Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Not to Deal with the Birthers

For the past two days this clip of David Shuster interviewing Orly Taitz, the leading figure in the campaign to convince Americans that Obama is ineligible to be president, has been available on a number of web sites including the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo.  It is a train wreck and the web-sites advertise it as such, but while many may delight in seeing their contempt for Orly Taitz confirmed, this is exactly the wrong way to deal with the so-called birthers.  For while polls show that the number of people who believe Obama was not born in the U.S is too big to ignore, confrontational interviews will not resolve the issue it all.  Rather they will confirm the birthers'  belief that they are being shut out of the debate, while giving them enough of a platform to make sure the controversy won't go away.

Sadly, I fear that American 24 hour news programing does not provide the kind of atmosphere that will work, but here are some thoughts.  First, let's start listening to the birthers in a way that gives them the sense that they are being heard.   If and when you watch this clip watch how Orly Taitz gives a plausible explanation for why without any assumptions about Obama's future life path his mother might have not felt it advantageous to want Obama's birth to be recorded as happening in Hawaii.  Yet, rather than follow up on that, David Shuster immediately poses a question intended to highlight the ex-post facto reasoning that is central to this, and most other conspiracy theories.    As such Dr. Taitz was entirely correct in saying she was not being allowed to make her argument.   Far better would be to have quietly asked about the claims that the current form of the birther conspiracy takes that assume that Obama's mother took a trip to Kenya which lasted so long that she had to remain there to give birth.  From there the interviewer can patiently ask about the evidence that Obama's mother took this alleged trip based on journalistic research about ideas about traveling pregnant circa 1960, etc..  Slow and steady wins the race, and any news show that was ready to sacrifice their 7 minute block programing could give this story its proper due without necessarily lending support to the birther conspiracy.