Thank goodness Countdown With Keith Olbermann's nightly "Worst Person in the World" feature is flexible, or else the man with his name in the program's title wouldn't have been able to award the August 12 bronze to our own Rocky Mountain News. The reason for this dubious honor, which can be seen in the video below? The paper helped perpetuate an easily disprovable bit of misinformation about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama -- namely that he holds joint citizenship with the United States and Kenya.
Colorado Media Matters -- a favorite of the Olbermann crew -- first reported about this egregious screw-up on August 11. The site's item references an August 6 Rocky roundup entitled "Things You Might Not Know About Barack Obama." A cached version of the report from August 8 includes the line, "Holds both American and Kenyan (since 1963) citizenship." Such a situation would provide Obama's opponents with yet another way to argue that he's not "American enough" to be president and potentially raise legal issues as well. But as CMM points out, Kenya doesn't officially recognize dual nationality -- and besides, "Kenya's constitution explicitly prohibits dual citizenship and nullifies Kenyan citizenship of any 21-year-old who is also the citizen of another country and who has not formally renounced citizenship of that other country." Plus -- and this is key -- it's totally untrue.
Oh yeah: There was no byline on the piece, and the sources sited included the Internet Movie Data Base.
When I looked at the Rocky article on the morning of August 12, the offending line had already been removed -- but a slew of comments remained beneath it referring to and debating the Kenya issue. So I e-mailed Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple, who responded with a quick note from his BlackBerry that read, "I'm on my way to Los Angeles at DIA. I received a note yesterday afternoon questioning the item. I immediately asked editors to look into it. Beyond that, I can't help you." So I sent another note with my same list of questions to Rocky managing editor Deb Goeken, who got back to me at just past 6:30 p.m. She wrote:
The information was part of aggregated material compiled by our web desk as background material heading into the Democratic National Convention. It either came from IMDB or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (which no longer has the info on its web site.) It was not confirmed independently. Instead, it was clearly labeled as sourced material. I had it removed as soon as I was alerted to the problem, and we have attached a correction. The information never appeared in our newspaper.
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The aforementioned correction, which was put in place sometime after my original inquiry, reads as follows:
Editor's note: One of the items on this list has been removed because it mistakenly repeated a report that Barack Obama holds dual United States-Kenyan citizenship. This erroneous information was never reported in the Rocky Mountain News print edition.
By then, of course, plenty of damage had already been done. The Barack-is-a-Kenyan-citizen error started popping up on loads of websites with no particular love for Obama, which eagerly used the Rocky's name to lend it credence. Here's one -- and another -- and another -- and another. That stuff won't go away just because the Rocky belatedly admitted perpetuating a falsehood. But at least the paper received a measure of payback from Olbermann. Watch his scolding below. -- Michael Roberts