On Monday, Newsweek's Andrew Romano urged readers to "stay tuned before coming to any conclusions" about the photograph of Sen. Barack Obama that was allegedly obtained by the Drudge Report from a Clinton staffer.[1]  --  How this dubious pseudo-event came about is still not clear.  --  While it is common practice for other U.S. politicians to don native garb when traveling abroad as a remark of respect for the cultures they are visting, Romano wrote, "The problem here is that Barack Obama is not 'other U.S. politicians.'  As I've written before, 'over the past few months, it's become clear that there are some shady people out there bent on spreading the claim — completely, inarguably, demonstrably false   that Obama is a "crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate."'"  --  Romano believes that in the Information Age it is not possible to refuse to acknowledge such a smear campaign; it must be confronted.  --  "I expect the Obama camp to keep assuming the worst of Hillaryland, and encouraging its supporters to do the same; that's just good politics.  And I expect the Clinton camp to keep playing dumb.  'If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed,' said campaign manager Maggie Williams this morning, with irritating feigned ignorance of the charged 'Muslim' context   and the fact that the original emailer allegedly implied that wearing such clothing should be cause for controversy.  'Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.'  Notably, Williams didn't deny that the photo was circulated by the campaign, which   as Marc Ambinder points out   'perhaps one can justify under the assumption that Williams doesn't have access to the e-mail records of all 700 of her employees.'  If it emerges that top Clinton aides did, in fact, authorize the attempted 'smear,' then Obama's outrage would be justified, and Clinton should book her flight back to Chappaqua.  If an unauthorized staffer sent it out, then he or she should be sacked — and the damage should stop at embarrassment.  And in either case, Obama supporters should recognize this flap for what it is   another opportunity to, as Obama said yesterday in Ohio, 'lift it up [i.e., the Muslim rumor] and actively debunk it.'"  --  He concluded:  "Here's hoping that some good might still come of this ugliness." 

1.

Stumper

BREATHE. RELAX. THE DRUDGE 'DRESSED OBAMA' PHOTO, IN PERSPECTIVE
By Andrew Romano

Newsweek
February 25, 2008

Original source: Newsweek

In the highly unlikely circumstance that you don't refresh the Drudge Report every six seconds -- as nearly every political editor I've ever met does -- you may have missed the story that's been hovering atop the page the entire morning: CLINTON STAFFERS CIRCULATE 'DRESSED' OBAMA.

Needless to say, it's the buzz of the Beltway. According to Drudge, "with a week to go until the Texas and Ohio primaries, stressed Clinton staffers circulated a photo over the weekend . . . [that] shows the Democrat frontrunner fitted as a Somali Elder, during his visit to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya." "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?" Drudge quotes "one campaign staffer" asking in an email. Drudge didn't post the message, which he claims to have "obtained"; but he sure as hell posted the photo, which shows Barack Obama donning a local costume -- white turban, white wrap, walking stick.

Let's be clear about this: there's absolutely nothing wrong with Obama posing for such a photo. Other U.S. politicians -- including secret Vietnamese double-agent George W. Bush -- regularly suit up in local garb when touring far-flung corners of the world. The problem here is that Barack Obama is not "other U.S. politicians." As I've written before, "over the past few months, it's become clear that there are some shady people out there bent on spreading the claim -- completely, inarguably, demonstrably false -- that Obama is a 'crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate.'" (It's absurd, as Drudge's "Clinton staffer" likely knew, to suggest that the media would crucify Clinton for donning similar garb.) Meaning that the photo, which shouldn't be controversial, will be -- and the fact the Clinton staffers "circulated" it looks a lot like an attempted "smear."

But should we see it that way? I'm not sure.

For their part, Obama staffers are pushing the "smear" angle hard. “On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election," wrote Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this morning in a statement to reporters. On comment boards across the blogosphere, Obama supporters are dropping words like "cynical," "disgusting," "despicable," "shameful," and, worst of all, "Rovian." The point, of course, is to suggest that the Clintonistas are slyly pressing for advantage among credulous, bigoted Americans who a) believe (despite reality) that Obama is Muslim, b) consider being Muslim a bad thing and c) would somehow see this innocuous image as "evidence" of Obama's Muslimness.

Which, if true, would be pretty damn Rovian.

But at this point, we're a long way from "Bush's brain" levels of evil. Obama staffers and supporters are assuming that the Clinton campaign actively leaked the "dressed photo." But it's more likely that some low-level staffer forwarded the image to another low-level staffer and then it drifted, Drudgeward, through the series of tubes -- unbeknownst to campaign brass. "Circulated" is a capacious word, and it certainly doesn't mean "leaked to the press." What's more, I'm reluctant believe Drudge's account of the picture's provenance until I actually see the "circulated" email; it's totally possible that some anti-Democratic operative is attempting to tarnish both Clinton and Obama. It's called a bank shot. As the *New Republic*'s Jason Zengerle wrote when the Muslim-madrassa story first surfaced, "I suppose this information about Obama could have originated with people in Clinton's orbit. But let's not forget where this information appeared. And let's be on the lookout for who goes on the cable shows and wonders whether "Barack Hussein Obama" is "The Manchurian Madrassa Candidate." Something tells me it isn't going to be Hillary, or any liberal for that matter." Drudge isn't exactly a Hillary fan, or a reliable fact witness -- to put it mildly.

So let's stay tuned before coming to any conclusions. I expect the Obama camp to keep assuming the worst of Hillaryland, and encouraging its supporters to do the same; that's just good politics. And I expect the Clinton camp to keep playing dumb. "If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed," said campaign manager Maggie Williams this morning, with irritating feigned ignorance of the charged "Muslim" context -- and the fact that the original emailer allegedly implied that wearing such clothing should be cause for controversy. "Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely." Notably, Williams didn't deny that the photo was circulated by the campaign, which -- as Marc Ambinder points out -- "perhaps one can justify under the assumption that Williams doesn't have access to the e-mail records of all 700 of her employees." If it emerges that top Clinton aides did, in fact, authorize the attempted "smear," then Obama's outrage would be justified, and Clinton should book her flight back to Chappaqua. If an unauthorized staffer sent it out, then he or she should be sacked -- and the damage should stop at embarrassment. And in either case, Obama supporters should recognize this flap for what it is -- another opportunity to, as Obama said yesterday in Ohio, "lift it up [i.e., the Muslim rumor] and actively debunk it."

"What we have tried to do is just make sure that we are flooding the internet with the accurate information and pushing back as much as possible," he said. "I don't think that we are in an era anymore where you can just ignore these things and not dignify them. There was a time when they would be amplified as consequence of you calling attention to it. I don't think that's the case any more because of our media age."

Here's hoping that some good might still come of this ugliness.