No, Obama’s grandmother didn’t say he was born in Kenya

Another one of the birther myths hits the mainstream, courtesy of G. Gordon Liddy's appearance on MSNBC

Topics: Birthers, War Room,

Among those on television who’ve been covering the sudden public resurgence of the Birther movement — but in a much more responsible way than Lou Dobbs — is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The other day, he beat up pretty badly on Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., who’s a co-sponsor of the “Birther bill” that would require future presidential candidates to provide proof of their natural-born citizenship. Thursday, he hosted Watergate burglar turned radio host G. Gordon Liddy, who’s fallen under the Birthers’ sway.

Liddy himself looked decidedly unwell, and sounded out of sorts — even Matthews seemed to realize that making him into a piñata would be unsporting. I’m not going to do it either, but you can watch the video below.

I’m posting on the appearance, though, because of something Liddy said during it: ”You’ve got a deposition, which is a sworn statement, from the step-grandmother, who says, ‘I was present and saw him born in Mombasa, Kenya.’”

Liddy got this particular myth a little garbled, but it’s a favorite of the Birthers’. I’ve covered it before, but it’s worth posting on now, I think, because cable news is just getting back to this story (there was some coverage late last year, when the Supreme Court declined to hear one of the Birther lawsuits) and hosts like Matthews don’t know all the crazy twists of the conspiracy theory well enough to knock them down.

What Liddy was referring to is actually an affidavit filed by a street preacher named Ron McRae, who conducted an interview with Sarah Obama, the second wife of President Obama’s grandfather, through a translator. (Sarah Obama is not the president’s biological grandmother, but he calls her “Granny Sarah.”)

In that interview, Sarah Obama does in fact say at one point that she was there for her grandson’s birth. But that was a mistake, a confusion in translation. As soon as a jubilant McRae began to press her for further details about her grandson being born in Kenya, the family realized the mistake and corrected him. And corrected him. And corrected him. (The audio is available for download here.)



No matter, though, because people who believe in a conspiracy theory simply hear what they want to hear. So some Birther sites have posted transcripts and YouTube clips that end abruptly with the mistranslation and don’t include the corrections. McRae, for his part, included the full translation in his affidavit — he thinks it’s all just part of the conspiracy. “Some few younger relatives, including [translator Vitalis Akech Ogombe],” McRae wrote in his court filing, “have obviously been versed to counter such facts with the common purported information from the American news media that Obama was born in Hawaii.”

Here’s the conversation:

MCRAE: Could I ask her about his actual birthplace? I would like to see his birthplace when I come to Kenya in December. Was she present when he was born in Kenya?

OGOMBE: Yes. She says, yes, she was, she was present when Obama was born.

MCRAE: When I come in December. I would like to come by the place, the hospital, where he was born. Could you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?

OGOMBE: No, Obama was not born in Mombasa. He was born in America.

MCRAE: Whereabouts was he born? I thought he was born in Kenya.

OGOMBE: No, he was born in America, not in Mombasa.

MCRAE: Do you know where he was born? I thought he was born in Kenya. I was going to go by and see where he was born.

OGOMBE: Hawaii. Hawaii. Sir, she says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father was also learning, there. The state of Hawaii.

 

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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