Monte Kuligowski
Barack Obama: The original birther
By Monte Kuligowski
May 19, 2012

We've always known that the original birthers were Democrats. Phillip Berg, a disgruntled Hillary supporter filed the first lawsuit demanding that Obama produce his mysterious birth certificate. And now with the blockbuster news from we learn that Mr. Obama was the very first Obama birther.

It turns out that Obama claimed he was Kenya-born before he claimed he was Hawaii-born.

"The great thing about irony," writes David Foster Wallace, "is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies[.]"

Breitbart News obtained a 1991 promotional booklet put together by Obama's literary agency, Acton & Dystel, which lists the then-Harvard Law grad as "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii."

The promotional booklet continues with Obama's biography:
    Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii. The son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, he attended Columbia University and worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation. He served as project coordinator in Harlem for the New York Public Interest Research Group, and was Executive Director of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago's South Side. His commitment to social and racial issues will be evident in his first book, Journeys in Black and White [the title was changed].
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, Ralph Nader, sports stars Joe Montana and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and 89 other clients also appear with their respective biographies in the 36 page booklet.

Breitbart News spoke with Edward Acton of Acton & Dystel who indicated that the non-athletes were "probably" approached "to approve the text as presented." Acton admits that the agency felt the need to at least get the approval of its more scholarly clients. Obama, of course, was president of the Harvard Law Review. Translation: Obama either wrote or approved his write up.

In the publishing world it's common practice for authors to control their own bios. In the unlikely scenario that Obama didn't approve the text, would the agency have continued to list Obama as Kenya-born until 2007 on its website? Well, it did just that and no one corrected the record until Obama's presidential aspirations became apparent.

Interestingly, Breitbart News reports its big story as a misprint with no implications beyond unexplained pragmatics:
    The errant Obama biography in the Acton & Dystel booklet does not contradict the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate. Moreover, several contemporaneous accounts of Obama's background describe Obama as having been born in Hawaii.

    The biography does, however, fit a pattern in which Obama — or the people representing and supporting him — manipulate his public persona.
Before condemning the Breitbart editors as spineless cowards, it's possible that they are goading the "mainstream" press to report the issue.

American Thinker editor Thomas Lifson suggested just that.
    Joel, and the senior management of carefully distance themselves from claiming that Obama was born in Kenya, and that this proves anything more than that Barack Obama is willing to massage the details of his biography when he thinks it might be to his advantage. That is certainly an easier sell with the public, and it offers the possibility that this item might be commented upon by elements of the mainstream media, who would absolutely shun it if it were claimed to show Obama was born in Kenya.
And shortly after publishing the words above, the mainstream press ran the story as the "mistake" that might have "sparked" the birther issue. Yahoo! News reports that, "Obama's former literary agency misidentified his birthplace as Kenya while trying to promote the then-Harvard Law grad as an author in 1991."

Miriam Goderich, a partner at Dystel & Godrich edited the text of Obama's biography:
    "This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me — an agency assistant at the time," Goderich wrote in an emailed statement to Yahoo News. "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more."
If Obama didn't provide the birth information the question then becomes: where did the information come from in 1991? How did Goderich misidentify Obama's birthplace? Did she take a wild guess that Kenya was Obama's place of birth?

The breaking news from adds yet another oddity to the mountain of existing Obama oddities.

Writing for The Ticket, Dylan Stableford claims that Obama's bio in the 1991 booklet is a "possible source of the so-called "birther" issue — or at least a potential cause of the rumors that have dogged President Barack Obama[.]" But how can a breaking discovery be the source or cause of a four-year old controversy?

No, it's not the source or the cause of rumors. The source or cause had to exist in 1991 to allow for the "misidentification" of Kenya as Obama's birthplace. The naming of Kenya as Obama's birthplace in 1991, of course, does not prove the source or cause of the rumors. The bio proves no more than such information was somehow available.

The most likely source is Obama himself.

Only one thing is for certain. It is high time to put the rumors to rest. And there is only one way to put them behind us: Simple compliance with the legal standard for the production of documents.

It would be no great distraction or burden for Obama to produce certified paper copies of his birth certificate for interested state election officials and make the original available for onsite corroboration and authentication.

Clerks at the Hawaii Department of Health could send certified copies out in a week and the original could be inspected by state officials shortly thereafter.

In the interest of restoring national trust Obama should want to produce his birth certificate and other relevant records, including education, Selective Service and passport.

I understand that most establishment-type conservative pundits made the calculated decision years ago that the "birther" issue "is not a winning issue." And hence reporting of the explosive news from Breitbart is prefaced with statements like, "I believe Obama was born in Hawaii, but ..." With all due respect, who cares what pundits "believe" about Obama's birthplace? Obama's place of birth should not be an article of faith. No one should have to "believe."

It is time for everyone to demand that Obama immediately produce (not post images on the internet) all relevant documents to end the unnecessary vote of no confidence. Let the burden be on Obama to end all doubt once and for all.

You don't have to be a "birther" to demand that Obama end the controversy that he started.

A shorter version of this piece first appeared at

© Monte Kuligowski


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Monte Kuligowski

Monte Kuligowski is an attorney and writer whose legal scholarship, including "Does the Declaration of Independence Pass the Lemon Test?" (Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy), has been published in several law journals... (more)

More by this author