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Starting Gate: Rapid Rumor Response

Throughout the course of this presidential campaign, Barack Obama has had a concern on his mind. In speeches and rallies at various points, the Democrat has brought up the topic of rumors circulating about him via e-mail and the Internet as a way to debunk them.

That the candidate himself would feel the need to talk about e-mails claiming that he is a Muslim or other falsehoods certainly speaks to how serious the campaign views this modern-day media atmosphere that has very little checks on it.

Recently, another such rumor began to spread on the Internet that eventually started creeping into more mainstream outlets like talk radio and cable news chat. The rumor, depending on what version it's in on a given day, boils down to speculation that a tape exists on which Michelle Obama uses some rather inflammatory language.

When asked about it by reporters last week, Obama responded in part by saying that he hoped the media would not be getting into the business of spreading such rumors by even raising them or asking about them. But today, his campaign appears to have taken a much different approach to addressing them.

Fight The Smears is a Web page created by the campaign specifically to debunk these kinds of rumors. The one about Michelle Obama is directly addressed, with several examples of what has been said. "Rush Limbaugh says a tape exists of Michelle Obama using the word 'whitey' from the pulpit of Trinity United," is one example labeled a "lie." The "truth," says the campaign, is that "no such tape exists."

There are several other rumors directly addressed, including the Muslim one, and the campaign urges users to "spread the truth" by e-mailing the examples to others. It's an interesting approach and a novel one. Campaigns generally deal with such rumors by refusing to even acknowledge them, hoping to contain their spread and robbing them of any legitimate platform.

But that's much more difficult in a world where anything can spread instantly in so many ways. So the Obama campaign is hitting these rumor campaigns head-on. Will it work? It can't hurt for the campaign to try and quash these rumors early. But as we've seen already in the primary campaign, some people will believe what they want. Asked by a reporter why she voted for Hillary Clinton in the West Virginia primary, one voter said, "he's a Muslim, and that has a lot to do with it." When the reporter noted that Obama says he's not a Muslim, the voter said, "I know he does." Watch the interview here.

Around The Track

  • "I think if I was Senator Obama I would say the biggest economic problem we face is the biggest national security problem and the biggest environmental problem. And if I were him, I would ask Al Gore to serve as his vice president, his energy czar, in his administration to reduce our consumption and reliance on foreign energy sources," – James Carville, giving Obama his advice on CNN.
  • Don't look for Obama to accept John McCain's invitation to join him at a town hall meeting tonight, reports CBS News' John Bentley.
  • McCain will travel to Canada next week to talk about free trade, a move that could resurrect NAFTA as an issue in the campaign, reports the AP.
  • Former Bush adviser Karl Rove keeps up the talk about Obama and his varying pledges about meeting with foreign adversaries as president, writing in the Wall Street Journal: "If Mr. Obama wants to portray himself as Reagan, then let him show it by spelling out his strategy for Iran and the other rogue states he's pledged to spend his first year visiting. What specifically will he say in those meetings that will cause their leaders to change? What will he do to create the conditions that lead them to abandon their aggressive course? If Mr. Obama keeps dodging these questions, then the American people will have every reason to view him as unprepared for the world stage. America's adversaries are watching too.
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