On the Internet, criticism of Barack Obama is often focused on rumor as much as or more so than on fact.
His patriotism has been continually questioned in chain emails, message board arguments, and blog posts since the beginning of his campaign. They started for murky reasons and were buoyed by a string of mistakes, such as his storied refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin and his well-documented gaffe of not placing his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem. This was not helped when Michelle Obama twice stated that she was now proud of this country for the first time in her life.
In addition to having his patriotism continually questioned, Barack Obama has been labeled a secret Muslim, an unfounded rumor based partially upon the candidate’s exotic name, some of his extended family members being of Muslim faith, and also the early years the senator spent in Indonesia, where it was falsely claimed he went to an Islamic religious school. The rumor has proven surprisingly difficult to quash, despite his publicly professed Christianity and the contentious and very public end of his 20-year relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ.
Another rumor, started among pro-Hillary bloggers during the Democratic primaries, was that Michelle Obama was caught on videotape denouncing “whitey,” and that the videotape of her alleged racist rant was in the possession of Fox News — a favorite boogeyman on the political left — and was on the verge of being released. Fox News denied having the tape, though the damage was already done by those who started the rumor; when combined with her previous statements, Michelle Obama has been successfully tarred in the minds of many as a closet black nationalist.
Rumors surrounding both Barack and Michelle Obama have become such a thorn in the campaign’s side that they felt compelled to launch Fight the Smears as part of the campaign’s website dedicated to counteracting some of the more potentially damaging claims and rumors. Even with the website and occasional direct denials by the candidate of one rumor or another, the false claims have still cost the campaign so much time and energy that even satire targeting the smears met with howls of protest by the campaign and its supporters.
Perhaps no better evidence of the campaign’s sensitivity to smears was the widely criticized response to the New Yorker magazine cover, which was drawn as a satire of the rumors aimed at the Obama family, picturing Barack Obama as a Muslim in tribal dress with a picture of Osama bin Laden in a place of honor on the wall above the flag-burning fireplace behind him, while the candidate did a “fist bump” with Michelle Obama, who was dressed as a fatigue-clad, gun-toting black nationalist. The campaign found no humor in the satire, and Barack Obama later even claimed it was a smear against Muslims. This hypersensitivity has led to the campaign and the candidate being pilloried for being humorless, an issue that continues to haunt Obama to this day.