Hits, buzz, and fever dreams
Tracing a rumor through the conservative blogosphere
Hits, buzz, and fever dreams
If you're up for a really good laugh - something to tide you over until next month, when Tina Fey will surely morph into bestselling author Sarah Palin - just check out the latest right-wing fever dream.
During the past 48 hours, many networking conservatives have permitted themselves to become romanced by the notion that Barack Obama didn't pen a single word of Dreams From My Father, that he actually farmed out the whole project to a ghostwriter...and that the ghostwriter was none other than William Ayers, the ex-radical '60s bomber. This new story line has ricocheted hither and yon, stirring great titillation in the fact-free fiefdoms of the blogosphere.
For these right-wing bloggers and their credulous fans, the story line is a dream come true, because (a) it would prove that Obama is truly a fraud, beyond the fact that of course he was born a foreigner, (b) it would discredit the bestselling book that helped vault Obama to prominence, and (c) it would prove that Obama's strings were being pulled by an unrepentant domestic terrorist, thereby vindicating all those conservatives who argued in vain during the '08 campaign that Obama neighbor Bill Ayers was a dire threat to national security, maybe almost as lethal as ACORN.
Actually, a smattering of right-wing fantasists began flogging an Ayers-as-ghostwriter rumor a year ago. But this week, the rumor became a story line because it was supposedly confirmed once and for all...by Bill Ayers himself!
Two days ago, a conservative Chicago blogger named Anne Leary ran into Ayers at a Washington airport. He said he had just given a talk on education in Virginia (he is a longtime educator). She identified herself as a conservative blogger, and told him that she would post something about their chance encounter. And then, on the spur of the moment, he apparently decided to make a dramatic confession to this total stranger.
Here's what Leary subsequently wrote (although, in defense of the writing craft, I hesitate to describe it as such):
"Then, unprompted he said -- I wrote Dreams From My Father. I said, oh, so you admit it. He said -- Michelle asked me to. I looked at him. He seemed eager. He's about my height, short. He went on to say -- and if you can prove it, we can split the royalties. So I said, stop pulling my leg. Horrible thought. But he came again -- I really wrote it, the wording was similar. I said I believe you probably heavily edited it. He said -- I wrote it. I said -- why would I believe you, you're a liar.
"He had no answer to that. Just looked at me. Then he turned and walked off, and said again his bit about my proving it and splitting the proceeds."
OhmyGod...Leary clearly had a tingle up her leg about this encounter. With fingers flying over the keyboard, she then proceeded to muse: "But the question remains -- is Barack Obama a fraud? Is his myth-making creation and only major accomplishment a product of Bill Ayers' imagination? (or his own) Is our President Barack Obama's biography written by an unrepentant domestic terrorist?"
Such excitement! By late Tuesday, Leary was soaring on the national hit parade (for bloggers, it's all about getting the hits, generating the buzz). As one naive soul on townhall.com breathlessly speculated: "Annie Leary, a conservative blogress from Chicago, has reported that Bill Ayers told her -- in the airport, no less -- that he had written Dreams From My Father. Not edited it. Wrote it. One has to wonder why no one in the MSM ever thought of simply asking 'Professor' Ayers the same question. Will anyone in the MSM bother to follow up?" And as another blogger put it, "Will Obama issue a denial of Ayers’ accusation? Will the usually compliant press ask a real question for once? Probably neither, which is too bad."
Actually, the professionals who work in the "MSM" (that would be us, the mainstream media) do try to research a topic before we write something. If these bloggers had taken a breath and done even a modicum of due diligence, they might have discovered a story that was posted last Friday by the respected nonpartisan National Journal website. The post was written by an NJ reporter who spoke with Ayers last week at a book fair. The reporter, well aware of the longstanding ghostwriter rumor, proceeded to write:
"We put the authorship question right to him. For a split second, Ayers was nonplussed. Then an Abbie Hoffmanish, steal-this-book-sort-of-smile lit up his face. He gently took National Journal by the arm. 'Here’s what I’m going to say. This is my quote. Be sure to write it down: Yes, I wrote Dreams From My Father. I ghostwrote the whole thing. I met with the president three or four times, and then I wrote the entire book.’ He released National Journal’s arm, and beamed in Marxist triumph. 'And now I would like the royalties.'"
Abbie Hoffman, lest you didn't know, was a '60s lefty who loved to goof on people. Ayers was talking with tongue in cheek, and his subsequent "confession" at the airport was clearly his sporting attempt to mess with paranoid conservative minds. And look how quickly, and predictably, they took the bait.
Will they learn from this episode? Dream on. Perhaps Ayers should now confess to an enemy keyboardist that he personally burned all the documents which proved that Obama was born on foreign soil, and that he and Obama celebrated the moment with wine and brie. Surely the lucky recipient would generate lots of hits and buzz for that one.