After weeks of a Donald Trump-inspired frenzy of coverage about Birthers—those people who deny that President Obama is eligible to hold his office, or at least question his eligibility—the president and his White House took yet another step toward putting the controversy to rest. Wednesday morning, the White House released the president's original long-form birth certificate, which proves he was born in Hawaii, and put Obama himself live on national television to discuss the release and excoriate the press for all the attention it's paid to the controversy recently.
From the moment he took the podium to give a short statement, Obama was on the attack against the media.
"Now, let me just comment, first of all, on the fact that I can't get the networks to break in on all kinds of other discussions," Obama said. "I was just back there listening to Chuck [Todd, of MSNBC]—he was saying, it’s amazing that he’s not going to be talking about national security. I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it."
And, of course, Obama was right about that. Policy talk—whether it's about national security, the economy, or any other complicated subject—drives viewers and readers away. The Birthers, and Trump, on the other hand, have been like manna from heaven for financially troubled news outlets, which have been getting fantastic numbers of additional eyeballs for their coverage of the issue. (No wonder, then, that just before Obama spoke, the cable news networks had been all over a press conference given by Trump at which he also discussed the president's birth certificate.)
From there, Obama went on to make a point he's made many times, about the way the press focuses on what's become known as "Freak Show" politics at the expense of more important policy discussions.
"We've got some enormous challenges out there," Obama said. "There are a lot of folks out there who are still looking for work. Everybody is still suffering under high gas prices. We're going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get a hold of our deficit and our debt—how do we do that in a balanced way...
"But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers."
Obama's not likely to get his wish, though, at least not immediately. The Birthers got their start by questioning the president's certification of live birth, the standard copy that Hawaii provides to anyone who requests their birth certificate from the state, which his campaign released in 2008. They're not likely to immediately accept the additional proof that the White House added to what was already an overwhelming case. Studies have shown that when people who believe in conspiracy theories are given evidence that disproves their theories, their belief is actually strengthened. So as they come up with new arguments, the media is likely to keep covering them, at least for as long as the ratings hold up.