Debunking the Top 10 Candidate Rumors

Pernicious whispers about the presidential candidates are circulating around the Internet. A Politico.com reporter separates the wheat from the chaff.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

The "Heritage Dictionary" defines a rumor as a piece of unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth. During a presidential political year, a rumor can be defined as a real pain in the polls for a candidate who has to spend time answering questions about something that likely didn't even happen.

On the front page of The Washington Post yesterday, today's most e-mailed story - foes use Obama ties to fuel rumors about him. One of the most clicked on articles at BuzzFeed is from a Huffington Post list of the 10 craziest rumors about candidates including this whopper that Mitt Romney has a gay, albino son.

It's a comedy spoof - an online comedy spoof that has gone wrong virally. Now, separating the wheat from the chaff for us this morning from Iowa, Jonathan Martin, the senior political reporter for Politico.com.

Hi, Jonathan.

Mr. JONATHAN MARTIN (Reporter, Politico.com): Good morning. How are you, all?

STEWART: I'm doing okay.

So this most e-mailed story at The Washington Post…

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

STEWART: …about Barack Obama having ties to some sort of Muslim organization - there been - these - this has been going on forever. People have gotten it in their inbox - this e-mail saying that Barack Obama went to a madrassa…

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

STEWART: …in Indonesia. How did this start?

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, I actually wrote a story with my colleague Ben Smith last month about just this in - I think what happened was that it was sparked earlier this year when there was a sort of obscure magazine called Insight magazine, which is owned by the Washington Times. And they did a story claiming that Hillary Clinton's campaign was going to attack or was attacking Obama on the fact that he went to this Muslim madrassa in Indonesia.

Well, the Clinton folks denied that and subsequently, it was pointed out that he actually didn't go to a madrassa and that was not true at all. But in this Internet era…

STEWART: It took on a life of its own.

Mr. MARTIN: That's exactly right.

STEWART: But it's interesting…

Mr. MARTIN: And the fact is, is that it doesn't take very long for a falsehood to make its way around the globe given the power of the Internet and e-mail, and so people begin to think that he was Muslim. And, look, the fact is, it's easy - his name is Barack Hussein Obama; he's got this sort of exotic, you know, background, so there was fodder there, and so people who want to sort of, you know, try and make this case because their political opponents or enemies are sort of doing that, and the power and the anonymity of e-mail and Internet makes these easy.

STEWART: And it's also interesting in his stump speech apparently now, he is talking about how his paternal grandfather in Kenya was indeed Muslim, I guess, maybe having to reach out in a sense because he's had to debunk these…

LUKE BURBANK, host:

And, see…

STEWART: …other issues.

BURBANK: Not that there's anything wrong with that argument.

STEWART: Not that there's anything with that.

Mr. MARTIN: Now, he's frontally is talking about it, and his campaign now also has a sort of at-the-ready e-mail response from pastors who are sort of verifying his Christian credentials. So his folks get that, you know, this is a problem, and they've got to try and react to it head on.

STEWART: Interesting that Mitt Romney - you heard that one about him having a gay, albino son - clearly from a comedy Web site.

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

STEWART: I mean, it goes on to talk about his twin on another planet, but it's gotten a whole bunch of traction.

But there is this idea that there might be a slight touch with reality about some of these rumors and they take off. One of the ones on Huffington Post says that Mitt Romney is a Mexican.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: All right? But here's the thing, his father was born in Chihuahua, Mexico…

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

STEWART: …when the family lived in a Mormon enclave there.

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

STEWART: So is it - that all it takes is, like, a little bit of a little tasty, tiny smear of truth?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, well, that's exactly right, Alison. If, you know, it's so easy to inflate or just sort of exploit one small thing like that. And in Romney's case for, you know, for comedic purposes, but, you know, oftentimes, for more sinister reasons, too. You know, you can just take somebody's name or their background, like an Obama, and, you know, you're drawing(ph) from it.

STEWART: As a reporter and you're writing about these things…

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

STEWART: How do you make the decision whether or not to report something that you may have heard on the trail and a little bit of truth to it versus you just know that this is bunk, but it's out there.

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I mean, look, if something is, you know, categorically not true and it's false, then you just ignore it. In the case of Obama, that's a story that is very much worth reporting because you're not actually talking about the…

STEWART: The rumor itself. We're talking about the events around it.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, you're reporting on the political impact of the rumor, which is considerable in his case. And you can be sure that if he were to get the nomination, the sort of subterranean attack against him would be these sort of questions about his patriotism and about his affiliation and then his loyalties. I mean, that would be the sort of crux of his challenge if he, you know, is to be the nominee.

STEWART: And then sometimes a rumor, like Giuliani married his first cousin? That one actually has truth to it, right?

Mr. MARTIN: I think it's second cousin.

STEWART: Second cousin.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

STEWART: Ah, see?

BURBANK: Who was a gay, Mexican albino.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I think she was an Italian gal, but close enough.

STEWART: Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for Politico.com, thanks a lot.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks, guys.

STEWART: I think we should link to that Puffington Post thing because it's just hilarious.

BURBANK: The Puffington Post; that is where those rumors were getting started. I think you mean Huffington Post. Oh, that would be a great name for a rumor-starting Web site.

STEWART: Yeah, and sometimes, you know, you read some stuff on there; sometimes it is the Puffington Post.

BURBANK: Coming up, Sean Aiken. He's a hardworking boy; he's trying to do 52 jobs in one year. We'll talk to him about his experience.

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