It’s become fashionable among some birthers to shift from calling for President Obama’s birth certificate to instead call for his school records.
As TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro put it this week, making digs about Obama’s grades “is a key component of a less-than-subtle birther conspiracy that Obama got into Harvard for reasons, you know, other than his intelligence.”
But where did this latest conspiracy theory come from? Tough to say for sure, but it seems likely that like most not-crazy ideas, this one came from a chain e-mail.
Back in June 2009, World Net Daily, the birther-est of birther sites, claimed that many of Obama’s school records — from Kindergarten in Hawaii through his time at Occidental College, and then on to Columbia undergraduate and Harvard Law School — are missing. The argument was summed up by WND columnist Jack Cashill who said, “If Obama’s LSAT scores merited admission (to Harvard), we would know about them. We don’t. The Obama camp guards those scores, like his SAT scores, more tightly that Iran does its nuclear secrets.”
Fast forward to this week, when Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry dabbled in traditional birtherism, and then made the leap to the school records question. Perry started off by saying that he doesn’t “have any idea” if Obama’s long-form birth certificate is real. But he told CNBC’s John Harwood: “I’m really not worried about the president’s birth certificate [but] it’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say ‘hey, how about let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’”
Back when he was teasing the media with the idea of a presidential run, Donald Trump took the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate in stride, instead pivoting to the grades theory: “The word is,” Trump said at the time, Obama “was a terrible student when he went to Occidental [College]. He then gets to Columbia. He then gets to Harvard.”
“I don’t know why he doesn’t release his records,” Trump said. “Why doesn’t he release his Occidental records?”
Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips had similar concerns after the release of the long-form birth certificate, but he touched on something else: “I have found it very disturbing that president Obama has not released all his records,” he told TPM in April, adding that there’s a “rumor that Obama attended Occidental [College] on a scholarship reserved for foreign students.”
This “rumor” is another part of the grand grades conspiracy, which was also referenced in the above WND article. But it seems to be based on a fake AP story that was originally circulated in a chain e-mail in 2009. Dated April 1st (April Fools’ Day), the e-mail subject is “OBAMA - SMOKING GUN FINALLY FOUND?”
The supposed smoking gun? Records from Obama’s time as a student at Occidental that showed he received financial aid from a Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program awarded only to foreign students. From the e-mail:
In a move certain to fuel the debate over Obama’s qualifications for the presidency, the group “Americans for Freedom of Information” has released copies of President Obama’s college transcripts from Occidental College. Released today, the transcript indicates that Obama, under the name Barry Soetoro, received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia as an undergraduate at the school. The transcript was released by Occidental College in compliance with a court order in a suit brought by the group in the Superior Court of California. The transcript shows that Obama (Soetoro) applied for financial aid and was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program. To qualify, for the scholarship, a student must claim foreign citizenship. This document would seem to provide the smoking gun that many of Obama’s detractors have been seeking.
Back when the e-mail first came out, Factcheck.org contacted the AP, who denied the existence of the article entirely. “The story purported to be from The Associated Press on April 1 is fake,” Jack Stokes, the AP’s manager of media relations, said in a statement.
Additionally, the group that supposedly got copies of the transcripts is a hoax in itself. “Americans for Freedom of Information: We Do Not Exist,” its site says. “We are a fictitious group of individuals; i.e. we do not exist. And yet, for a nonexistent organization we wield great power and knowledge!”