Its 2012. Are we really still discussing the nonissue of whether President Barack Obama was really born in the U.S.? As a short story inside the Sept. 14 Kansas City Star made clear, thats sadly the case.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
Im not denying that there wasnt news to report. A Manhattan, Kan., man brought a complaint to the Kansas State Objections Board made up of three top elected officials, all Republicans alleging Obama should not appear on the ballot because he is not a legal citizen.
It shouldnt need restating, but for the record: There is zero truth to this ancient bit of nonsense, which has swirled for years and, I would argue, has passed into the realm of urban legend. I wont waste readers time or brain cells in summing up the ridiculously obvious evidence against it.
Again, the story was valid journalism. The fact is that the board did not dismiss the mans complaint, but instead moved to delay a decision until it had time to review documents from Hawaii and other states. On Friday afternoon the man withdrew his petition, though the board is still scheduled to meet Monday.
That had to be reported and I agree with the editors decision to play it in a relatively minor spot on the first page of the days Local section. A big, blaring A1 headline would have been out of proportion to the actual news value, despite the fact that it was certainly the Kansas story with the greatest talker value.
But I also agree with a caller that day who thinks the story should have made a clear and definitive statement that the petitioners statement is false. The final sentence, noting that Obamas birth certificate is posted on the White House website is a step in that direction, but it should have been even stronger.
Look, the president was born in Hawaii and is a United States citizen, he said. I dont know why The Star didnt just say that flat-out, the way other legitimate news sources usually do. When you have one side thats literally making things up, then it isnt a he said, she said kind of situation. No theres an actual truth here.
Absolutely right. That advice echoes something I heard from a previous boss of mine years ago. I report only to The Stars editor, who is the only person who reads my column for content before publication.
The then-editor called me into his office to offer a (very rare) bit of feedback on something Id written. He pointed to my quoting a reader who made a criticism he thought I agreed with but he wasnt certain.
If you think the story was overplayed, just write that it was overplayed, he said. I agree that it was, too.
Its hammered into journalists that they must remain impartial, and that does often result in finding sources on multiple sides of an issue to bring balance to a story. Thats obviously an admirable pursuit.
But there are those who believe the Apollo moon missions were an elaborate hoax filmed on sound stages. Does that mean news stories should get a quote from one of these people for balance?
Thats an absurd example, but so are the birther claims. There is no fairness issue in knocking them down flatly as they surface. Here, the issue definitely had to be addressed, but only in the context of the Kansas boards actions.
This topic came up with another reader Friday, who said the Opinion section doesnt have enough counterbalance from the right in general.
But he also expressed his frustration at how unreasonable some of the most strident voices can be in letters. I wish (editors) would try to feature the smarter, more reasonable conservatives instead of the loudmouths who say things that are so exaggerated they get silly, he said.
Thats part of the same problem, and I agree with him. Newspapers should highlight the best points of view, not just the loudest or most colorful.