Barack Obama's half-brother has been refused entry to Britain after reportedly being accused of an attempted sex attack on a 13-year-old girl on his last visit.The original News of the World exclusive is here. Obviously, the president is not responsible for the (alleged) misconduct of his siblings, but (a) exactly how many half-siblings does he have? and (b) imagine the media reaction if there was a case like this involving a relative of Sarah Palin.
Samson Obama, who runs a mobile phone shop in Nairobi in Kenya, was on his way to the president’s inauguration in January when he tried to stop over in Britain to visit relatives. But he was turned away by immigration officers who declined to issue a visa on the grounds of deception.
Biometric tests carried out at East Midlands airport showed that he was linked to the attack on a girl in Berkshire last November but never charged, according to a report last night. Further checks identified Samson as the half-brother of President Obama, leading to a hurried call to the White House.
A Home Office source told the News of the World: "This was obviously an extremely sensitive issue when it was flashed up by the database." Officers had noticed that one of the documents that Samson had supplied with his visa application was false which led them to make further inquiries, according to a Home Office spokesman.
Details on the database suggested that he was the same man who had been arrested by police in Berkshire after approaching a group of young girls, including a 13 year-old, and allegedly trying to sexually assault one of them, the News of the World reported.
UPDATE: Tim Graham's memory is helpful:
Clinton's White House aides complained about all the British press clips the "Clinton haters" used to start up negative coverage in the United States. . . . . I'd venture that if American media outlets found it newsworthy that President Bush's niece Noelle falsely tried to grab a prescription for Xanax in 2002, a teen-sex controversy over a half-brother might be worth a few sentences.A few months before I joined the staff of The Washington Times, the Clinton White House put together a 331-page report entitled "The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce." The object of the report was to explain how scandal stories about the Clinton administration originated outside the big mainstream press (New York Times/Washington Post/TV networks) and subsequently made it into the mainstream. The Washington Times figured prominently in that conspiracy theory, as did the Telegraph and other British newspapers.
The Fleet Street Formula
OK, to get into a wee bit of journalistic "inside baseball" here, you have to understand the "Fleet Street" mentality of the British press. God bless 'em, the British tabloids are utterly without shame. They have the insane belief that the object of journalism is to sell newspapers, and they go about with admirable capitalistic insight: Give the customers what they want.
It's a simple formula: Celebrities, sports, sex, crime and scandal. The ideal British tabloid story would be if Victoria Beckham were having an affair with a member of Parliament whose mutilated corpse turned up in the trunk of the Saudi ambassador's car. (Adding the irresistible "wog" angle to the story, you see.)
To a British reporter, the president of the United States is merely another celebrity, whose name and picture on the front page can help sell papers, especially if there is some kind of scandalous whiff of sex, crime or scandal involved.
Trust me, the boys at the British tabs were saying "thank you, God" when Sarah Palin was announced as the Republican vice presidential candidate. A good-looking bird is always news on Fleet Street. (Old Benny Hill joke: "What's the hottest part of the sun? Page Three!")
Beyond the obvious insight that "sex sells" (Rule 5C) British editors seem to understand the power of news as publicity. This was something that my hero, Hunter S. Thompson, figured out early in his journalism career: At some level, a lot of what a reporter does is to publicize people and events. (Thompson learned this in his early career as a sports editor, which he recounts briefly in the "Epitaph" at the end of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.)
Trump, Gotti and Vince Foster
To understand the value of this insight, consider how the New York Post -- the nearest U.S. equivalent of a Fleet Street tabloid -- made celebrities of John Gotti and Donald Trump. Gotti was just another mobster in a town with lots of mobsters, and Trump was just another real-estate developer. But because of the way the NY Post lavished these two figures with front-page coverage, they became celebrities. The same is true of Amy Fisher, the "Long Island Lolita."
Which brings us back to the Clintonian conspiracy theory of White House scandal coverage during the 1990s. That 331-page report (which was accompanied by a wacky-looking chart that used to be prominently displayed in one assistant editor's cubicle at The Washington Times) evidently began with an effort to figure out how the Vince-Foster-Was-Murdered story became a continuing headline saga.
Vince Foster was an old Little Rock law firm colleague of Hillary Clinton's who became a minor official -- Deputy White House Counsel -- in the Clinton administration. And then one day in July 1993, his body was found in Fort Marcy Park with a bullet through his head. Every investigation into Foster's death has ruled it a suicide but, as with the assassination of JFK, suspicious minds were . . . well, suspicious.
Here's the thing to understand: Until he shot himself, Foster was obscure, but in death he became a celebrity. Why? Because, among other things, you can't libel the dead.
Dead men don't file libel suits, which is why the skeptic must keep a container of salt handy when considering all those tales of JFK's notorious womanizing. There is abundant reliable testimony that JFK wantonly indulged his voracious sexual appetites, but the story of any specific Kennedy liaison (e.g., Marilyn Monroe) must be scrutinized with profound skepticism simply because (a) we'll never hear JFK's side of the story, and (b) the journalist who alleges the affair can never be sued for libel.
Britain's libel laws are much more plaintiff-friendly than U.S. law. An American journalist sued for libel knows that the burden is on the plaintiff to prove his story false; a British journalist must prove his story true. But in England as in America, you can't libel the dead, and after he reached room temperature, Vince Foster was fair game.
It was an Irishman, Brendan Behan, who is credited with the famous P.R. maxim, "There is no such thing as bad publicity," although the full quote is: "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary." And Foster's obituary was very bad publicity, indeed.
The fact that Foster had been involved in helping the Clintons deal with the Whitewater scandal -- once famously described as "a cover-up in search of a crime" -- generated a massive tsunami of fresh reporting on a story that the Clintonistas wanted to go away. And thus the administration assigned White House staffers to prepare the "Conspiracy Stream of Commerce" report, in an effort to explain how a story by Christopher Ruddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review or Jerry Seper of The Washington Times ended up getting ping-ponged around until it was big enough news that Peter Jennings felt obligated to mention it for 40 seconds on the ABC Evening News.
Spiking the Scandal
Naturally, the Clintonistas had a propaganda objective: To convince mainstream journalists to stop reporting Clinton White House scandals. "No story here. Asked and answered. Next question." And this pushback against negative reporting had a real impact.
Everybody journalist in Washington knows that Newsweek's Michael Isikoff had the Monica Lewinsky story wrapped up about two weeks before it finally made the front page of the Washington Post. It was Matt Drudge (who figured prominently in the "conspiracy stream of commerce" theory) who broke the news that Isikoff's story had been spiked, setting off a furious scramble by D.C. news organizations to confirm the Lewinsky story.
I'd only been in town two months at that point (I started with The Washington Times in November 1997) but I'll never forget how close one of our reporters came to beating the Post on the Lewinsky scandal. The Post and Newsweek are part of the same operation, so the Post's reporters had the inside line, but it was nonetheless a close contest. And the main reason we couldn't beat them, of course, was that the people pushing the story didn't want the story to break in a "right-wing" publication; they wanted a respectable "mainstream" publication to be the first with the story.
Fortunately for Monica Lewinsky, she didn't have to turn up dead in Fort Marcy Park -- or crash into the side of a mountain in Croatia, like Ron Brown -- to become a celebrity. My advice to Samson Obama? Don't forget to pay your life-insurance premiums.