The headline of this story is that “Obama denies a rumor,” but he doesn’t really, at least from what I can tell from the reporting:
Sen. Barack Obama on Thursday batted down rumors circulating on the Internet and mentioned on some cable news shows of the existence of a video of his wife using a derogatory term for white people, and criticized a reporter for asking him about the rumor, which has not a shred of evidence to support it.
“We have seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it,” Obama said to the McClatchy reporter during a press conference aboard his campaign plane. “That gives legs to the story. If somebody has evidence that myself or Michelle or anybody has said something inappropriate, let them do it.”
Asked whether he knew it not to be true, Obama said he had answered the question.
But as far as I can see, he hadn’t, unless there were words spoken that were not reported.
Let us parse.
“We have seen this before. There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it.”
True enough. Who can deny that there is dirt and lies circulated in emails? But that doesn’t necessarily imply that the particular topic under discussion is a lie (though it’s arguably “dirt,” regardless of its truth value).
“If somebody has evidence that myself or Michelle or anybody has said something inappropriate, let them do it.”
Again, this is not a denial. It’s simply a challenge to produce proof (or at least evidence). And in the follow up, he apparently refused, once again, to deny it. It was what is called in the business a “non-denial denial.”
This is the game that Bill Clinton used to play a lot. When confronted about something, he would feign outrage, and attack the questioner, and say something like “I’m not going to even dignify that with a response.” But he wouldn’t actually deny it. The most classic case was the Juanita Broaddrick rape accusation. He never denied it. If anyone thinks that he did, provide a transcript. He sent out his lawyer to deny it, but his lawyer has no knowledge of whether it is true or not, other than hearsay from Bill. He wasn’t in the room with them.
This looks like exactly the same behavior. Of course, part of the problem is that he’s not sure what it is he should be denying, because the rumors are all over the place as to what she said or did. But it would have been better to say something like, “I’ve seen all these rumors running around on the Internet about some imminent bombshell concerning my wife, and I can tell you categorically that they are not true.”
That would be a denial. But he didn’t say that. I wonder why?
[Update a few minutes later]
I agree with the commenters that he shouldn’t be put in a position of denying non-specific rumors (as I noted in the last paragraph above). My main point, actually, is simply that the Politico headline is wrong, and misleading, because he hasn’t denied them (though he obviously hopes that we, like the reporter, thinks that he has).