Birther Speaker Takes Heat at Tea Party Convention
Saturday, February 06, 2010 at 11:00 am
NASHVILLE — During WorldNetDaily Editor-in-Chief Joseph Farah’s Friday night dinner speech, which spent around 10 of its forty minutes on questions about Barack Obama’s citizenship, Andrew Brietbart was among the conservatives in back of the room grumbling audibly about what he was hearing.
After he introduced the evening’s closing entertainment — a film titled “Generation Zero” — Breitbart walked outside to the convention hall. There, I heard Breitbart criticizing Farah, and briefly talked to him about it before I noticed that WorldNetDaily’s Chelsea Schilling was already talking to him, holding up a voice recorder. I backed up to allow her to continue her interview, which consisted of questions on why Breitbart didn’t think Obama’s citizenship was a legitimate issue.
“It’s self-indulgent, it’s narcissistic, it’s a losing issue,” Breitbart told Schilling. “It’s a losing situation. If you don’t have the frigging evidence — raising the question? You can do that to Republicans all day long. You have to disprove that you’re a racist! Forcing them to disprove something is a nightmare.”
“Wouldn’t you say,” asked Schilling, “in this case, that Farah is asking Obama to prove something rather than his disprove it?”
Breitbart rejected the premise. “When has a president ever been asked to prove his citizenship?”
After a few minutes Breitbart ended the conversation and Schilling started interviewing Tea Partiers about the speech, finding a little less skepticism. (I found some Tea Partiers, like Rita Grace of Virginia, who said they didn’t appreciate Farah’s speech.) I spotted Farah and asked him if his speech had been approved by Tea Party Nation.
“They asked me to speak,” said Farah. “They didn’t ask me, ‘What do you want to speak about?’ No, this operates like a free and open society, not like the kind of Marxist society you would apparently like to be a journalist for.”
I told Farah that his speech was getting negative attention already, and that Breitbart, who’d taken the stage after him, had criticized the “birther” parts of the speech. Farah shook his head and walked over to Breitbart in what seemed like an attempt to debunk my question.
“Andrew is my friend,” said Farah. “He has the right to disagree, and he has the right to say anything to a socialist newspaper that he wants. And if he wants to criticize his friend to you, and he’s dumb enough to do that…”
Breitbart raised his eyebrows. “I’m dumb to do what?”
“Criticize your friend to this socialist newspaper.”
“I was talking to her,” said Breitbart, pointing to Schilling. “I was talking to you. And I was saying that I disagreed on the birther stuff.”
“OK, well, did you know that Dave Weigel from The Washington Independent was”–
“I was talking to her,” said Breitbart. “She was asking me if I thought it was wise to bring it up, and I said, no. We have a lot of strong arguments to be making, and that is a primary argument. That is an argument for the primaries that did not take hold. The arguments that these people right here are making are substantive arguments. The elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts were all won not on birther, but on substance. And to apply to this group of people the concept that they’re all obsessed with the birth certificate, when it’s not a winning issue–”
“It is a winning issue!”
“It’s not a winning issue.”
“It is! It becomes even more of a winning issue when the press abrogates its responsibility–”
“You don’t recognize it as a fundamentally controversial issue that forces a unified group of people to have to break into different parts? It is a schism of the highest order.”
“Nothing exposes the president’s–”
“Then prove it!”
“The press isn’t asking the question–”
“Prove your case.”
“I should prove, what, a birth certificate that may or may not exist?” Farah had gotten irritated. “That’s ridiculous. You don’t even understand the fundamental tenets of what journalism is about, Andrew. It’s not about proving things. It’s about asking questions and seeking truth.”
Breitbart tensed up after that insult. “Right.”
“I know you’re not a journalist, so that’s fine. But don’t diminish people who’ve been doing this for 35 years.”
“So you’re going to go on record saying that I’m not a journalist?”
“Are you? I’ve never heard you claim to be. Are you?”
“I’ll let it be answered by you.”
“Well, I knew Drudge didn’t consider himself a journalist, so I assumed that you were. … I don’t know, I’m not trying to insult you.”
At that point, Judson Phillips — who had spotted a very small crowd around us — walked into the fray and tried to simmer everyone down with a joke.
“I can give you absolutely conclusive and definitive proof that Obama’s birth certificate does not exist. How else do you explain why Joe Biden is vice president?”
That more or less ended the conversation — Farah moved on, and agreed to talk more about why he and WorldNetDaily continued to pursue stories on Obama’s citizenship. The citizenship issue had stuck around and taken off, he said, “because of us.” He ran stories asking questions about the issue — including stories that were quickly debunked — because the rest of the media wasn’t asking the questions.
“Do you think this has made my life easier, doing this?” asked Farah. “I used to be on TV all the time. I haven’t been on Fox News once since I started talking about this.”
Asked whether he thought his speech created any problems for Sarah Palin — prompting reporters to ask why she patronized a convention with rhetoric like this — Farah rejected the premise.
“Sarah Palin is a big girl,” he said. “She can take care of herself. I have a lot of confidence that she’ll take care of herself well. … My objective is not to get Sarah Palin elected or something. My job as a journalist is to seek the truth.”
Update: Here’s audio of the Farah-Breitbart dispute:
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