It doesn't seem like the birthers will ever go away, not as long as they keep getting the occasional week of frenzied media attention like this one. Aside from Donald Trump's ongoing shenanigans, the LA Times reported that "some conservatives" have turned from the largely tapped-out "birther" cause to a "new" one – a campaign to unearth Barack Obama's college transcripts, which, they don't doubt, will reveal that the president got into Occidental College, Columbia and Harvard for reasons other than merit.
But here's the thing: "Some conservatives" turn out to be a group of eight anonymous right-wingers who came up with the bright idea of offering a $20,000 bounty – up from $10,000 earlier this month – to anyone who can produce Obama's school records. To administer their campaign they've enlisted a Tea Partyish blogger who describes himself as a fighter in the "war against cultural Marxism" and claims to believe the president is a "neo-Marxist." (Reached by Rolling Stone over Twitter, the blogger, one Brooks Bayne, wouldn't say who his backers are, replying only: "stay tuned this week, marxist america haters.")
The totally logical premise of all this: "At $15 trillion, our nation’s debt is the highest it has ever been, and it keeps growing," says the campaign's website, The Trenches. So...? "We’re not convinced that Barack is as smart as you media elitists keep insisting he is."
None of this would be worth mentioning if the LA Times and other news outlets hadn't picked up the non-story in the first place, which has given the "group of eight" a free-media solid.
And none of this is new. "Transcripters," as the LAT dubbed them, have been a subset of the broader birther movement since its early days. A certain class of right-winger – and we can include Donald Trump and Rick Perry in this company – has long used the "issue" as just one more way to undermine Obama's legitimacy in the minds of voters.
And there's an important missing link between Bayne's transcript conspiracy and traditional birtherism, which Donald Trump touched on in a tweet last week: "I wonder if @BarackObama ever applied to Occidental, Columbia or Harvard as a foreign student. When can we see his applications?"
See, there's a theory that President Obama's Occidental records will reveal that he received financial aid from a Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program awarded only to foreign students. In other words, the records contain the ever-elusive proof that Obama is not an American.
Though it's tough to trace the exact origins of this part of the theory, I wrote about one possible explanation in October. The claim was initially traced by FactCheck.org to a chain e-mail first sent out on April Fools' Day. The e-mail cited an Associated Press story that claimed that the group “Americans for Freedom of Information" had obtained Obama's Occidental records, which show that he received the foreign student scholarship. The story turned out to be totally fake. To add to the absurdity, “Americans for Freedom of Information" is a fake group itself, and has a website with the tagline "really now, we do not exist." The site seems exclusively devoted to documenting everyone who has fallen for the hoax since 2009.
As of this week, it probably has a few more names to add to the list.