Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Look at the UK Tabloid Smear of Obama's Father

Barak Obama- Kenyan

by Nomad
In true tabloid fashion, The Daily Mail in the UK attempts to discredit the president through his biological father- a man Obama met for only a few hours. Behind the tabloid story, there really is a much more interesting tale that deserves telling. 

Time to give credit where credit is due.
The UK tabloid, The Daily Mail, deserves a round of applause from the more bigoted hateful members of American society for its smear campaign against Obama. Not the President of the United States but his estranged long-deceased father. Barak Obama, Sr.
The Mail, amid all of its exposes on Simon Cowell’s sexual preferences and other celebrity non-stories, has taken it upon themselves to print several stories about the president’s father, namely, that he was, among other things, a “playboy” and “a serial womaniser." Here's a snippet from one of the articles:
A memo from a University of Hawaii foreign student adviser said that Obama senior had 'been running around with several girls since he first arrived here and last summer she cautioned him about his playboy ways. Subject replied that he would "try" to stay away from the girls.'
Hardly what one might call unusual behavior for a male university student. It has been suggested by at least one writer, that the actual message was more like a warning to stay away from the white girls. (If true, he didn't seem to obey that directive.)

In another article, a book promotion piece, he is labeled as a drunk and wife-beater. Despite the Mail’s spin, the biography itself appears to paint Obama. Sr. as a man who was began with a promising career in a post-colonial Kenya but, due to his personal flaws, such as alcoholism and womanizing, failed to live up to that promise. (Much of the evidence for this charge of wife beating comes from a time much later in Barak Obama, Sr.'s life.)

While the book, ("The Other Barack" by Sally H. Jacobs) may be meticulously-researched, one cannot help to ask why anybody should care? Why is the life of Obama's father relevant? 
Relevant or not, what is more important is how the information in the book has been used.

Another Daily Mail story about Obama's father deserves a closer look. 
This particular story was widely distributed by over seven hundred sites online. (Even the BBC eventually picked up the story.) The article describes a recently-discovered memo which appears to show concerns of the British Foreign Office and the State Department about Kenyan students coming the US to study. The Mail, in tabloid fashion, used this relatively trivial information to smear the biological father of the president of the United States. Submitted for evidence, the headline reads:

America Back In 1959

In 1959 Barak Obama, Sr. was one of the first of the Kenyan students to come to the US to study, having received a scholarship in economics through a program organized by nationalist leader Tom Mboya. He was 23 at the time and enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
In fact, the initial financial supporters of the program included Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson and others. Later, in 1960 the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation gave $100,000 to African American Students Foundation.
(The full story of this program can be found here.) The program was later to prove a boon to the newly liberated nation of Kenya when the British left.

The mass airlifts of Kenyan students to the United States had a "huge" impact on the young African nation, which gained its independence from Britain in 1963. A University of Nairobi study showed that 70 percent of top Kenyan officials after independence, including Obama Sr., were products of the American program.
For very different reasons, some in the American and British governments looked upon the Kenyan student immigration with deep suspicions. Despite the tabloid hype, the sole basis for The Daily Mail's article seems to be only this recently discovered memo.
A memo from a British diplomat in Washington to Whitehall – released today by the National Archives in West London – sets out their concerns about the young Kenyans.

Dated September 1, 1959, it says: ‘I have discussed with the State Department. They are as disturbed about these developments as we are. They point out that Kenya students have a bad reputation over here for falling into the wrong hands and for becoming both anti-American and anti-white.’
Although Barak Obama, Sr. was reportedly listed among the others, he was not in any way singled out as the article implies. The senior Obama was among about 100 Kenyan students brought to America by the African American Students Foundation.
The memo also said: "The motives behind this enterprise, therefore, seem more political than educational. The arrival here of these students, many of them of indifferent academic calibre and ill-prepared for the venture, is likely to give rise to difficult problems."
As far as official warnings, it’s hardly what one might call substantial. It doesn't sound all that dire.
Still, it is fair to ask what was it all about? What would motivate the Foreign Office to take a step like that? To answer these questions, one needs to view the time period from a wider scope.

Vice President Richard Nixon of the Eisenhower administration had earlier successfully used the hunt for Communists to his political advantage. The Red Scare had proved to be an unbeatable issue in his campaign for Congress and had ridden an anti-Communist wave to the House of Representatives. 

Later as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he solidified his image as a crusader against the growing Communist threat, domestically and abroad. But when that particular hysteria had run its course, with his own bid for the presidency at hand, Nixon was on the prowl for a new threat to the American way of life. 

When The Soviet Union opened an embassy in Ghana in 1959. the anti-Communists in the United States and Europe became concerned. Nixon upon his return from a visit to Africa in 1957, reported that Africa was a new area of conflict "between the forces of freedom and international Communism."

Meanwhile, at home, the campaign of 1960 loomed. Domestically the black man was also a source of some anxiety, especially in the Deep South. As Theodore White’s extraordinary book, The Making of the President -1960 points out, this was a tumultuous time in American history.
Beginning in 1954, with the decision of the Supreme Court that all public schools in America must desegregate, the [black] leadership had finally sense itself backed by the might of the law. And with the law on its side, it moved year by year, issue by issue, battle by battle- from Autherine Lucy to the Montgomery bus strike of 1955 to the sit-ins of 1960- to use its leverage on the political system to win its demands on society. Never in any election before 1960 had any group under leadership of such talent, presented its specific community demands in such blunt and forceful terms.
Strange things were afoot and many in the white majority were too stunned to see all of the unrest as anything other than a Communist plot. What else, they asked each other, could explain such discontent and resentment?

One group that connected the civil rights movement with the Communists was the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society.  It was about this time that the JSB were circulating pamphlets claiming that Eisenhower himself was a Communist mole. The co-founder Robert Welch, Jr. even circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy."  Such an accusation of "creeping socialism" must have had quite an effect on the administration, including the vice president. Certainly he would have been eager to prove that he had no such ties to Communism.

Incidentally One of that organization's founding member? None other than Fred Koch, father of the Koch brothers. According to a New yorker article on the Koch Brothers:
In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”
As we see, this is pretty much the same line that is being said about President Obama. Apparently it is the Koch brothers who have been influenced by his father's dangerous un-democratic and radical ideology, not Barack Obama.

Weiss, Hoover and King
It is still a matter of debate whether or not and to what degree there was any Communist infiltration of the civil rights movement. Many historians are skeptical about the degree of outside communist influence. 

It's not as laughable as it might sound either. For example, Cora Weiss (pictured above), daughter of Faberge millionaire, was Executive Director of the African American Students Foundation, the organization responsible for the Kenyan airlift to the US. Weiss was a well known peace activist and involved in many enterprises that some saw as leftist, such as Women Strike for Peace which played a major role in bringing about the end of nuclear testing in the atmosphere under the Kennedy administration. Weiss' high profile would, no doubt, have put her on the radar of US authorities.

Many in government appear to have believed, at least, initially, that the Soviets or the Chinese were behind the civil unrest in the US. One of those was J. Edgar Hoover.
In Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tim Weiner's book,  Enemies: A History of the FBI, he explains how, like Nixon, the FBI head became increasingly concerned about the possibility of communist threats against the United States and this, in turn, led to the FBI's secret intelligence operations against anyone deemed "subversive."  (Even Lucille Ball- the queen of TV comedy- had an FBI file regarding Communist activity.
About the FBI hunt for Communist subversion,  an NPR article elaborates:
"Hoover saw the civil rights movement from the 1950s onward and the anti-war movement from the 1960s onward, as presenting the greatest threats to the stability of the American government since the Civil War," he says. "These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state. And Hoover aimed to watch over them. If they twitched in the wrong direction, the hammer would come down."
The US officials were constantly on the look out for Communist infiltration- or more accurately, exploitation- of American black civil rights groups. And the possibility of exploitation should surprise few. Most intelligent people already know that institutionalized injustice is the weakest link in any democratic state

Martin Luther King Nomadic Politics
Martin Luther King
During this period in which the British Foreign Office was alerting the State Department, the FBI agents were investigating black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Much of the information collected was of a highly personal nature- unrelated to his civil rights efforts. The details of his alleged extramarital affairs were useful - if not actually used- as a attempted means of blackmail. (If nothing else, such puerile stuff would make tabloid headlines in the Daily Mail.)
Hoover 'obsessively' used the vast resources of the FBI against black groups across the political spectrum, from the NAACP to the Black Panther Party. His justification was that African-Americans who objected to segregation were either 'communists' or susceptible to communist influence. Given Hoover's well-documented antipathy toward black people, which was typical of a man of his white, conservative, Southern upbringing, it is much more likely that his motivation was simply racism.
Eventually Hoover’s innate racism would find a target for its wrath in King.
Despite Hoover's best efforts to destroy King, the black leader increased in popularity and importance. In October of 1964, he was selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Hoover went ballistic and initiated a smear campaign aimed at keeping influential people from endorsing and associating with the civil rights leader.
Hoover’s smear campaign would eventually bring him head to head with both Kennedy brothers whose views on the civil rights movement were diametrically opposed to the head of the FBI. 

Of course all that would come a few years later, well after the Foreign Office and the State Department were sharing their information on the Kenyan students. 
Back in 1959. at about the same time as Barak Obama, Sr. was stepping off the plane, the Bureau was For the first time in its history establishing a special classification for investigations of civil disorders and demonstrations. 

Just as we have seen in our own lifetimes with the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda, when there is an dire intelligence need and enough political pressure, when all politicians have something to gain by proving what has been assumed, then the suitable data can be found. Accuracy and relevance? That’s another matter.

Breaking Fingers in the Name of the Queen
British colonial rule in Kenya
Detained Kenyans

There’s also another aspect that must be mentioned about the motives and the background of the British information. 

If the United States was just beginning to acknowledge a rising tide of unrest because of its treatment of black Americans, then the British Empire was having to pay its own price for supporting its imperialist past in Africa. (Click for more on this part of Kenyan history under British colonial rule.) 

Michael Allen, writing for Opposing Views, notes the treatment of Kenyans under British colonial rule was, if anything as nearly as discriminatory and authoritarian as South Africa’s apartheid, and certainly equal to the institutionalized racism of the Deep South at that time.

The abuse of Kenyans was so bad that, in 2011, four elderly Kenyans, who claim they were tortured by colonial UK officials and soldiers during the Mau Mau insurgency in the 1950s, won the right to sue the British government for compensation. Among those allegedly abused was Barack Obama's grandfather.
In fact, the memo cited cited in the Daily Mail article was discovered as a result of a lawsuit filed against the British government by four Kenyans who were reportedly abused at the hands of the authorities in the British held colony. The Guardian reports:
A cache of government documents that shows the extent of the brutality employed by British authorities in an attempt to suppress the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya has finally been made public almost half a century after it was spirited out of the country on the eve of independence.
Something that the Mail failed to mention. (The origin of the memo is vaguely stated in the article. It would seem that the communication originated from the British embassy in Washington and was sent to the British-run Kenyan government and presumably to the Foreign Office in the UK. If that's true, the report of what the State Department said and felt is pretty much hearsay.) 

According to other news reports about these documents, the British authorities  took care  to transport the cache of documents back to London at the time of Kenyan independence due to their sensitivity. The papers show they even planned to burn some of the other classified files. Why? 
The papers disclose the depths to which the British authorities sank during the 1950s rebellion, and prove that ministers in London were briefed fully about the abuses that were being inflicted upon prisoners at camps across the colony...

While the Foreign Office is not denying the allegations, it is deploying a range of constitutional precedents to reject the claims, arguing that legal responsibility was transferred to the Kenyan republic on independence in 1963...
And the kind of things that went on were hardly edifying for a nation that purports to be a champion of human rights. The British treatment of Kenyans in 1959 was supposed to be Nixon's alternative to International Communism- "the forces of freedom." What did that force look like? I hear you asking.
The documents also contain descriptions of torture that the colonial officials themselves were providing to their superiors. An African employee of Special Branch "pushed pins into their sides, buttocks, fingers and, on at least one occasion, the head, and … pinched the sides of their bodies, penis and scrotum with pliers. He crushed the fingers of one detainee."
Given that kind of treatment, if Kenyans were anti-white, it would be understandable. Who wouldn’t hold just a bit of resentment from having their scotums pinched and fingers crushed?

So the picture that emerges is really quite different than the Mail suggests. We have the British Foreign Office- which was complicit or at least, turning a blind eye to the torture going on in Kenya-  warning the US State Department about the bad reputations of Kenyan students. That Obama's father's name should be mentioned at all was simply because he had qualified for a scholarship. 

Hearsay or not, the Eisenhower administration was primed to hear any news about Communists overrunning the Third World.  As writer Frank E. Smitha reports:

The Eisenhower administration feared that nationalist movements in Africa would be dangerously Leftist, as had been the nationalist movements in Asia. The Eisenhower administration gave only unenthusiastic endorsement for independence in Africa. And when Sekou Touré, an avowed socialist, requested aide for economic assistance for Guinea, the Eisenhower administration ignored it.
This, then, was the source of the information on Kenyan students, the information the Daily Mail is still using to smear the father of the president.
However, the weirdest part of the Daily Mail’s articles on all of the flaws of President Obama’s father is that none of it is at all relevant.

Papa was a Rolling Stone
Obama childhood photos of father
Obama: Meeting his biological father at 10
(The image the Daily Mail prints) 

In truth, Obama had very little actual contact with his biological father and was raised nearly exclusively by his maternal grandparents. So one wonders why Obama's father's history- whatever the actual facts- should be of any interest.

Did the Daily Mail investigate Bill Clinton’s estranged father’s history as thoroughly? If so, why not? (Or why?) Where’s the justification and the news-worthiness? However, there is relevance when it comes to the Bush family. The entire Bush family history is a veritable treasure trove of shadiness and dirty deals. At least in this case, one can show how each generation of the Bushes added a little more to the overall conspiracy.

But as far as Obama, what exactly is the relevance of these revelations except to give ammunition to some of the more destructive forces of bigotry that linger in American (and British) society. (Naturally these stories were picked up and widely distributed by Fox News.)
Of his Kenyan father, Obama has very few memories. In his autobiography, he states:
I only remember my father for one month my whole life, when I was 10.
The facts about Obama’s upbringing- in which would probably never appear in the Daily Mail- are much less sensational. They probably would even make the front page. 
The people who shaped Obama’s early life were not Kenyans. They were hardly extremists and the State Department would have taken very little interest them.
Obama with his grandfather
His maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham helped raise Obama after his mother's marriage broke up when he was 2. 
The couple came of age during the Great Depression and, according to Obama, Stanley "found odd jobs on small farms and oil rigs, always dodging the bank failures and foreclosures that were sweeping the nation at the time." (Not particularly elitist, like the Bush family.)
Another source tells us add to that picture of a classic American family:
They married in the early days of World War II. Stanley enlisted in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he served under Gen. George S. Patton. Obama's mother was born on the Army base Ft. Leavenworth, and Madelyn worked on a bomber assembly line.
Comparing it to the childhood of Mitt Romney and certainly Obama's upbringing represents more of a middle-class, working man's ethos. Corn-field  covered Kansas is really about as heartland as any state can be. 
As Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said:
"Barack Obama has Midwestern values, values that we know about. He got them from his grandparents and from his mom."
(Sadly neither of them were alive to see their grandson become president. On November 2, 2008, just two days before Barack Obama was elected as the president of the United States, his grandmother died.) 
Therefore, The Daily Mail, the Neo-conservatives and the Tea Party activists, while desperately rooting for the source of Obama's so-called anti-Americanism, should begin not in Kenya but in Kansas. (Everybody knows that Kansas, since the days of the John Brown's anti-slavery raids, is a hotbed of Anti-Americanism.)

But what, if any, was the true legacy that Obama’s biological father passed down to his son? Was it a Marxist /socialist agenda? Was it a Muslim radical idea of revolution? A dangerous anti-Americanism? 
According to Obama, if anything, his father supplied something of a negative example and it had nothing whatsoever to do with politics.
[T]he most important thing was his absence I think contributed to me really wanting to be a good dad, you know? Because I think not having him there made me say to myself "you know what I want to make sure my girls feel like they've got somebody they can rely on.
There is one other thing that Obama did inherit from his father and it is perhaps the true source of all the ire from many Americans. It’s the thing that will not tolerate. It is the thing that sticks in their craws and no matter how much they try to deny it, it remains in each spiteful remark and comment. What is it?  

Apart from that negative example of parenting, President Obama's only inheritance from his father was the color of his skin. To use this information as second hand as it is, misleading as it is and as irrelevant as it is, to stir up hatred for the Barack Obama is an example of racism- a hatred based solely on the color of a man's skin and not the content of his character.

It's time the editors of the Daily Mail and its readers grew up. After all, this isn't 1959.
Feel free to add your comments. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.