Birthers ran with 'stupid mistake'
By Mark Platte
Reporter Will Hoover is a conscientious reporter, having covered every kind of assignment in his 23 years at The Advertiser. But he made what he called a "classic stupid mistake" that has given credence to those who believe that President Obama was not born in Hawaii.
In January 2006, Hoover was asked to write a story about McKinley High School graduate Tammy Duckworth's run for Congress. Duckworth eventually lost the race but was subsequently named to head the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and appointed by Obama to become the assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For his profile, which included comparisons to Obama, Hoover wrote this line:"Both were born outside the country — Obama in Indonesia, Duckworth in Thailand — and graduated from high school in Honolulu — Punahou and McKinley, respectively."
Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, and a correction was printed the following week. But it was never fixed online until Oct. 15 of this year, when a reader pointed out the error after spotting it in an online forum.
Within hours of the article being corrected, we received a number of e-mails from angry readers who — unbeknownst to us — had a link to the 2006 story and had noticed it had changed. These readers — sometimes described as "birthers" — believe there is overwhelming evidence that the president was born either in Kenya or Indonesia.
One Web site listed the two versions of the story with the wording in question highlighted in green and blue.
"The question is, who changed the page?" read one entry. "The Advertiser, or someone working from Chicago or D.C.? Why the change was made is obvious: the information contained was proof that Obama has changed his birth story. No amount of obfuscation or scrubbing can now hide that fact."
There's no conspiracy here. When Hoover hurriedly put together his Duckworth profile in 2006, he used a search engine to find Obama's birthplace and picked up the Indonesia language.
Hoover, who has received about 70 accusatory e-mails in the past week, knows that much of what appears on the Web is inaccurate and now realizes this error has lived on our Web site for nearly four years.
The online version contains a correction at the top and a newly rewritten section that deletes the Indonesia reference.