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The New York Sun’s Obama Frame-Up

August 14, 2008

Two months ago, I wrote about The New York Sun‘s inaccurate attempt to draw ties between Senator Barack Obama and Islamic extremism in Kenya. The chief problem with The Sun‘s reporting was that while the ties may have been there, the Islamic extremism was definitely not. What The Sun had hoped to paint as Islamic extremism was an important agreement between a candidate and a Muslim human rights group to look at ways not to persecute Muslims.

Since first writing my piece in Guernica, I have written to The New York Sun‘s editors several times and have yet to get a response. More importantly, I have yet to see a retraction, correction or update to a patently fallacious story by Daniel Johnson. It seems at this point that The Sun is attempting to get away with lies about the Democratic presidential candidate, or at the very least to shirk their responsibility to the truth.

The New York Sun‘s Memo-Gate starts on August 29, 2007, when a memorandum of understanding was signed between Kenya’s presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, and the National Muslim Leaders Forum. In the memo, the candidate pledges to look into the case of Kenyan Muslims who were sent illegally to places like Guantanamo, Somalia and Ethiopia, and promises not to discriminate against Muslims; in turn, the Forum offers its endorsement of Odinga’s candidacy. All pretty standard stuff during a campaign.

For whatever reason, though, someone seeking to frame Odinga as sympathetic to Muslim extremists heard about this innocuous agreement and decided to pull some trickery (Kenya’s version perhaps of the SWIFT boating of a candidate). A fake memo was created attempting to discredit Kenya’s candidate by painting him as in the pocket of Muslim extremists. The new (fake) memo was a real doozy. In it, Odinga virtually promises to turn the Christian country into another Saudi Arabia: burqas, no booze, Sharia law, and so on.

Enter Wikileaks. On November 14, 2007, this tenacious government transparency site got a copy of this fake, and published it on their site, and—this is the most important part—they prominently listed it as a forgery.

The likely reason for the forgery was to discredit candidate Odinga. And the very existence of the fake begged the question: Why would a candidate in a country that was 80% Christian sign a memo catering to the most extreme and dangerous sub-segment of the 10% or so of Muslims in the country? Even without the prominent note by Wikileaks calling it fake and citing evidence for why, it didn’t take a genius to be skeptical. (Later, Wikileaks published the real memo with the signatures from eyewitnesses to its signing.)

But it seems The New York Sun didn’t apply much scrutiny or didn’t know enough about Kenya’s religious makeup to see the same reason for caution—not when it could discredit Barack Obama and perhaps have a scoop on other right-wing media. Two full months after Wikileaks outed the Sharia memo as a fake, The Sun‘s Daniel Johnson wrote as if he’d just pulled the suicide bomb from underneath Barack Obama’s futon. Obama had been to Kenya the year before the real memo, during the campaign, and had visited with Raila Odinga, a member of Obama’s father’s ethnic group (the three-million strong Luo tribe).

Here was The Sun‘s chance to tie Barack HUSSEIN Obama to Islamic terrorism. They didn’t hesitate; but they should have. The only hurdle that needed to be leaped for the scoop was that The Sun‘s reporter, Johnson, would have to magically not see, or willfully ignore, the most important context surrounding the memo—that those providing it, Wikileaks, were plainly calling it a fake, and had eventually posted the real one as well. It was an act of Orwellian doublethink: “Thanks for this fake memo, Wikileaks; what do you mean it’s not real?”

Here’s what a reporter sounds like when he’s on a roll:

    In August 2006, Mr. Obama visited Kenya and spoke in support of Mr. Odinga’s candidacy at rallies in Nairobi. The Web site Atlas Shrugs has even posted a photograph of the two men side by side. More recently, Mr. Odinga says that Mr. Obama interrupted his campaigning in New Hampshire to have a telephone conversation with his African cousin about the constitutional crisis in Kenya.

And here’s what a reporter sounds like when he’s really on a roll:

    If Mr. Obama did not know about Mr. Odinga’s electoral deal with the Kenyan Islamists when he offered his support, then he should have known. If he did know, then he is guilty of lending the prestige of his office to America’s enemies in the global war on terror. We need to know exactly what Mr. Obama knew about Mr. Odinga, and precisely when he knew it.

Except that he wasn’t. The premise on which all this bravado and bluster were based was inaccurate. Memo to The New York Sun: We’re still waiting for a retraction.

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