This week, a lawyer for the pro-Trump Committee to Defend the President PAC sent a demand letter to USA Today, demanding the outlet retract its “fact-check” claiming that the PAC lied to claiming that a quote about Democratic “plantation politics” came in “Obama’s voice.”
In February, the PAC launched ads against Joe Biden. In the ads, Barack Obama’s voice says, “Plantation politics. Black people in the worst jobs. The worst housing. Police brutality rampant. But when the so-called black committeemen came around election time, we’d all line up and vote the straight Democratic ticket. Sell our souls for a Christmas turkey.” The PAC ran a similar ad in July.
Last week, USA Today ran an article claiming to “fact-check” the quote. In the article, Ella Lee claimed that the “words from ad [are] not Obama’s, [but rather were] misused.”
“The words in the ad came straight from Obama’s 1995 book ‘Dreams from my Father‘ — but the words chosen for the ad aren’t his own and are misused. The voice in the ad may be Obama’s, as he narrated the book’s audiobook,” Lee wrote.
Republican lawyer Ben Barr, who represents the Committee to Defend the President, sent USA Today a letter claiming that the article involved “blatantly lying to Americans” and threatening a libel lawsuit.
The USA Today story “falsely alleges the Committee ‘misused’ President Obama’s quote, falsely states President Obama was not the individual issuing the quote, and alleges it reached out to the Committee, yet did not do so through any of the Committee’s press inquiry options on its website or public phone numbers,” according to the letter.
Such false allegations form the basis for libel claims, the PAC warns. Through Bar, the PAC demanded USA Today correct or retract its “fact-check,” and vowed to “vigorously pursue any and all legal remedies” if the outlet fails to comply.
“The Committee to Defend the President is sick and tired of being erroneously ‘fact-checked’ by media elites and their Silicon Valley allies, all of whom have an axe to grind with President Trump,” Ted Harvey, the PAC’s chairman, said in a statement. “Once again, news outlets like USA Today are blatantly lying to Americans, who are rapidly losing trust in the anti-Trump mainstream media. We are proud to say that all of our ads are accurate and fair, and we will continue to defend the truth as we help re-elect President Trump.”
To be fair to USA Today, Obama’s book attributes the “plantation politics” quote to a character named Smitty. Yet the characters in Obama’s book are composite characters, not actual human beings.
Barr countered Lee’s claims in a statement to PJ Media.
“First, the ad in question included a running subtitle indicating this was just ‘Obama’s voice.’ It was his voice because he narrated his book, Dreams from My Father. It doesn’t read it is Obama’s opinion or the like. Thus, USA Today making claims of false attribution is simply false—President Obama did use his own voice to narrate this quote,” Barr argued.
The lawyer also noted that “Obama admits in his introduction to his book Dreams from My Father that his characters are composite characters. Some might be an amalgamation of characters, others may not exist, and some might just be figments of Obama’s imagination. So, the words that are quoted come from Obama and their precise source is unknown.”
“Given all this, it seems more than fair to say that indeed this was ‘Obama’s voice’ read from his own book from a source only President Obama himself knows,” Barr added. “Claiming this is somehow ‘false’ as USA Today did takes a position that Americans cannot come to their own conclusions about political advertisements. Here, we believe the Committee offered truthful information using a quote narrated by Obama to make this statement true.”
In the context of Obama’s book, the “plantation politics” quote does refer to Chicago politics, not national politics. Yet the sentiment arguably does apply to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, especially considering Biden’s notorious claim that if black Americans have to think twice about whom they will support in the 2020 election, they “ain’t black.”
The Committee to Defend the President sent the demand letter on Wednesday and has yet to receive any response from USA Today.
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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.