Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Talking Trash

Salon magazine has a detailed close reading of two right-wing mass e-mails in "Debunking anti-Obama e-mails."

Two such messages, circulating by e-mail and popping up in comments on blogs for months, are reproduced below -- and annotated and debunked, point by point -- to illustrate the tactics Obama's been up against for most of the campaign. The first e-mail attacks the candidate's wife, attempting to paint Michelle Obama –- and by extension, Barack Obama -- as an America-hating black separatist radical. Democratic pollsters say many voters don't know much about Michelle Obama. This e-mail, which began circulating during the Democratic primaries, seems to be a deliberate attempt to fill in a mostly blank mental canvas with negative associations before the Obama campaign can tell her story itself.

A second, more recent e-mail, received just a few days ago, shows that the spurious but very durable belief that Obama is a Muslim continues to ricochet around the Internet.

Mike Madden then proceeds to "deconstruct" the e-mails with point-by-point rebuttals and fact-checking. However, based on its longer legacy in the popular culture about Obama, I might argue that the "second" e-mail may well have evolved earlier. published the Princeton undergraduate thesis at issue in the "first" e-mail here.

Although Republican sources often send me copies of such mass e-mails, these are two that I haven't seen. (Examples of my own readings of such e-mails are here, here, and here.)

The Washington Post has also been covering this story in "An Attack That Came Out of the Ether," which featured an interview with democracy researcher Danielle Allen about the Obama-as-Muslim e-mail and her attempts to trace the missive back to the source. Allen argues that the producers of the e-mail must defend their case publicly, although she failed to locate the original sender. She also argues that the Internet is facilitating the spread of "nativist discourse" and "whisper campaigns" of the kinds with long negative histories in American politics.

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