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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Was Obama Born in the USA?

Q: Has a “smoking gun” been found to prove Obama was not born a U.S. citizen? Did he attend Occidental College on a scholarship for foreign students?

A: This chain e-mail is a transparent April Fools’ Day hoax. It fabricates an AP news story about an nonexistent group, and makes false claims about Obama and the Fulbright program.


I recently received this and wanted to know if it is accurate, and what the implications are.



April 1, 2009

AP- WASHINGTON D.C. – In a move certain to fuel the debate over Obama’s qualifications for the presidency, the group “Americans for Freedom of Information” has released copies of President Obama’s college transcripts from Occidental College. Released today, the transcript indicates that Obama, under the name Barry Soetoro, received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia as an undergraduate at the school. The transcript was released by Occidental College in compliance with a court order in a suit brought by the group in the Superior Court of California. The transcript shows that Obama (Soetoro) applied for financial aid and was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program. To qualify, for the scholarship, a student must claim foreign citizenship. This document would seem to provide the smoking gun that many of Obama’s detractors have been seeking.

The news has created a firestorm at the White House as the release casts increasing doubt about Obama’s legitimacy and qualification to serve as president. When reached for comment in London, where he has been in meetings with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Obama smiled but refused comment on the issue. Meanwhile, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs scoffed at the report stating that this was obviously another attempt by a right-wing conservative group to discredit the president and undermine the administration’s efforts to move the country in a new direction.

Britain’s Daily Mail has also carried the story in a front-page article titled, “Obama Eligibility Questioned”, leading some to speculate that the story may overshadow economic issues on Obama’s first official visit to the U.K.

In a related matter, under growing pressure from several groups, Justice Antonin Scalia announced that the Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear arguments concerning Obama’s legal eligibility to serve as President in a case brought by Leo Donofrio of New Jersey. This lawsuit claims Obama’s dual citizenship disqualified him from serving as president. Donofrio’s case is just one of 18 suits brought by citizens demanding proof of Obama’s citizenship or qualification to serve as president.

Gary Kreep of the United States Justice Foundation has released the results of their investigation of Obama’s campaign spending. This study estimates that Obama has spent upwards of $950,000 in campaign funds in the past year with eleven law firms in 12 states for legal resources to block disclosure of any of his personal records. Mr. Kreep indicated that the investigation is still ongoing but that the final report will be provided to the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder. Mr. Holder has refused to comment on the matter.


The claim is that Obama received a Fulbright scholarship for foreign students, proving that he is not a U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible to be president. Supposedly this was reported by The Associated Press. But the claim is false and the story is a hoax.

April Fake

We contacted The Associated Press just to confirm what should be obvious, that no such news story ever appeared on the news agency’s wires. Jack Stokes, the AP‘s manager of media relations, gave us this statement:

AP: The story purported to be from The Associated Press on April 1 is fake.

Furthermore, the group that the fake story credits with gaining release of the supposed “smoking gun” documents is also a fake. Searches of news accounts and Internet sites showed no trace of any group called “Americans for Freedom of Information,” until recently. On May 6 such a group did appear, but only as a joke to make fun of anyone who had fallen for the April Fools’ Day gag. An anonymous blogger set up a site calling itself “Americans for Freedom of Information: We Do Not Exist.” Its first entry begins:

“Americans for Freedom of Information” May 6: We are the Americans for Freedom of Information. We are a fictitious group of individuals; i.e. we do not exist. And yet, for a nonexistent organization we wield great power and knowledge! O Yea, Verily. OK, actually, not verily at all. Anti-verily, as a matter of an utter lack of fact.

Update: On May 11 an “Americans for Freedom of Information” Web site was registered to a woman in Hilton, N.Y. named Debra J.M. Smith. This site of course did not exist when on date of the fake AP story, and Smith told us she is not responsible for the claims it makes.

Where Truth Ends

Not all versions of this e-mail carry the telltale April 1 dateline, however. And more than a month after it first appeared we continue to get questions about whether it is true, and to see postings on conservative blogs that seem to accept its claims as fact. But not only is the message a hoax, its key claims are as false as they can be.

Among the few claims that are true in this message is that from fall 1979 through spring 1981 Obama attended Occidental College, a small (currently 1,825 students, according to its Web site) school in Los Angeles. After that he transferred to Columbia University in New York City to finish his undergraduate education. The photo here is from his application to Occidental.

It’s also true that Obama was on scholarship while at Occidental, according to articles in the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe.

But that’s about where the truth ends. For those who might believe that even a fake news story quoting a nonexistent organization might still have some validity, we offer these facts:

No Fulbright: Contrary to what this e-mail claims, Obama’s scholarship wasn’t a Fulbright. It’s true that many foreign students come to the U.S. under the Fulbright program, sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. But Fulbrights for foreign students are primarily intended for graduate students studying for masters’ degrees or Ph.D. degrees, not for college freshmen and sophomores.

No “Soetoro”: Another false claim is that Obama attended and received financial aid “under the name Barry Soetoro,” using the surname of his Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro. The college’s Director of Communications Jim Tranquada told us there’s no record of that. He told us in an e-mail:

Occidental spokesman Tranquada: Contemporary public documents, such as the 1979-80 freshman ‘Lookbook’ published at the beginning of President Obama’s first year at Occidental, list him as Barack Obama. All of the Occidental alumni I have spoken to from that era (1979-81) who knew him, knew him as Barry Obama.

No Records: It’s not even true that Occidental has released Obama’s student records, as claimed in the message. Nor have courts ordered any such records to be made public. According to the college spokesman:

Occidental spokesman Tranquada: To date, all of the litigation filed regarding President Obama’s student records at Occidental has been rejected by the courts. Occidental has not released his transcripts or his student file.

Furthermore there’s no trace of the supposed Daily Mail story headlined “Obama Eligibility Questioned,” either on the newspaper’s Web site or in the Nexis database of stories published by the paper. The claim that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case brought by Leo Donofrio is also false; the high court in fact refused to grant a hearing in that case back on Dec. 8, 2008.

There is a group called the “United States Justice Foundation,” and it does list a Gary Kreep as its executive director. But we find no report of any study of Obama’s legal spending on its Web site, or any mention of turning information over to Attorney General Eric Holder. We’ve asked Kreep about this in an e-mail message, and will update this item should we receive a reply.

Update: May 28: Kreep responded simply: “It’s all a hoax.”

-Brooks Jackson