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Two cranks don't make a right

Not long after my post on the persistence of birtherism became available today, a couple of predictable comments surfaced.

One, a comment on the post itself, said:

John, you already had the argument already won on its merits; why play the shopworn race card? It's getting old to say that anyone who questions anything about Obama is a racist . Even when you're talking about truthers.

Besides, given the large plurality of Democrats with a psychotic belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories, may I suggest that those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones?

Another, on Twitter, said:

As have 9/11 truthers and Trig Palin truthers.

I’m going to suggest a little something about proportion.

I had never heard the crank theory that George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks until people started saying, “Well, all right about the birthers, but what about the rumor-mongering on the left?” Maybe I had let my lefty-Bolshie newsletter subscription lapse, but I never saw that that stuff got any particular currency.

Similarly, I was aware of only faint and scattered mentions of the canard that Sarah Palin was not really the mother of Trig. And when I did come across it, I thought it was reprehensible. Surely there is enough about Sarah Palin to criticize without dragging an inoffensive child into manufactured scandals.

The same with the second President Bush. It’s hardly necessary to go out of the way to find fault.

The thing is, the Bush 9/11 and Trig Palin rumors are like the other fringe conspiracy theories. They are out there, but they get no traction because sane, intelligent people pay no attention to them. The birther snake oil has gone mainstream. Prominent people—and I don’t mean that mountebank Donald Trump—have given it public credence.

So I’ll tell you what: When you can demonstrate that, say, half of the Democrats in America believe that George Bush was behind the September 11 attacks, or that Trig Palin is not Sarah Palin’s son, or that major figures in the Democratic Party have gone out of their way to give voice to the nonsense, then I will concede that I’ve gone overboard about the birthers.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:40 PM | | Comments (18)


Actually, John, I do know people on the Left who are convinced -- and have been since the beginning -- that 9/11 was an inside job. There are (at least) two camps regarding the Bush administration's involvement -- the MIHOP ("made it happen [on purpose]") camp and the LIHOP ("let it happen [on purpose]"). These are people who otherwise are quite rational and with whom I otherwise am in agreement, politics-wise. But there is no talking to them about this issue.

Admittedly, this is not a mainstream view on the Left, but it's not that uncommon, and it's just as hard to respond to rationally, since every piece of couterevidence is (as with all conspiracy theories) simply more proof of the cover-up. (It was a setback, tho only a temporary one, when the tapes were released that showed that the Pentagon had indeed been hit by an airplane and not, for example, by a cruise missle.)

Anyway, not to lend any credence to the birther thing or anything. Just that conspiracy theories are everywhere, on all sides, and exasperating no matter who's spouting them,

There is a superfluous "c" in the last sentence of your second to last paragraph. Also in that sentence, you point out that you are not speaking about Donald Trump. So, who are you being accusatory of?

In general, I think you're right, but not about the Palin/Trig thing. Andrew Sullivan has been pushing that for years now, enough so that Salon (yes, Salon) has been running articles trying to debunk it.
Furthermore, from an admittedly anecdotal survey of liberal journalist and co-workers, Palin/Trig trends closer to the "acceptable" birther theory than to nonsense.

I got this from a GOP operative from our local branch:

Michigan City DDS: "People in the federal government" can't be equated with "Bush", as the article you cite attempts to do.

And I would question whether thinking something is "somewhat likely" is the same as believing it.

No one I know has ever given any sign of believing the Bush-9/11 conspiracy line or the Palin-birth nonsense. Any mentions I've heard have been to ridicule them. And I work in a newsroom -- and we all know seedy Marxists can be expected there. From what I can figure out, the right wing talks about the supposed popularity of these beliefs among everyday Democrats and other crazed left-wingers and that supposedly makes it true.
I do, however, know conservatives who fervently believe (or claim to believe) that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim.
A lie told often enough becomes the truth to many.
[One man's experience.]

Could we please make an official declaration that "play the race card" is a tired old cliche and retire it? And "class war," too. Please. If it's not asking too much.

Class war isn't a tired cliche. It's the model for action from the right.

Rarely have I seen a better application of the term "mountebank."

Also, you're exactly right, John. There was never any need for Democrats and members of the left to mainstream any conspiracy theories about Bush II because he was, simply in and of himself, an obvious disaster. You never had to peek under the bed or dig through a closet - the horrors were chronicled every day on the front page of your newspaper.

Really, sometimes you'd be afraid to look: "Bush rescinds protection for bald eagles, Bush determined to drill in ANWR, Cheney furiously shredding documents..." No need to manufacture addition outrages.

But birtherism was the central plank of the GOP frontrunner's campaign, it was pushed daily by Fox News, it was the whisperstream of and National Review. Syndicated pundits pounded the drum weekly, and a bizarre woman named Orly Taitz had virtually instant access to any microphone to broadcast her ravings.

It was, frankly, embarrassing to see and it made our country's politics a worldwide laughingstock. And so now we're off to what? Obama's school records?

Well, from London it's certainly not making you look grown up.

The lead story in today's Independent, under the headline "The day America took leave of its senses", begins like this:

"Has there ever been a more absurdly surreal moment, even in US politics, that unchallengeable theatre of the absurd and the surreal? One moment, we were watching a property magnate, with one eye on the presidency, the other on his reality TV show ratings, and puffed up like a bullfrog, rejoicing on an airport tarmac in New Hampshire that America's President of two years had finally made public his birth certificate.

"The next, America's TV networks interrupted their schedules to cut to the White House, where that self-same President appeared to confirm the momentous fact: not that Barack Obama had indeed been born, but that the happy event indeed took place, as no sane person has ever doubted, on the unimpeachably American soil of Hawaii, one August evening in 1961."

To be fair, 9/11 truthers are nearly as prevalent on the right as they are on the left. The same polls that are wielded to argue that Democrats believe that conspiracy are nearly as condemning of Republicans. Much depends on when you pose the question: since Obama took office, Republicans have been converting themselves into 9/11 truthers in greater numbers.

Second, the anthrax scare was a terrorist campaign launched from within the federal government. Not *by* the government, but from someone inside it. So "people in the government" knowing in advance isn't that far-fetched. Heck, it is almost uncontroversial that they did have the warning in advance, but did not act on it. (See the "Bin ladin determined to strike in US" memo of Aug 2001; and the warnings about terrorist hijackings that summer; and warnings about suspects taking flying lessons but not caring to know how to land). Frankly, I think it's forgivable that the Bush administration didn't put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Third, there are huge differences in the quality and quantity of each side's conspiracy theories. No Democrat leaders push 9/11 trutherisms in the public sphere, or use it as a divisive political weapon to attack Republicans. But Republicans wield their conspiracies like axes in a horror flick. Moreover, consider the quantity of conspiracy theories. What Democrat conspiracy theories are out there? Practically none. Have you seen Jim Lehrer hyperventilating while pointing at an elaborate conspiracy diagram recently? I didn't think so. And how often does a Democrat leader’s use of the word Nazi result in being promoted to the front of the cable “news” and Sunday news shows? When Dick Durbin and Al Gore used the words “nazi” and “gulag” years ago, I recall it was very controversial, even to the left. But the casual slurs of the right result in greater adulation, instantly.

But every day there seems to be a new conspiracy taking hold on the right. Death panels were going to force seniors to justify their survival in front of a board of Obama administrators. Obama was sending coded messages to Muslim regimes and plotting to destroy our economy in order to grab power. Obama's "civil corps" was going to function as a Nazi secret service. Obama was arranging for UN camps to "reeducate" those who disagreed with him. Glen Beck’s daily program seems to manifest a brand new conspiracy every day, gobbled up without question by more viewers than all the “liberal” news shows combined.

PS: thanks for introducing me to the term "mountebank."


I'm mildly gobsmacked that today's (London) Independent opted to lead w/ a featured commentary on the dragged out Trump versus Obama media kerfuffle surrounding the President's birth certificate, and ipso facto, the validity of his U.S. birth.

Frankly, I would have thought the paper would be brimming almost exclusively (at least the front section) w/ all the over-the-top fuss-and-bother apropos the fast approaching royal nuptials.

I would venture to say that you with-it Brits are seemingly as enamored with, and curious about following the sideshow, 'sophomornonic' antics of our U.S. politicians and pop culture notables, as we Yanks (I'm technically Canadian HA!), are apparently thoroughly enthralled w/ all-things monarchial, particularly those gala weddings, and royals' domestic dustups.

Last evening I happen to have watched a delightfully fun interview w/ the hilarious Dame Edna (Everage), that charming, mauve-coifed, bespectacled Aussie dowager impersonator/ comedian, Barry Humphries, w/ host, (the Brit expat, former tabloid print journalist turned CNN high-profile talk show interviewer), Piers Morgan.

From the environs of Buckingham Palace, host Morgan queried 'the old gal' on a number of British royals topics, and her answers at times were surprisingly heart-felt, and serious, but thankfully her signature bubbly bawdiness, and cheeky wit came to the fore, as well.

At one point she claimed that for years she and the Queen have been on "very, very close terms", and often keep in touch. (I trust a little hyperbole there.) Piers broached the alleged rumor that at some point in time a younger Prince Charles seemed to have a romantic eye for Dame Edna herself. Feigning shy embarrassment she replied, "Yes, Charles does like the older ladies...... with plenty of hair........ oh, and in the right places, viewers. HA! HA!", as she stares into the camera w/ almost a Benny Hill-like naughty grin.

The entire interview was such a hoot, and Piers Morgan handled it beautifully, even putting on a bit of an occasional on-camera flirtatious air w/ the grand dame. HA!

Alas Picky old lad, do enjoy the Royal Wedding festivities in whatever manner you so choose. I suspect a few drams of the amber Laproaig elixir may be quaffed in honor of young William and fair Kate's momentous coupling........ or, just for the heck of it. HA!

Hopefully, the forecasted showers for Friday won't amount to more than a wee Scottish mist, and even a few timely shafts of sunshine beaming down on the joyous affair would be very nice touch, indeed.

(By-the-by, here in the U.S. we are currently dealing w/ the devastation and destruction of killer serial tornados in the Mid-west and Southeast of the nation. Much prefer the Scottish mists, if we had our drougthers (sp. ?). Very scary, indeed. And the official tornado and hurricane season here hasn't even begun. Mercy!)

Cheers, mate!


Ah, but it's The independent, which famously reported Princess Beatrice's birth in a one-sentence News in Brief hidden away somewhere.

It's not quite so po-faced these days, but it still tries not to overdo the slush.

A merry wedding morn to 'e.


Point well taken, old chap re/ the sometimes quirky, not always predictable workings of The independent. Sure ain't the London Times, eh?

Just a thought re/ their symbolic burial of Princess Beatrice's "one sentence" official birth announcement as a towards-the-back-page "News in Brief " item. As all avid Brit monarchy watchers are well aware, Beatrice's devil-may-care mom, ginger-haired Miss Sarah Ferguson (Duchess of York and divorced spouse of Prince Andrew), was never fondly embraced by most members of the royal family.

Perhaps this Royals' antipathy toward the unpredictable, seemingly carefree Sarah spilled over into the press, and could account for The Independent's clearly slighting the new-born princess (who at the time could care less HA!), but more tellingly, her proud parents. Just a theory.

I know Sarah Ferguson was very popular w/ many grassroots Royals aficionados, expressly for all the reasons that her fellow upper-crusters found her a tad boorish, and often lacking many of the social graces. As I recall she and Princess Diana were always very close, and shared one another's confidences, both having an innate sense of fun-and-frolic. Hardly a British royal virtue thru the ages.

Sadly, in most recent years Sarah Ferguson's strength of judgement, and personal character have been majorly tested, w/ that embarrassing sting revelation, where she was basically caught, red-handed, on-camera, trying to solicit tens-of-thousands of dollars (pounds) for 'audiences' w/ her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, who was apparently totally unaware of her devious chicanery. Very sad, indeed.

Sarah didn't even get an official invite to the 'Royal Bash', although both her daughters were at the grand event.

Picky, I'm heartened that you essentially enjoyed the Royal union of Kate & William. I truly believe they will do Britain proud, going forward. Just think, we still have young brother Harry waiting in the wings; not to mention Queen Elizabeth's upcoming 60th Anniversary bash. The mind truly reels HA!



No, it wasn't an anti-Sarah thing, Alex. The Independent had only been founded a couple of years before, and one of its defining policies was that it wouldn't waste its august columns on royal coverage or celebrity nonsense. So while the rest of the Press went gooey over Beatrice, the Indy stood firmly aloof. (Of course it gave them some useful publicity, too.)


Thanks for that helpful clarification re/ The independent's apparent slighting of royal babe Beatrice's birth. I'm heartened, at least that it wasn't predicated on a Sarah dissing scenario, although there was plenty of Fergie bashing going forward.......... yet perhaps not so much in the pages of the upstanding 'Independent', eh? IMO, a bit of a nasty personal tragedy all round, i'd say.

Over the past few decades since its (aspiring) high-principled formative years, has The Independent managed to retain its lofty editorial ideals, or has it gradually sunk to the level of most of the other dailies out there, who for their very fiscal survival these days must often appeal to the lowest common denominator, resorting to reporting 'infotainment'----that murky, sometimes mucky neither region of breezy reportage where pop culture, the ofttimes zany realm of politics, and the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for high-falutin' glitter-and-gossip tend to intersect?

(Can't believe that was one bloomin' sentence. Is there a copy editor in the house? Clearly a rhetorical question. HA!)

Picky, hope you're enjoying your post-Royal Wedding weekend, thus far. London must still be all atwitter. Such an almost hitch-free, grand, and memorable event. Your fair, and history-steeped city never looked better, and thankfully the weather----overcast w/ odd bits of sunshine----- cooperated wonderfully, w/ nary a raindrop in site. Smashing day all round. And don't get me started on that ravishing, beaming Kate....... and THE DRESS. WOW!!!!!

Here in L.A. we're in for a rather toasty spell w/ temps forecasted into the mid-to-high 80s F. (Never could get the hang of that "celsius" stuff. Canada switched to the celsius temp-reading system toward the end of the '70s when they officially went totally metric, just before I had emigrated to the U.S.. So I've never bothered to figure out the whole celsius bit. Oh well. My loss?)

Ta! Ta! for now, mate.


The American - and elsewhere - press coverage of anything reminds me of a Jacques Tati film. The camera just swings from platform to platform. His efforts are amusing, however. Theirs are simply pathetic. (What in tarnation is an 'Orly Taitz." And why?)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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