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Jerome Corsi's Bogus Journey

The WorldNetDaily writer's trip to Kenya on a quest to smear Barack Obama resulted in a run-in with authorities -- and a fistful of documents are clearly fake.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/20/2008

Jerome Corsi's trip to Kenya certainly started out to be an excellent adventure.

WorldNetDaily claimed on Oct. 2 that its senior reporter was heading to the African country "at the invitation of Christian missionaries" worried about "the rise of Islam" there. Those "missionaries" are never identified; in fact, Corsi and WND never mention them again except for a passing reference in one later article.

Perhaps that's because the real motive for the trip is to smear Obama. As the WND article goes on to state, "Corsi said he is carrying a $1,000 check for George Obama from WND founder and CEO Joseph Farah." What follows is a regurgitation of the story of how Barack Obama's half-brother "lives on $12 a year in a six-by-nine-foot shack in the shantytown of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi" -- a claim debunked by none other than George Obama himself.

WND didn't tell its readers about that, of course, because WND is not interested in telling its readers actual facts about Obama. The hallmark of its Obama coverage has been to spread numerous lies about him. They run the gamut from uncritically reporting Larry Sinclair's laughable claims to twisting an Obama misstatement about which relative helped liberate which concentration camp into an assertion that Obama was making a "discredited distortion of the Holocaust" to baselessly insisting that Obama's reference to a "civilian national security force" means that Obama wants to create a "domestic Big Brother program" even though Obama has described the "force" as "teams that combine agricultural specialists and engineers and linguists and cultural specialists who are prepared to go into some of the most dangerous areas alongside our military."

In other words, WND won't let the truth get in the way of a good Obama smear. And since Corsi has basically been shamed into issuing corrections to his attack book, "The Obama Nation" (even as he insisted that the Obama campaign "failed to prove a single falsehood"), he doesn't appear to either.

All apparently went swimmingly for Corsi in Kenya, at least until it came time for him to hold a press conference in which he planned to announce claims of numerous ties between Obama and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been criticized for deadly tribal violence in a disputed December 2007 election that ultimately resulted in a power-sharing agreement in which Odinga became prime minister.

But "police shut down" the press conference before it was to begin, and Corsi and his publicist -- whose presence is perhaps another clue that Corsi wasn't embarking on a humanitarian visit on behalf of "Christian missionaries" -- were detained for several hours "incommunicado."

Well, not quite incommunicado: He did find the time to call into a right-wing radio show in Pittsburgh and blame Obama for his detention. "[C]all Barack's office and ask him why I'm being detained," he told hosts Quinn & Rose, adding, "[I]t's pretty dangerous to write a critical book of Barack Obama."

After several hours, Corsi and his publicist were finally released and allowed to board their previously scheduled flight out of Kenya. Afterwards, WND editor Joseph Farah asserted that Corsi had to spend some time "recovering from his traumatic abduction at the hands of Kenya security officials."

Not so traumatic, of course, that he couldn't appear on "Hannity & Colmes" and Sean Hannity's radio show, as well as other right-wing radio shows in which he hurled more Obama smears -- at one point claiming that critics of Obama "risk being thrown in jail or killed."

And certainly not so traumatic that he was prevented from cranking out WND articles detailing the claims he planned to make in Kenya.

Then again, maybe there was some trauma after all -- he seems not to have noticed that the documents he's using to back up his claims are clearly bogus.

An Oct. 10 article touted "e-mails obtained by WND senior staff writer Jerry Corsi during a trip to Kenya" as evidence that Barack Obama "backed" the "ruthless, foreign thug" Odinga (WND has since rewritten the headline to remove the "ruthless, foreign thug" reference). Corsi's key piece of evidence is an email purportedly from Obama to Odinga setting up Obama aide Mark Lippert as a liaison between the two. The text of the message obtained by Corsi reads: "I will kindly wish that all our correspondence handled by Mr Mark Lippert. I have already instructed him. This will be for my own security both for now and in future."

But as Politico's Ben Smith pointed out:

A small glitch: These emails, above, appear not to have been written by a native English speaker, unless "I will kindly wish..." is a phrase I'm just unfamiliar with. They have the unmistakable flavor of solicitations from dying African princes, who need only your bank account details to make you wealthy beyond measure.

At least the Bush National Guard documents were written in the right language.

Corsi also didn't explain why Odinga would be using a email address.

Corsi appeared to concede the point in a Oct. 16 article that noted Smith's criticism but did not counter it, claiming instead that "a second similar e-mail WND published ... should not occasion any linguistic quibbles."

Actually, it does: Like the first email, it refers to "Mr Lippert" using the non-American construct of omitting a period after "Mr." It also provides an purported email address that does not include an "@" symbol.

Corsi followed up with an Oct. 14 article asserting that Barack Obama donated "nearly $1 million" to the campaign of "foreign thug" Odinga. The article itself has numerous holes. Among them:

  • All of Corsi's sources are anonymous. He cites "several highly credible ex-ODM [Orange Democratic Movement, Odinga's political party] sources WND interviewed in Kenya," but offers no reason why he or anyone else should trust them.
  • Corsi's evidence later in the article doesn't support his claim in the first paragraph that "Sen. Barack Obama, with a donation of nearly $1 million," is "among the biggest contributors" to Odinga. The purported "internal document obtained by WND" listing "Friends of Senator B.O." as an Odinga donor has having donated the money -- not Obama himself.

The biggest hole, however, is that Corsi's story was debunked six months ago.

An April 18 PolitiFact item reported on a "chain e-mail that originates with a letter from American missionaries working in Kenya warns about Sen. Barack Obama’s ties to Kenya and its opposition party, encouraging readers 'not to be taken in by those that are promoting him'”:

Among the many allegations is one about Obama’s ties to Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga: “Obama under ‘friends of Obama’ gave almost a million dollars to the (Kenya) opposition campaign who just happened to be his cousin, Raila Odinga, who is a socialist trained in East Germany.”

The e-mail reads like a bad game of “telephone,” its claims drawn from assorted people and sources that have been stitched together. And yet, because it is signed by real people, who have a life in Africa, it somehow carries more credence than your average blog posting — and it’s spreading rapidly.

But even with the credibility of a real author, the claims in this e-mail are as baseless as anything you’ve read from an anonymous blogger.

The evidence Corsi cites for his claim is an "internal document" he wrote was "smuggled out of ODM offices." But PolitiFact has its own copy of that document -- and it looks nothing like Corsi's version.

The PolitiFact version -- which it says it obtained from the originators of the chain email, Celeste and Loren Davis, who "lived and worked in Kenya for the past 12 years" -- appears to have been run through a fax machine a few times, making the type fuzzy. Corsi's version, meanwhile, has clean type in an completely different typeface and format, and it appears to introduce a typo or two from the PolitiFact version.

The document Corsi has appears to be a recreation; it almost assuredly cannot be original. PolitiFact stated that "three Kenya experts who reviewed the document at our request called it fraudulent," which means that Corsi's document is even more so.

Celeste and Loren Davis, according to PolitiFact, are the "American missionaries working in Kenya" who first sent out the letter-cum-chain-email and supplied FactCheck with its copy of the document. Are those the same "Christian missionaries" Corsi went to visit in Kenya? Corsi so far has been mum about it -- as well as the fact that his story was declared false six months ago.

Nevertheless, Corsi wrote an Oct. 16 article asserting that a longer version of his "internal document," described as a "strategy memo," demonstrated that "when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Kenya on a 'fact-finding' trip in 2006, he was carrying out part of a secret election strategy that also included exploiting divisive tribal tensions and ultimately taking advantage of rioting that left 1,000 dead."

His evidence to back that up is most definitely not real: it's an HTML page of the purported document on a public message board called Network 54. Still, he insisted he "has confirmed the authenticity of the strategy memo." How can a recreation of a document have "authenticity"?

Still, Corsi kept pushing forward in an Oct. 17 article, insisting that the "strategy memo" has been "verified as a valid document" -- even though he has no original copy of it -- further asserting: "Most of Corsi's interviews were conducted under the condition that he keep his sources anonymous, largely because those meeting with him feared reprisals and possibly even threats to their lives for sharing information for publication with WorldNetDaily." And in the Oct. 16 article, Corsi asserted that Politico's Smith, who pointed out the fraudulent nature of the email purportedly naming Lippert as a liaison between Obama and Odinga, never "disputed the substantive point made in the e-mails, namely that Lippert served to coordinate between Obama and Odinga while Lippert held a staff position in Obama's U.S. Senate office in Washington."

But the only substantive evidence Corsi has forwarded to support that claim is those emails. If those emails are fraudulent -- as even Corsi himself appears to be conceding -- then the claim is fraudulent, at least in the absence of any other substantive evidence.

Corsi now finds himself in the same situation that CBS News found itself in in 2004 regarding its story about President Bush's National Guard service -- the information is presented as true, but the supporting documents are clearly not authentic. By downplaying questions about his documents and insisting they back up a "substantive point," Corsi is mounting the very same "fake but accurate" defense that CBS used (and was largely derided for).

Indeed, Corsi himself stated in a 2007 WND article that "early 1970s documents used in the story to discredit Bush were forgeries." By those same standards, Corsi's documents are forgeries as well.

Undeterred, Corsi posted an Oct. 19 article based on even more (though unrelated to Obama) documents he obtained in Kenya, which he again insists were "confirmed" by "highly credible sources." Again, all of those "highly credible sources" are anonymous.

Even though the article is ostensibly not about Obama, Corsi works in his smears here as well, falsely claiming once more that Obama "raised almost $1 million" for Odinga and also uncritically repeating Odinga's claim that he is Obama's "cousin." PolitiFact debunked this one six months ago as well:

We spoke to three Kenya experts who dismiss this part of the claim as well, suggesting Odinga made the connection to give himself more legitimacy during the political crisis.

“It’s stretched to the point of ridiculousness,” said Joel D. Barkan, political science professor emeritus at the University of Iowa and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “To my knowledge, they are not first cousins in the normal sense. To my knowledge, there’s absolutely no relationship at all.”

Alex Awiti, a Kenyan postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, says you have to consider the context of when Odinga was speaking, that being in the middle of a political crisis.

“Raila Odinga was groping all over the place, trying to find some political legitimacy to get on a high pedestal to claim leadership and using Obama was basically going to add some political points,” said Awiti, who lived in Kenya until three years ago. “This is very opportunistic and it should be totally disregarded.”

[Salim] Lone, Odinga’s spokesman, said cousins in the African sense is very different from cousins in the American sense, so they might be distant relatives.

If CBS and Dan Rather suffered a loss of journalistic credibility due to its role in promoting dubious documents as original, WorldNetDaily, Jerome Corsi and Joseph Farah deserve the same treatment.

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