Why Obama Birther Conspiracy Theories Linger

Why have conspiracy theories about Obama's nationality endured?

photo: The President's birth certificate, released by the White House.

Barack Obama has authorized the release of copies of his original birth certificate to address the continuing conspiracy theories surrounding his birth and eligibility for office.

Obama described the ongoing conspiracy claims as a distraction from the nation's real issues and hoped this would put the matter to rest.

Why has the issue of Obama's birth certificate been such an issue over the past two years? There are several reasons:

Conspiracy Theory Engine

Whether the claim is that the moon landings were faked, Hitler is still alive, or that 9/11 was an inside job, conspiracy theories are inherently difficult or impossible to disprove, because the hardcore believers rationalize away any evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

Obama released his birth certificate years ago, but critics complained that it wasn't the full, long form they wanted to see. Today's full and final release of his birth information may silence some, but for many there is no evidence that would satisfy them that Obama was born in Hawaii short of physically being present at the hospital for his live birth on Aug. 4, 1961.

Furthermore, the myth persisted because it fit in well with other false ideas about Obama. Most beliefs about the world do not exist in isolation; instead they are part of a complex - and not always coherent or logical - web of larger beliefs. For example, many people still believe that Obama is a Muslim, and that he was born in Kenya (or Indonesia, or somewhere else).

Strong Political Agenda

Most people go through their adult lives never needing to produce a birth certificate other than for a very few specific purposes such as obtaining a passport. In the case of Barack Obama, those who question where he was born aren't merely curious (does anyone care where Ronald Reagan was born?) but instead want to use the information to question Obama's legitimacy to be president.

Powerful and wealthy opponents have spent lots of money fueling the myths and misinformation to keep the issue alive.

Bad Research and Sloppy Journalism

Though questions about Obama's birth are driven by political agenda, the facts are available and can be found through good research.

Donald Trump, who claims to have spent millions of dollars on groundbreaking investigations of Obama's birth, might want to get his money back. Much of the information he received - and passed along as fact in national media interviews - was factually and provably wrong (such as his statement that Obama's "grandmother in Kenya is on record saying he was born in Kenya."

In fact his grandmother is on the record as saying exactly the opposite, that he was born "In the state of Hawaii, where his father, his father was also learning there. The state of Hawaii." Apparently millions of dollars doesn't buy good journalism these days.

A Willing News Media

Much of the misinformation about Obama, from whatever the source, has been spread through the news media. According to Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, among those who think that Obama is a Muslim, 60 percent learned about his religion from the news media and talk shows. Controversy, legitimate or not, sells newspapers and increases TV ratings.

One irony that's often lost amid these teapot tempests is that Obama's Republican presidential opponent in the last election, John McCain, was not born in the United States but instead in the Panama Canal Zone. Furthermore, the first eight U.S. presidents also weren't born in what was then the United States.

With the citizenship issue settled, again, there are still plenty of people who insist that Obama is Muslim (and/or the Antichrist), or is going to take away the nation's gun rights at any moment.

Clearly a significant number of Americans were intentionally duped and misled by politicians and the media about president Barack Obama's faith, citizenship and agenda.