Trying to debunk the internet rumors about Michelle Obama.—

As many of you know, there has been an ever-shifting internet rumor launched publicly by an extremely unreliable pro-Clinton blogger, Larry Johnson, that there is a video recording of Michelle Obama saying some intemperate things at Trinity United Church. The way that this story is being spread leads me to think that there is little or nothing to the rumors, which is why I haven't posted on the issue here until now.

Until today, the rumors have been too vague to be debunked, but they have now become specific enough that the currently most prominent version of the rumor [offered by the pro-Clinton blog Hillbuzz] could potentially be determined to be false. A specific conference for the remarks has been specified: the 2004 Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Annual Conference starting on June 26, 2004.

In an attempt to get the information necessary to put this matter to bed, I drove over to the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition National Headquarters, which is in the opposite corner of my Hyde-Park/Kenwood neighborhood. I spoke with Robert (Bobby) Lewis, Director of Studio Services, who apparently handles the recordings of events.

Lewis said that the recording of events from 2005 and earlier was farmed out and most or all of the existing recordings (listed on the website) had not been conveyed in-house to the National Headquarters. He said that he did not know if the organization had a recording of the 2004 conference. In response to my more specific question, he said that the one-hour Saturday broadcasts on the 2004 Annual Conference (June 26, 2004, and July 2, 2004), which are listed on the website for purchase, are not available, since they come from the earlier outsourced period.

I was very surprised when he informed me that I was the first person to have contacted them about this matter. Given the furor on the internet, I suspect that many of you are skeptical about this claim, but he really seemed unaware of the flap. He wanted to know the name of the website that had the story about the conference. And at first, he thought I was talking about a panel on which Barack, not Michelle, had spoken. In manner, he was gracious and he didn't seem to be particularly guarded or defensive.

As I write this, I am aware that it seems unlikely that Barack Obama's campaign would not have scoped this out with Rainbow/PUSH long ago. Either the Obama campaign neglected to do so, or Rainbow/PUSH picked the right person to persuade outsiders that no inquiries were made, or — more likely — there was nothing to scope out.

I suggested to Mr. Lewis that he try to find a copy, since he was likely to get inquiries. He said that he planned to get on it right away, since I was probably only the first of many more requests.

I hope that if Rainbow/PUSH locates a copy they release it as soon as possible to prevent this rumor from snowballing. In its limbo state, this rumor does damage to all three candidates, as well as to the political process.

Given the tenor of comments I have seen elsewhere on this rumor, I have not turned on comments. If it proves to be false (or true), I will then post with open comments. Until then, the most civil discussion I've seen is here.

By the way, the Rainbow/PUSH Headquarters are just a few blocks from Barack Obama's house and a few blocks from Louis Farrakhan's house. When I drove past Obama's house on the way home, there was an Obama for President sign on the front lawn of the house next door to the Obamas's, but none visible on the Obamas's house.

UPDATE: There are some anomalies in the story so far: according to the rumors, the Rainbow/Push conference was supposed to be held at Trinity United, yet schedules posted at Hillbuzz and elsewhere do not show the event as taking place at the church. Further, the schedule shows Michelle Obama as a "Special Guest," not a speaker. Last, if it wasn't at the church, why would the DVD have been on sale there? I remain highly skeptical that this story will amount to anything.

2d UPDATE: More on problems with this story: Does it seem at all plausible that anyone would go into a 30-plus minute racist rant during a "Woman's Luncheon" at the Sheraton Hotel, moderated by two mainstream local TV news reporters/anchors from the Chicago ABC affiliate? Consider also that Michelle Obama was listed only as a "Special Guest," not even listed as speaking (the Keynote Speaker for the luncheon was Jesse Jackson).

Here is the program for the luncheon:

12:00p.m ~ 2:00p.m.

SHERATON BALLROOM 1-7 Womans Luncheon

M.C.'s: Cheryl Burton and Karen Jordan, ABC 7

Keynote Speaker: Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Special Guests:

Shoshana Johnson, Retired United States Military

Michelle Obama, University of Chicago

And then somehow this supposed rant at a non-church event held at the Sheraton Hotel was for sale on the Trinity United website. Thus, I think that the most common version of the story (put forth by Hillbuzz) is almost certainly false.