We don’t usually hit up gossip site Gawker for our fact-checking. We’re an academic group, and we’re serious and stuff! But we can’t ignore the site’s set-up and take-down of one of the weirder Internet rumors we’ve ever seen.
As most of the Internet knows by now, Gawker both popularized and debunked the claim that President Barack Obama appeared in a 1993 music video for one-hit wonder Tag Team’s infectious "Whoomp (There It Is)." Here’s how it went down:
Whoomp: A tipster sent Gawker the 1993 video, saying that Barack Obama appeared in it, playing dominoes. "Don’t believe me? Judge for yourself," the e-mail said. Gawker, which is not above a little investigative reporting on days when Lindsay Lohan is quiet, decided to take the bait.
Shak-a-lak-a: Gawker’s Adrian Chen concluded that the domino player was a doppelganger. Chen’s investigation is at best deductive, at worst speculative — "If Obama wanted to make his rap video debut, wouldn’t he have chosen an early-90s act from his beloved Chicago?" — but the kicker is a screenshot from a higher-resolution version of the video. The clearer the man appears, it seems, the less he looks like the president.
Shak-a-lak-a: Gawker commenters took up the gauntlet, generating wild claims about the video. The rumor spread way beyond its original stomping grounds (Tea Party message boards, online cesspool SomethingAwful, and so forth). Politifact debunked it, like it was serious! Politico’s Ben Smith posted about it! It was on Colbert! But hey, we can’t complain: As far as conspiracy theories go, Chen said in his original piece, "it’s way better than that whole secret Muslim thing." We can’t disagree. Better than the birth certificate, too.
Shak-a-lak-a: Finally, Gawker scored an interview with Tag Team themselves, Steve Roll’N and DC The Brain Supreme. Steve divulged the identity of the Obamalike: It’s "a friend of ours named L.A. Sno." The video for L.A. Sno’s and Playa Poncho’s "Whatz Up, Whatz Up" shows a believable resemblance to the domino player, as seen in Gawker’s higher-quality footage. The Tag Team rappers weren’t able to definitively say that Obama wasn’t on the set of their video — "there was a thousand people at that video shoot," said DC — but they were pretty sure that they "would have known" if Obama, then a community organizer, had shown up.
Mad props (do the kids still say "mad props" these days?) to Gawker for both awakening this rumor and putting it to bed.