Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Is it The Internet’s Fault that More and More People Think Obama is Muslim?

Last March when polls reported that 10% of the population thought Barack Obama was Muslim, I counseled calm: Obama is a new character on the scene. As people get to know him, that percentage will decline.
Instead, it’s gone up. The newest poll from the Pew Research Center showed that 13% now believe he’s Muslim – and a staggering 19% of McCain supporters believe him to be Muslim. Only 48% of Republicans say Obama is Christian (the balance is unsure).
This is truly frightening – not so much because of the implications for Obama but because of what it says about how we as Americans consume information. With more time, and more information swimming about, the public has become progressively less well informed.
To some extent this is about the politicization of mainstream media. Increasingly, people gravitate to the media sources that confirm their preconceived notions – Fox and Rush and for conservatives and Olberman and Kos for liberals. If that’s true, that represents a searing indictment of conservative media – for either promoting or failing to shoot down a blatant falsehood. (There may be counter examples on the liberal media; please post if you have them).
But this can’t be the whole explanation. After all, the percentage of independents who think Obama is Muslim also rose from 8% to 14%.
Then I noticed this: the biggest increase in the percentage who think he’s Muslim was among young people. Only 8% of people from 18-29 believed he’s Muslim in March. Now, 17% do. By contrast, among those 65 and older, the percentage who thought he was Muslim actually dropped during this period.
What’s the biggest differentiator between those groups when it comes to news consumption? The internet. Younger people get their information online. Older people still use print.
As the editor of a website, I hate to even suggest this but is it possible that this Muslim factoid provides chilling proof that web-dependent news consumers end up more poorly informed than in the olden days? Is it possible that all the fuddy-duddy old media people who warned about the internet dumbing us all down were right?

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posted September 22, 2008 at 5:40 pm

This is stealth campaign tactics, devious no doubt, to perpetrate the myth to arouse bigotry – to help McCain win the White House. Religion and race are the desperate tactics that the dishonorable McCain campaign has stooped to avoid discussing the issues, though off-the-record and completely deniable. As the lipstick soap opera has faded, look for more dirty politics like this to ratchet up the emotional response to the election.

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Warren Cheswick

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:43 pm

This might sound harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts. I’m actually surprised that only 13% of the polled people thought Obama was a Muslim, since that means that only around 13% of the population is ignorant. I really think the number is higher. Actually, there’s no real reason for this misconception save one: that conservatives are perpetuating this absurd rumor because in the day of the great unwashed multitudes who believe what they read in the tabloids, and when what used to be “real” news is just pumping out tabloid trash as well, they know that if you throw enough turd against the wall, eventually a certain amount will stick. Hell, it worked with John Kerry 4 years ago, when he got swift-boated right out of contention by lies and slander from Rove and his brand of dirty politics.
Forget about the financial crisis or the energy crisis. The fact that a complete lie not only will not go away, but actually gains strength like one of those nasty hurricanes over the Gulf, only shows us as the doomed society we are. God help us.

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Jeff Sharlet

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:42 pm

We can’t simply blame this on conservatives. As JoAnn Wypijewski’s reporting has shown, there are Obama supporters who will vote for him DESPITE their impression that he’s a Muslim, which they don’t like. Bigotry is deeper than spin, and in this case liberals deserve much of the blame, too. In fact, anybody who’s bought that silly “Clash of Civilization” thesis — the intellectual equivalent of a game of “Battleship” — has contributed to the double demonization of Islam and Obama.
Meanwhile, I wonder how many Americans have wildly erroneous views about Palin’s religion? Or, better yet, whether 13% of Americans have any idea what tradition McCain claims?
I don’t see the internet as exacerbating the uglier folkways of American life. They’re constant.

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Charles Cosimano

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:13 pm

What surprises me is that the number is so low! Remember, the internet reaches people in ways that old media never could and I would not be surprised if every day the majority of people look at their email and find at least one message, not always spam, with the header that Obama is a Muslim.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 10:54 am

Obama is clearly not a Christian. There are some things that someone who is Christian could never say, such as people who are bitter cling to X, where X is a list of things that are bad: guns, antipathy towards people who do not look like them, and religion.
In fairness a Christian could have a slip of the tongue, which to my mind explains Obama’s gaffe about ‘my muslim faith.’ But you couldn’t make the other statement. It is physically impossible for someone who actually believe in Jesus.

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Mark O'Malley

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:06 am

This is truly frightening – not so much because of the implications for Obama but because of what it says about how we as Americans consume information. With more time, and more information swimming about, the public has become progressively less well informed.
This depends upon what you identify as being “well informed.”
True, there are multiple sources of information out there. Some of those sources are highly reliable, some are not. Some are based on fact, some on rumor.
True, people need to learn to review and evaluate multiple sources of information — they need to learn to be consumers of information rather than simply recipients of that information.
But I think that it’s truly inspiring that people are turning to multiple and different sources to get informed, rather than passively ingesting the pre-digested pap that a handful of editors decides to regurgitate down their throats.

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Warren Cheswick

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:12 am

“Obama is clearly not a Christian. There are some things that someone who is Christian could never say, such as people who are bitter cling to X, where X is a list of things that are bad: guns, antipathy towards people who do not look like them, and religion.”
This makes absolutely no sense. Pat Robertson claimed that God sent Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because of the American in of abortion, and other religious leaders said it was because of the rampant immorality practiced openly there. That’s much worse that saying that people who are upset at the crappy status quo turn to “guns and religion” to find personal power. But even though I openly acknowledge that what Robertson and Falwell preach is despicable and vile, I don’t have any right to question whether they are a Christian. And neither do you about Obama, Justin. Remember that Christians are human beings who sometimes say the wrong things, believe the wrong things, and treat people the wrong way. Christianity as a religion is a way of helping us to become better and better, but it does not magically make us infallible, omnipotent, and sinless.

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pickeled herring

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:20 am

Interesting that Steve Waldman uses the internet to reach his viewers, and to distribute his opinions and ideas. Now, my dilemma is which internet blogger to believe. Waldman says Obama is not a Muslim, others say he is (although I haven’t had an email in my in-basket to claim Obama is a Muslim) so it becomes a who-do-you-believe conundrum.
When the New York Times, NBC, and ABC blatantly disparage a candidate with tabloid stories, (who hasn’t heard the rumor that Palin’s son Trig was actually her daughter’s baby) I’ll go to the internet to read the news, and watch sports during the evening news cycle

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posted September 23, 2008 at 11:51 am

It not that people believe Barack Hussein Obama is Muslim, it’s that they don’t believe him when he says he’s a Christian.
BTW, is he a Black Liberation Theology “Christian”?

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posted September 23, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Your comments about Obama’s muslim tendencies are just ignorant. Pig ignorant. He has played down, waaayyyyy down, his muslim background. Of course people convert from one religion to another. But you are just playing word games. He’s learned the koran, he’s fluent in arabic, he can recite passages of the koran, and has described the call to prayer as the most beautiful sound. He made a slip of the tongue about “my muslim faith” (you can argue context, but there is another context to consider too). There are photos of his dressing up in muslim garb as part of his pride in belonging to the Luo tribe.
You set far too narrow a standard for determining his connections to Islam and then proclaim universal truth from it. The experiences he had in his formative years have obviously left their mark on him. Anything else is a lie. They are significant influences and your attempts to play them down, waaayyyyy down, looks very lame.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Any “mix-up” can be put at the feet of the Clinton campaign. It was one of her supporters (Bob Kerry Sen. Nebraska) who claimed Obama had attended a madrassa and was raised a Muslim. It was her campaign that leaked the picture of Obama in the Kenyan costume. And it was Clinton herself who gave the weakest of weak responses as to whether or not Obama was Muslim, “…of course, he’s not Muslim…that I know of.” And, “Yes he’s Christian…as far as I know.”
It was also a Clinton supporter (Robert Johnson of BET) who made a speech claiming Obama not only took hard drugs, but sold them too.
Her unpaid “advisers” always resign, but the messages get reported and never die.
Since 1992 all political dirty tricks lead back to the Clintons. The internet is just a vehicle.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Pickled herring says:
“Now, my dilemma is which internet blogger to believe. Waldman says Obama is not a Muslim, others say he is (although I haven’t had an email in my in-basket to claim Obama is a Muslim) so it becomes a who-do-you-believe conundrum.”
That’s the problem in a nutshell. The internet is the ultimate levellere. It not only levels the powerful and unpowerful (I like that), it also levels truth, opinion and rumor. It’s all the same, just competing ideas. It’s the ultimate triumph of moral relativism.

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Ricky Pickles

posted September 23, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Thank you Steve Waldman for approaching the subject of Obama and Islam. Internet rumors can be very damaging to a career.
Obama was certainly born and most likely in the USA. An official copy of the Obama Birth Certificate has been elusive with many forgaries posted on the web. It is difficult to determine truth from fiction without cooperation from Obama.
Obama’s father was married to a woman in Kenya (where he already had one child and one in the womb) when he traveled to the USA and impregnated a minor American girl in Hawaii, Obama’s mama. Obama’s father promptly left Hawaii for Harvard Yard where he impregnated another young American girl before departing these United States. As the son of a Muslim, Obama was a Muslim by Muslim custom. Obama’s entire Kenyan family is Muslim.
Obama’s mama married another Muslim named Soetoro, an Indonesian. Obama attended school in Indonesia where he was enrolled as a Muslim as reported by the AP. As a muslim student he studied Islam in addition to secular courses. Obama as an adult can recite the Muslim call to prayer which he says is very beautiful as reported by the New York Times. Obama traveled to Indonesia and Pakistan as an adult under an Indonesian passport. Wonder if Obama ever got his US citizenship back. Obama’s entire immedicate family through Soetoro is Muslim.
Obama as an adult joined the a Black Liberation UCC church. There is decidedly nothing Christian about this religion. Obama’s baptism record remains elusive and his Pastor Wright is a very wrong man. Obama finally broke with Wright when Wright labled Obama ‘just another politician.
Obama equivicates and prevaricates, so it is no surprise that his word is questioned and the questions remain unanswered.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 9:59 pm

I say it’s two things: First, the Internet has contributed to the spread of a lot of information about Obama’s Muslim connections, as per previous commenters. Second, people don’t seem to understand that having a lot of familial Muslim connections is not the same thing as being a Muslim, and evidently the Internet is not correcting this error.
I will say, as a Christian, that while I understand Obama is not a Muslim, and I understand that he professes Christianity, I have great difficulty believing that his beliefs are authentically Christian.

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posted September 23, 2008 at 11:47 pm

Obama may not be a Muslim but he settled in a “Christian” Black Nationalist church that sounds like the Nation of Islam. In addition his “mentor”, Rev. Wright, gave an award to the Nation of Islam leader and traveled to meet Quadifi with Farrahakan. Obama’s mentor Rev. was a Muslim before he went to study Christian theology. Both of Obama’s fathers were Muslims. Obama said in a interview, that the prettiest sound was the Muslim call to prayer. He was registered as a Muslim in his Indonesian school.
I think Obama is very comfortable in the Muslim ideology. He only relates to Christianity in terms of the communist invention – liberation theology. According to Obama, “giving” to the government through mandatory alms aka, taxation, is a Christian donation to the “poor.” I don’t know what or who Obama is and neither does the editor.

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Reader John

posted September 24, 2008 at 6:55 am

I wonder if reality is so complex that we just cannot wrap our minds around it and retreat into biased ghettos – conservative talk radio, WND, Daily Kos, etc. – in emotional self defense?
I note a similar tendency, in the comments here but also out in the real world, to deny the schismatic divisions of Christianity by labeling some Christians as not Christians at all.
Barack Obama unequivocally professes to be a Christian. He also appears not to be hostile to Islam, with which (if not in which) he grew up. To be certain, his UCC denominational ties were at or near the leftmost boundary of liberal Christianity, and the Black Liberation Theology thing is well out of the mainstream, too – but what of it? The Protestant Reformers opened Pandora’s Box, and before they died they were anathematizing Anabaptists and others who took their “sola” principles and ran off in a different direction with them. Denominations, sects, cults and personal “independent” fiefdoms have but multiplying ever since.
Every Christian group can say (and in my experience
have always said when the doors were closed and blinds drawn) that the others are not authentically Christian, but I would counsel that in our public life, we accept professing Christians as “Christian” in a non-trivial sense rather than saying they’re not really Christian. I don’t have much use for liberal Christianity, but that’s different that upping the rhetorical ante by denying that it’s Christian at all.
Likewise, I’m fed up with the “Muslims don’t worship the same God” line. The reality is that they understand the same God quite differently than Christians do – as do the Jews. It simply isn’t helpful to escalate non-Trinitarianism into “different God” – at least unless one is addressing relativists who think the different understanding is a matter of total indifference.

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Steven Waldman

posted September 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Dear FzxGkJssFrk,
You write, “I have great difficulty believing that his beliefs are authentically Christian.”

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posted September 25, 2008 at 3:29 pm

will say, as a Christian, that while I understand Obama is not a Muslim, and I understand that he professes Christianity, I have great difficulty believing that his beliefs are authentically Christian.
Posted by: FzxGkJssFrk | September 23, 2008 9:59 PM
So what beliefs are authentically Christian? Be specific please because inquiring minds want to know.

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posted September 25, 2008 at 10:14 pm

All this rap against religions must be from folks who hate the US Constitution and our freedom of religion. Bigots who criticize US leaders because of their religion represent the worst in anti-religious fervor. Communist countries persecute people for their religions, and now these far right wingnuts think they are cute doing it. Hate is hate by any name, and if you hate the US so much, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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