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White House rips Forbes over Obama cover story

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; C01

Dinesh D'Souza has drawn a torrent of criticism with a Forbes cover story that accuses President Obama of adopting "the cause of anti-colonialism" from his Kenyan father.

But while most detractors focus on the author -- and Newt Gingrich, who embraced the critique -- the White House is aiming its ammunition at the business magazine.

"It's a stunning thing, to see a publication you would see in a dentist's office, so lacking in truth and fact," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says in an interview. "I think it represents a new low. . . . Did they not fact-check this at all, or did they fact-check it and just willfully ignore it?"

The spokesman detailed his objections Thursday in a meeting with Forbes's Washington bureau chief, Brian Wingfield. Gibbs says he asked him to "convey to New York my question of what their plan is to correct the many factual errors that I and others have pointed out about the cover story."

The magazine would not make Editor in Chief Steve Forbes, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, available for comment, or any other editor. The biweekly did issue a statement: "Dinesh D'Souza's cover story was presented as an analysis of how the president thinks. No facts are in contention. Forbes stands by the story."

But some facts are very much in contention, and D'Souza -- who loosely based the article on his forthcoming book, "The Roots of Obama's Rage"-- isn't hesitant to discuss his work.

Reached separately in New York, D'Souza, 49, who worked in the Reagan White House, says his argument that the president was heavily influenced by the late Barack Obama Sr. is a "psychological theory." But, he insists, "the idea that Obama has roots that are foreign is not an allegation, it's a statement of fact."

The facts are also these: Obama Sr. abandoned the family when his son was 2, and the future president saw his father only one more time, during a visit in Hawaii when he was 10. Obama Sr. died in 1982.

Gibbs says the Forbes attack comes at a time when there is "no limit to innuendo" against the president, including baseless charges that he is a Muslim and was not born in the United States. Forbes, he says, "left the facts on the cutting-room floor."

D'Souza acknowledges one error. He wrote that Obama "is a man who spent his formative years -- the first 17 years of his life -- off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa." Obama visited Pakistan once, as a college student, when he was older than 17. (Hawaii, of course, may be off the American mainland, but it is hardly out of the American mainstream.)

When Gingrich called the article profound and said Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview, Gibbs accused him of "trying to appeal to the fringe." Vice President Biden, on MSNBC, assailed the former House speaker for "repeating that garbage." Gingrich told the Daily Caller that his own remarks "seemed to touch some kind of irrational nerve on the left."

The Forbes piece begins by calling Obama "the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history." D'Souza then uses long, winding threads in an attempt to tie Obama's policies to his upbringing. "He took his father's dream, his vision, his ideology," D'Souza says in the interview.

While describing Obama Sr. as a polygamist and drunk driver who has been accused of wife-beating, the author says that the president "adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. . . . He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. . . . Clearly the anti-colonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. goes a long way to explain the actions and policies of his son in the Oval Office. . . . The invisible father provides the inspiration."

As one example, D'Souza writes that the Export-Import Bank, "with Obama's backing," last year offered $2 billion in loans and guarantees to Brazil to explore for oil that he says would remain in Brazil (though presumably it could be exported). Gibbs notes that the bank had no Obama appointees at the time and that the president's nominee to run the bank was awaiting Senate confirmation. D'Souza calls this a "semantic game," saying the president had the authority to stop the financing.

D'Souza, who has been affiliated with conservative think tanks, has written more than a dozen books, including "The End of Racism," "Illiberal Education" and "Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader."

In the interview, D'Souza says he explicitly rejects the notion that Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii and calls suggestions that he is race-baiting "preposterous." As someone who spent his first 17 years in India, he says that he feels "an eerie similarity to my own background" in examining a president who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. "I'm completely Americanized -- I have an American accent, an American wife -- but a residue of me is foreign."

D'Souza says his thinking about Obama's influences draws heavily from the president's memoir, "Dreams From My Father." But that book describes a young man's struggle to understand his African roots and the father he never really knew, and offers a largely critical portrait of the Harvard-educated man who left his family.

Columbia Journalism Review this week called the D'Souza article "a fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia" and "the worst kind of smear journalism -- a singularly disgusting work."

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