Obama Photo Whodunit

An internet posting of a simple photo of Sen. Barack Obama today became the best example yet of how the Democratic presidential campaign has turned into a nasty and bitter fight as Sen. Hillary Clinton sinks from the inevitable nominee to an also-ran. It all started early today when the Drudge Report posted the picture of Obama in a tunic and turban while visiting Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya in 2006. It was standard stuff, apparently, as visiting dignitaries typically try on the local garb, our friend Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Matt Drudge wrote that the photo was being circulated by Clinton staffers in an apparent attempt at fear-mongering. Said his sources: "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?" the standard reference to Clinton.

So was it a Clinton plant? We attended a bacon and eggs breakfast with two Clinton staffers during which the just-released idea was raised. In one breath, a campaign spokesman denied knowing about the photo then followed the theme of Drudge's source and blamed the press for giving Obama a free ride. The proof: Saturday Night Live says so. "First," said Phil Singer, "I find it interesting that in a room of such esteemed journalists that Mr. Drudge has become your respective assignment editor. But be that as it may, I mean look, I don't know about this photo. I don't think, I hope, that anybody on our staff is responsible for this. I have no reason to suspect that they are. So I will say for myself that I know that I knew nothing about it, and I assume our campaign knows absolutely nothing about it, and that it's outrageous and ridiculous. Having said that, I find it to be a reflection of one of the problems that has gone on in the overall coverage of this campaign." He went on to describe a Politico story of Obama's ties to 1960s radicals then said, "As far as I can tell there was absolutely no follow-up on the part of the Obama traveling press corps." Then he told the press to keep digging because even Saturday Night Live thinks the press has been too easy on Obama. "I would encourage all to ... continue the vetting process of Senator Obama, which has been woefully inadequate in my view during the course of this campaign, and I think that's a point that has been certainly backed up by a Saturday Night Live skit."

Next enter the Obama campaign, which blasted Clinton's team: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement: "On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it's exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world."

Then, without taking claim for the photo, Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams socked Obama for sounding ashamed of the photo. "If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

So was the photo a Clinton plant or not? Let's hope Saturday Night Live can answer that on Weekend Update next Saturday.

By Paul Bedard