we've seen enough cognitive dissonance these past few years, and know enough about authoritarian personalities to know it is possible to believe "Obama is a muslim" and "Obama attends a racist black church that hates America" at the same time, despite the obvious logical contradiction).  As I say above, the muslim lie is important for 2008, but it's not all that's going on.  And if it takes a media blitzkrieg like the Wright storm to debunk one of these rumours once it catches on, then we're really in trouble because getting the media to do that on command isn't exactly our forte.

Broaden the scope - the Problem is larger than Obama

I've been focusing thus far in this piece on the Obama/Muslim emails because they are the most famous and currently politically germane, and thus they have the most attention and meaningful information to them.  But I'm still alarmed about the problem generally, as there are a ton of other email forwards that aren't about Obama that are flying under the radar of any organized push-back and freely poisoning minds against progressive politics.  The muslim emails just bring a general problem into focus.  I mean, we're not talking about a matter that is difficult to ascertain the truth on.  Believing Saddam has a WMD program at least had some basis as at one point, he actually did, and it's not like in 2003 you could quickly ascertain the truth in a 5 minute google search.  Saddam could have had a program.  The available evidence didn't point to it, but it wasn't something anyone could be certain about.  Obama's religion is easy to check.  I'm even more concerned about the endless stream of right wing garbage that flies around as email forwards.  Here's one I got not so long ago:

The next time you hear a politician use the word BILLION in a casual manner, think about whether you want the 'politicians' spending YOUR tax money.

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into some perspective in one of its releases.

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.
A billion days ago no one walked on the earth on two feet.
A billion dollars ago was 8 hours & 20 minutes at the rate our government is spending it.

While this thought is still fresh in our brain, let's take a look at New Orleans. It's amazing what you can learn with some simple division.

Louisiana Senator, Mary Landrieu, is presently asking the Congress for $250 BILLION to rebuild New Orleans. Interesting number, what does it mean?

Well, if you are one of 484,674 residents of New Orleans (every man, woman, child), you each get $516,528. OR ... If you have one of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, your home gets $1,329,787! OR ... If you are a family of 4, y our family gets $2,066,012!

Washington D.C., Ottawa, Canada
Are all your calculators broken??

So of course, Landrieu wasn't alone in that request, she was joined by Republican David Vitter, which somehow gets left out of this email.  Also the money wasn't just for New Orleans, but the whole state of Louisiana, and I suspect for other Katrina affected areas out-of-state, so already the lies are piling up.  The email goes on with a lengthy whinge about taxes I'll edit for sanity:

Tax his land,
Tax his wage,
Tax the bed in which he lays.

Tax his tractor,
Tax his mule,
Teach him taxes is the rule.


And when he's gone, We won't relax,
We'll still be after the inheritance TAX!!

We had absolutely no national debt,
had the largest middle class in the world and
Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

What happened?
Can you spell 'politicians'?
And I still have to 'press 1' for English.

I hope this goes around THE USA and Canada at least 100 times

What the hell happened?????

So it hits all the usual conservative issues, managing to bash taxation, politicians, the inheritance tax, immigrants, reinforce patriarchical gender roles and manage to appeal to some mythical golden era before taxes.  You know, the gilded age, when children worked 12 hour days and smallpox was a constant threat.  Good times for all I'm sure.  Upton Sinclair wrote books about how great it all was then.

This is typical of these emails and I know I'm hardly unique in receiving them.  Anyone who knows a conservative or two probably does.  A constant barrage of messaging reinforcing conservative ideological framing and viewpoints.  All passing around for free.  We sometimes remark our surprise that after 8 years of disastrous Republican mis-rule that McCain is even vaguely competitive.  I wonder how much stuff like this has to do with that.  Viewpoints this stupid don't survive very well in isolation, but when they are constantly reaffirmed, they can persist.  

This is going over long, so next up, some more facts and figures on the problem we face.

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the only good news (4.00 / 3)
is that apparently to understand a billion you accept evolution, or at least an old earth.  (It may be an interesting example of holding two contradictory ideas at once.)

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

i wonder whether that horrendous ny times op ed had an impact (4.00 / 1)
or it's just a sign of a broader campaign that was minimal in it's specific effects.  for those who haven't seen it, he's alleged to be not just a muslim, but a bad muslim. lol!

it would be funny, if it weren't so goddamn offensive.

You have to figure Obama has campaign staff .. (0.00 / 0)
looking at this stuff .. that they know about it ... I am wondering why it has took them so long to respond .. if anything .. to expose it for the BS that they are(because like that one guy from WV they showed .. people do believe it)  

[ Parent ]
Ads emphasizng Christian faith in Ken. (0.00 / 0)
McClatchy earlier this week had pointed out that Obama HAS been running ads to counter Muslim rumors. Of course, I'm with others here that "Muslim" is probably code for something darker.
     But the rumors haven't gone entirely unaddressed, at any rate.

[ Parent ]
at this point (4.00 / 2)
muslim doesn't need to be code for anything.  the equation muslim = terrorist = Other is just deeply embedded enough in both western history and the post 9-11 climate that they can just say "Muslim" and that's good enough to conjure all kinds of shit.


[ Parent ]
Sure. (4.00 / 1)
My point is that given the pervasiveness of the rumor despite its wholesale groundlessness, people may be saying "Muslim" when they really mean "not like me."
  All the ads in the world are unlikely to disprove that he's a "Muslim" if that's the case.  

[ Parent ]
Yeah, He COULD Be A Presbeterian (0.00 / 0)
or a Methodist.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
it's a bit more than "not like me" (0.00 / 0)
it's more like "not like me and part of a fifth column supporting people who want to kill me."

[ Parent ]
Good meme-killers would be useful (4.00 / 3)
Let's say someone says "I know he's a Muslim because blah, blah, blah". One could answer, "No he's not, because blah, blah, blah", but this just starts an argument about who-knows-what alleged facts.

I saw a better, road-tested answer on a TPM thread. To paraphrase:

"If he was a Muslim, McCain would say it himself, but he won't because it's nothing but a lie."

This leaves little room for argument. Not no room at all, but I think it would come down to McCain being ignorant, or afraid of something, or keeping secrets -- very different from arguing about Indonesian schools, or about somebody's credibility.

A reply to the Muslim-lie: "If Obama was Muslim, McCain would say it himself, but he won't because it's nothing but a lie." Little room to argue here.

[ Parent ]
"Obama's a muslim" (4.00 / 2)
is code for, "He's black."

Even the most racist person probably would have some hard time justifying to themselves not voting for someone based on the color of their skin, but allowing yourself to believe he's a muslim makes easier to be prejudiced in a more "socially acceptable" way.

It's not ignorance.  Everybody knows he attended a Christian Church.  But, it's more useful to believe the smears, since it gives you cover for your bigotry.

We are all under the assumption that these false beliefs are the result of ignorance or stupidity.  Hardly.  The misconceptions are deliberate.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

no single explanations suffice (4.00 / 1)
Even today, 3-4% answer "don't know" when asked their opinion of George Bush.  Consider the people Jay Leno manages to find in the Jaywalking bits.

There's genuine unfettered ignorance aplenty out there.

Besides, racism doesn't exist in a vacuum either.  Racist views increase or decrease if they are encouraged or disdained.  See Neiwert's blog for a lot more on this.  Racist views decreased because dedicated people fought them.

[ Parent ]
Well, Of Course He's Lying About His Religion! (4.00 / 1)
We all know how those people are!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
EXACTLY (4.00 / 2)
My MIL, who otherwise despises and has always despised Bush, and does not want to vote for McCain, recently started spouting some real "black helicopter" stuff about Obama's "Muslim background."  Stuff about we're at war with Muslim terrorists and they'll go after Obama's family.  Couldn't quite get her to explain why they're any less likely to go after Bush's family, that is after all why we have a Secret Service.  Not sure if my FIL buys it, he maintains an embarrassed silence.

But for my MIL, "Muslim" is very clearly a euphemism for "nigger."  I doubt she's consciously aware of it herself.

Clinton barely touched the surface of this.  You can be sure McCain and his surrogates are going to go in with a pneumatic drill.

It's going to get really really ugly in the fall.

[ Parent ]
The reason that they will go after his family.... (0.00 / 0) because Obama is an apostate... in other words, he abandoned the Muslim faith and now must be killed...

....according to the false smears...  I have a wingnut friend who explained it to me...

The McCain camp will stay away from racist stuff, but the rest of the GOP and their sympathisers are already playing it up.  They will probably also go underground like they did in 2004 with, "Kerry will ban the bible"

Here's the deal, though...  A large group of Christian ministers of various denominations are planning a giant outreach effort to churches across the country to explain the reality to congregations across the country.  This is a key effort in helping us fight the smears.  It's been planned for awhile, actually, and it already in progress!

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

[ Parent ]
give me a break (4.00 / 1)
This is a blow out for Clinton.  Trying to rationalize it all as just some smear or magically everyone is now a racist is truly ridiculous.  It's a blowout.  

The Economic Populist

Oh (4.00 / 1)
Is this one of the states that counts, then? I keep losing track.

[ Parent ]
yeah well (4.00 / 1)
I don't really give a shit why Obama is losing in Kentucky.  The email smears are a part of it and they are a problem generally, and for Clinton too.

Here's another email I got today from my source of such things:

We in Canada cannot figure out why you are even bothering to hold an election in USA?

On one side, you have a bitch who is a lawyer, married to a
lawyer . . . and a lawyer who is married to a bitch who is a lawyer.

On the other side, you have a war heroo married to a good looking woman with big tits who owns a beer distributorship.

Is there a contest here???

If it wasn't attacks on Obama it would be full power turned on Clinton.  As I argued in the last diary, this is being done on purpose and is somewhat directed in the crafting and initial seeding of these emails.

[ Parent ]
correction (4.00 / 1)
I do care why Obama might be losing in Kentucky, just not in this diary.  That came off more acerbic than I liked, rereading it...sorry.

[ Parent ]
So, why is it a blowout, Robert? (0.00 / 0)
I mean there has to be a reason why Appalachian areas don't like him, whereas the rest of the country gives him strong support.

It will probably be a blowout, yes... but, you haven't answered why?

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

[ Parent ]
Bad headline (4.00 / 3)
That article has a bad headline. Obama isn't saying that he would win Kentucky if it wasn't for those emails. He's rightly complaining about unfair attacks.

WHAT $150 Billion??? (4.00 / 1)
I just did a few Google searches and could find no trace whatsoever of Landrieu asking for $150 billion in relief.  A search of Landrieu and "$150 billion" on .gov sites returned less than 20 hits.

The closest anything came was a document (here) that put total losses at $150 billion--which says nothing about the cost of infrastructure needs before the hurricane that could have significantly reduced the damage in advance.

I also found, in another search, where Landrieu was cutting through the Bush BS about how much money had been spent. (here) It turned out that of the $1110 billion that was being tossed around, less than $16 billion had actually gone for rebuilding.

So this email doesn't even appear to have a kernal of truth to it.

p.s. The vast plurality of hits for Landrieu and "$150 billion" had to do with Bush's "stimulus" package.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

$250 billion (4.00 / 1)
Not $150.  I thought the number seemed ridiculous but it turns out to be not wholly false.

Just that the email alters who it's for, and who was asking for it to make it into a sly partisan attack.

[ Parent ]
Dang! That's What I Get For Trying A Day Without Coffee! (4.00 / 1)
It's just ridiculously hot, and I didn't think I needed it!

$150 billion, $250 billion, what's the diff?  Right?

Okay then. Yes. Googles much better.  But it's years and years old.  I remembered that Landrieu had some big figure early on--as was clearly called for.  But looking back at it now, I see it was a $10-year state rebuilding plan, and $70 billion was in tax breaks.  Sounds like the same old unremarkable DLC style bolluxing one would normally expect.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
yeah, 2005 (0.00 / 0)
And I just got the email this week.  These things live a long long time.

[ Parent ]
Who tracks this stuff? (4.00 / 3)

Last fall's Nation article mentioned a site that collected these emails,  Are there any other attempts to collect and compare notes on this garbage?    We might find some interesting patterns.

John McCain thinks we haven't spent enough time in Iraq

great! (0.00 / 0)
I had hoped something like that existed.  I didn't find it when researching this, but I'm glad to know it's there.

[ Parent ]
Actually, Snopes Has This One (0.00 / 0)
The wingnuts are so prolific, you can't expect Snopes to have them all. But once I got the number right, Snopes popped up right away on my search.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
the problem with snopes (4.00 / 1)
And at my first glance of the right wing dad site, is that no one is tracking this on a systemic level and publishing statistics on it.  

How many people receive each of these emails?  How many believe them?  It would be nice to put better than educated guesses behind these figures.

But 10% of the populace was convinced of an utter falsehood, reaching across party affiliation.  It's not trivial.

[ Parent ]
Yep. (4.00 / 1)

It would be nice to have that data. It's surprising that there isn't a social scientist keeping an eye on this - surely it would make for a great dissertation?  The guy who runs has now been doing this long enough to see the same rumors come around targeting different Democratic frontrunners.

Have you seen any numbers on what percentage of likely voters fell for this? Was there any exit polling that asked primary/caucus voters about Obama's religion? It might give us a better handle on the problem. 

Hayes' must read article in the Nation  comes as close as you can to drawing a direct line between these emails and the right wing slime machine, given the available evidence. It's so ironic: email mudslinging appears to be the one area in which the right wing is besting us with these crazy modern intertubes.

John McCain thinks we haven't spent enough time in Iraq

[ Parent ]
Information Literacy (4.00 / 2)
Information Literacy is incredibly important and needs to be a mandatory class in HS.  It is a life skill in these times of the internets and (no) truth in advertising.  

Librarians have been freaking out about it for awhile.  Working the reference desk at our downtown library was an interesting experience.  Showing folks how to find information and then teaching them the important next step of evaluating the reference, it should be the American way.

The crazy emails are the ones that include a sentence about how it is verified to be true on snopes.....and then you go to snopes and it is totally false.

Do you think the younger gens are more savvy when it comes to getting info from emails?  I think so, but I also think the propoganda/lies/bullshit will just get slicker unless we have some serious information literacy training for Americans.

maybe he lost KY (0.00 / 0)
because he didn't go there enough, maybe it is because he did not address their concerns. The GOP hasn't even begun to go after Obama. He has not received a tenth of the attacks HRC has been receiving for years. Randi Rhodes called her a whore for crying out loud.

This idea that Obama would be strong if Clinton would just refrain from attacking him is pure fabulism.

and who (4.00 / 3)
Is promoting that idea here?

I dislike single cause theories anyway.  Some people won't vote for Obama in KY because of what you said, some won't because they wrongly believe him to be a muslim and wrongly fear what that would portend.

And the GOP has begun to go after him.  Most definitely.  These smearmails are being written and crafted and sent out.  Some crop up organically but it is difficult to conceive that people of the Karl Rove sort are not orchestrating stuff like this.  They use "angry black man" voice to do fake Democratic robo-calls, they push vote suppression voter-ID laws, they have no principles.  It's only too easy to write a few lies about Democrats and have them spread around the internet.

[ Parent ]
Too Bad... (1.33 / 3)
you weren't and aren't speaking out about the terrible misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Apparently the liberal elite feels that racism trumps sexism. So much for progressive values and ideals. When it's somebody you hate (Clinton), it's see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.

This from progressives who also continue to create the meme that WVWV is racist and disenfranchises voters.

I think it's sad that emails like this get circulated, but I have to say: Obama, his surrogates and his supporters stepped in it big-time when they started playing every card in the deck: age, income, geography, race, gender, to get what they wanted. Is it any surprise then that it comes back to bite you?

Come again? (4.00 / 2)
I have spoken out against sexism directed at Hillary where I've encountered it, and defended Hillary supporters in this blog from unfair troll ratings (here for example) as well as at DailyKos.

It's true I have not diaried specifically on the subject.  But the subject here is email forwards, of which "Obama is a Muslim" is the clearest and most successful example.  If "Hillary is a lesbian" was polling at 10% I would be talking about that.

What specifically would you like me to speak out against?  Where are your diaries on the subject?

[ Parent ]
Forget it... (0.00 / 0)
...for Clinton supporters, the act of supporting Hillary is misogyny, no matter what the reason.  Don't like her war vote?  Misogyny!  Don't like her being Fox News' best friend?  Misogyny!  Don't like her legislative record?  Misogyny!  Don't like her gas tax?  Misogyny!

There is no reasoning with people who feel this way.  Let them sulk.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

[ Parent ]
Obviously (4.00 / 2)
Talking about racism means you don't care about misogyny.

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[ Parent ]

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