This week's syndicated column:
One feature that marks a totalitarian regime is media that serve as the government's information service. TASS, Radio Berlin, Voice of Hanoi -- these were all government entities that conveyed what the dictatorship wanted. The handout comes, the handout is published. The real danger point arrives when propaganda no longer rankles, but flows naturally. That's when authority carries more weight than evidence, and peer pressure suppresses independent thinking. It's also when captives become subjects.
Watching our free, First-Amendment-protected media react to the surprising release of President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate, I have to wonder: What exactly is the difference? I exaggerate, but not much. It's been three weeks since Obama first made his long-form birth certificate public on April 27, 2011. Why, suddenly, did he do this, and not in 2008, 2009 or 2010 when this first of the missing bona fides became a focal point of deep national consternation? Why did Obama send lawyers to courtroom after courtroom to keep this simple document hidden -- and now mass-produce it on Obama 2012 campaign t-shirts? Why did Obama prefer to see Army Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin throw away his military career and go to prison for five months rather than, presto, authorize the document's release? The answers have something to do with political inroads Donald Trump was quite unexpectedly making simply by asking natural, obvious questions about Obama that neither Big Media nor someone of un-ignorable celebrity had ever asked before. But that's not the whole story.
We have the long-form birth certificate now -- or at least another highly questionable PDF of a scan of a copy of a document to stare at online (and, almost ghoulishly, on those Obama 2012 campaign T-shirts) -- but we don't have all the answers. Certainly we didn't get them from the "off camera and only pen and pad, not for audio" White House briefing on the document's release. That's because the media don't think, can't think to ask for them. Having spent years fending off the rare query about the long-form birth certificate like angry cats snarling that the president had already released his birth certificate, they didn't even seem to notice what chumps the new Obama document -- the one they said had already been released -- showed them all to be.
Either that, or they channeled their anger at ... Donald Trump. At that moment the non-declared GOP presidential front-runner, Trump got off his helicopter in New Hampshire also on April 27 to discuss his big coup, which is how he viewed the release of this first document in Obama's hidden paper trail. To say the media didn't share Trump's positive views on transparency is the understatement of the year.
First question to Trump: You're taking "credit" but a lot of people say what you caused was a distraction.
The president plays games for three years and Trump caused the "distraction"? And "distraction" from what -- White House talking points? Remember, this is supposed to be a professional journalist talking.
Second question to Trump, who said he still wanted to know what took Obama so long: Why is it relevant?
Again, this isn't supposed to be a member of Obama's re-election team, at least not officially. Another question: What are your qualifications to assess it (the birth certificate)?
Another question: Who cares (whether Obama releases his academic records)?
These aren't questions from reporters who follow facts where they lead. These are people who have circled the wagons, and woe to anyone outside. Meanwhile, back at the simultaneous White House briefing, the transcript shows what happened when one journalist haltingly attempted to do his job:
"Q. And this is going to sound -- I mean, you can just anticipate what people are going to -- remain unconvinced. They're going to say that this is just a photocopy of a piece of paper, you could have typed anything in there. Will the actual certificate be on display or viewable at any -- (laughter.)"
Laughter. That was the answer.
Evidence is a joke to media in thrall to authority, those whose incuriosity about the many mundane documents Obama has mysteriously withheld from us leads to copy fit only for a palace pamphlet. From the transcript: "Q. Dan, was there a debate about whether or not this deserved being discussed by the White House .... was there debate about whether or not this was worthy of the White House?"
Let them eat birth certificates.