Declarations of Doom


Here's the story: Insight, the Washington Times offshoot that everyone assumed had been mothballed years ago, published an article speculating whether the young Barack Hussein Obama had been educated in a madrassa. The sources consisted of unnamed members of "Hillary's team." Unsurprisingly, this was enough to blow up the rumor mill online; slightly more surprisingly, it became a white-hot topic on Fox News. Howard Kurtz tells it:

On Friday afternoon, John Gibson, host of Fox's "The Big Story," began a segment this way: "Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassah past. That's right, the Clinton team reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn't know—that he was educated in a Muslim madrassah."


The "is Clinton behind it?!?!" angle is predictable and more than a little dull; the more interesting bit is that this is the third fact about Obama that he disclosed before it became a scandal. In his 1995 autobiography (reissued in 2004) and his 2006 political memoir, Obama talked about attending a Muslim school. A couple weeks ago, Fox hosts went after Obama's drug use, which he wrote about in the 1995. Their rationale for dredging it up was that "something like only 20,000 copies exist, but somebody at the Washington Post found a copy, read it." Which isn't true; the 2004 reissue sold like hotcakes stuffed with crack. Around the same time, journalists were "revealing" that Obama smoked. But he's disclosed that, too (although he avoids getting photographed doing it).

This is really pretty stupid. It's growing increasingly difficult to keep secrets, and as a result most smart political actors disclose whatever they're doing and whatever they've done. In response, their enemies… claim they never disclosed it. Take the example of Daily Kos, who disclosed that he was working for Howard Dean, and then a year later was attacked for not disclosing it "enough." Take Jacob Sullum and Ronald Bailey, who are regularly accused of not disclosing their conflicts of interest or corporate ties, even though they've done so. (I think Ron did it twice while I was writing this post.) More and more of what political figures say is public, and that hasn't protected them from scandal; the scandal-mongers only have to remind people of the scandal, and some journalists will be lazy enough to think this is a new hot story.