What The Huck?
WorldNetDaily, NewsBusters, and Newsmax take different approaches to Mike Huckabee's remarks on President Obama, from whitewashing them to complaining they didn't go far enough.
By Terry Krepel
Possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's remarks on Steve Malzberg's radio show that President Obama grew up in Kenya tended to get attention in the ConWeb based on the particular proclivities of a ConWeb component: The Media Research Center's NewsBusters division sought to spin the remarks away, WorldNetDaily complained that Huckabee wasn't fully embracing his birther dark side, and Newsmax chose to perpetuate a related falsehood about Obama.
The MRC's point man on Huckabee, NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard, began by furiously spinning to deny any such link, howling in a March 1 post that MSNBC hosts "cherry-picked" Huckabee "in order to depict the possible Republican presidential candidate as a birther."
But Sheppard didn't explain how Huckabee's statement about Obama growing up in Kenya -- which he admitted was "100 percent wrong" -- is not linked to Huckabee's subsequent statement about how Obama "probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."
The problem here is that Huckabee didn't just say that Obama was raised in Kenya -- he made specific reference to the Mau Mau Revolution, claiming that Obama, by virtue of his upbringing, would have a very different understanding of it than Westerners. That's much different than accidentally saying "Kenya" when you meant to say "Indonesia."
The Washington Post added:
Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony, known as the Dutch East Indies. The British controlled Malaysia, which is kind of close to Indonesia, but the Mau Mau uprising took place in Kenya in the 1950s. Churchill, the British prime minister when the uprising erupted in 1952, put it down and Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was detained during the conflict.
That's not an area, however, that Sheppard seemed interested in exploring.
Sheppard dutifully repeated Huckabee's defense that when he said Obama grew up in Kenya, he really meant to say that Obama grew up in Indonesia, and that in his newly released book, "clearly what I wrote was about his childhood in Indonesia, about his Kenyan father and grandfather who he says was tortured by the Brits during the Mau Mau revolution. All of that is spelled out." In fact, Media Matters found that not only did Huckabee's book not "spell out" the story of Obama's childhood in Indonesia on the page Huckabee specified it was on, the word "Indonesia" appears nowhere at all in the book.
Sheppard then related the story told by Obama's grandmother that his grandfather was jailed during the Kenyan independence movement, adding:
This report was all the rage that month in 2008, even getting quoted by the far-left website the Huffington Post.
Both Huckabee and Sheppard got this wrong. Salon's Justin Elliott, unlike Huckabee and Sheppard, actually researched the issue, pointing out that Obama’s family was never a part of the Mau Mau rebellion, and the prison time his grandfather served took place three years before the rebellion began. Elliott also quoted historian David Anderson about events in 1950s Kenya, when the Mau Mau rebellion occurred:
To portray the Obama family as being part of Mau Mau is stir-fry crazy. Let me explain why: The Obama family come from western Kenya, which is about as different from Nairobi and the Kikuyu area as Utah is from New York City. And it's almost as far way. They come from an area where there was no rebellion, there was no Mau Mau. So while his father and his grandmother may well have been nationalists -- I'm sure they were -- they weren't directly involved in the Mau Mau rebellion.
Elliott summed up Huckabee’s (and Sheppard's) apparent views on the issue:
So a fleshed-out version of Huckabee's theory would go like this: Obama's grandfather hated the British because he was (supposedly) tortured in prison under the colonial regime a few years before the Mau Mau uprising. Therefore, President Obama must take a different view of the Mau Mau uprising -- in which his family played no part -- than Huckabee, who apparently supports the brutal measures used by the British to defeat the rebellion. And because of all that, Obama replaced a bust of Winston Churchill -- who himself wanted a peaceful solution to Mau Mau -- with a bust of Abraham Lincoln.
All of which makes Sheppard's defense that Huckabee merely made "a simple mistake the man has already acknowledged and apologized for" nonsensical because Obama's upbringing in Indonesia has nothing whatsoever to do with the Mau Mau rebellion.
Sheppard seemed to be growing weary of figuring out how to defend Huckabee. He started off his March 5 NewsBusters post by trying to go after George Will's Washington Post column criticizing Huckabee and pointing out the dearth of plausible Republican presidential candidates. Sheppard first attempts to dismiss Will as someone who is "no stranger to leaving the reservation," but then finds himself approvingly quoting Chris Matthews -- who just a few days earlier Sheppard was bashing as a "shill" and a "so-called journalist" for his "multiple Obamagasms" -- saying that people care more about the economy than fabulism about Obama's background. Sheppard continued:
This battle over Obama's background may have had its place in 2008 despite many on the right believing the fight never occurred because the junior senator from Illinois and his devotees in the media didn't let it happen.
That could be seen as more spinning for Huckabee by trying to portray the questions Huckabee raised as not worthy of coverage. But later, Sheppard is fully agreeing with Will:
Sitting presidents are difficult to beat. Despite the ongoing housing crisis and high unemployment, Obama's favorability rating has remained quite high, making defeating him even tougher.
Sheppard is throwing Huckabee under the bus, even if he won't come right out and admit that's what he's doing.
He took it all back, though, in a March 7 post bashing Matthews for comparing a column by George Will criticizing Huckabee "to William F. Buckley Jr. banning anti-Semitic writers from the National Review in the '50s" -- a column whose sentiments Sheppard ultimately agreed with. Sheppard ridiculed Matthews' comparison, then retreated to spin mode:
No matter what Matthews thinks of the current White House resident, he is indeed one man. Gingrich and Huckabee are entitled to their opinions of this man which, contrary to what Matthews and other pathetic so-called journalists routinely claim, are not borne of racism.
If Sheppard agrees with Will, why is he working to dismiss what Huckabee said as old news and yet valid opinions (if not ultimately helpful to the GOP in regaining the White House)?
Sheppard then sniffed: "I'd say that Matthews and his bosses should be ashamed of themselves for making such a comparison, but that seems futile." The same thing could be said about Sheppard's partisan shamelessness.
WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, was initially delighted by Huckabee's remarks; Joe Kovacs devoted a March 1 article to repeating the remarks and how Huckabee thinks growing up in Kenya "has helped form the president's worldview." One thing Kovacs didn't do: explicitly state that the claim is false.
While Kovacs does note that Huckabee's spokesman later said that he "meant to say the president grew up in Indonesia," at no point did he point out that there's no truth to Huckabee's statement that Obama grew up in Kenya -- even WND has not made that claim. Instead, Kovacs launched into standard WND birther boilerplate. which is at odds with Huckabee's later statement that "I don't believe there is an issue with Barack Obama's birth certificate."
Jack Cashill chimed in with his March 3 column, asserting he hadn't gone nearly far enough:
No reason for any of it. Let me here take Huckabee at his word. "I would love to know more," he told Malzberg. Well then, Mr. Huckabee, let your education begin.
More likely, the first Republican candidate to do that will end up a lot like Cashill -- stuck spinning goofy conspiracy theories somewhere in the Midwest.
Joseph Farah's March 5 column is an open letter to Huckabee challenging his claim that if there was really some dirt in Barack Obama's past, Hillary Clinton would have used it against him during the 2008 presidential primary:
First of all, you seem to have a very high regard for the Clintons. That worries me. Should we just have the Clintons determine for the nation who is qualified to serve as president instead of some legitimate controlling legal authority according to the specific constitutional criteria? Do you really believe the Clintons are infallible even with regard to political campaigning?
Farah and WND, of course, have repeatedly misled and lied about those "central issues." Nevertheless, Farah takes a whack at Huckabee for falsely claiming that Obama grew up in Kenya:
Could it be, at this late date, you are still so woefully ill-informed about Obama's actual story?
Farah, it seems, would rather base it on the hateful rantings from a fringe website. That's not an improvement.
Farah teed off on Huckabee again in his March 9 column, grousing that "Huckabee assumes that the Clinton smear machine is so efficient that it could never possibly miss a vulnerability in an opponent," adding of the Clintons: "They're creeps nothing more, nothing less. They got away with murder, time and again, because the Big Media loved them."
Newsmax, though, was content with perpetuating a falsehood it have previously treated as fact. Jim Meyers wrote in a March 2 article:
Malzberg noted that Huckabee was referring to a bust of Winston Churchill, a gift to the White House from Britain, that Obama ordered returned after he took office.
In fact, Obama did not order the Churchill bust to be returned. The British Embassy confirmed that the bust was "uniquely lent" to Bush, and was scheduled to be returned at the end of Bush's term. According to the Associated Press, the bust is now in the White House residence -- in other words, it hasn't been returned at all.
Why would Meyers embrace such an obvious falsehood? Perhaps because Newsmax is where the falsehood got started. As ConWebWatch detailed, a March 2009 Newsmax column by James Humes purported to quote Obama saying of the bust, "Get that goddam thing out of here." But there is no evidence whatsoever to back up Humes' claim that Obama said anything like this. Rather than retract the column and apologize, Humes merely edited his column to state that the claim "was never fully substantiated, despite frequent repetition on radio talk shows." But that's a lie too; Humes never identified any talk show host who made the claim, or where specifically he picked it up from.
Humes even concocted the Mau-Mau theory to back up his illegitimate claim: "Perhaps Obama, who grew up in Kenya, took umbrage at Prime Minister Churchill’s actions in 1953 of wiping out the Mau-Mau, the Kenyan terrorists who made a specialty of slitting throats of sleeping white and Black Kenyans."
Humes, as far as we know, was never punished for his falsehood. To the contrary: Newsmax rewarded it by giving him a speaking slot on a cruise it sponsored last year.
No wonder Meyers thinks the Churchill bust story is true -- his employer let the perpetrator of the falsehood get away with it.
It just so happens that as this controversy was brewing, Newsmax was offering a special deal for its readers on Huckabee's latest book -- a discount price plus the usual assortment of free trial subscriptions to Newsmax magazine and a financial newsletter that require the recipient to cancel in order to avoid being automatically charged for a year's subscription.