Internet helps spread mistake about trip that Obama didn't take

Christi Parsons
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

WASHINGTON - There's a story pinging around the Internet about how Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., paid a visit to Libya in 1984 and met with Louis Farrakhan, the Chicago-based Nation of Islam leader whose anti-Semitic remarks long have inflamed relations between blacks and Jews.

But it wasn't Obama who took the 1984 trip. It was his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

The error made its way onto the Internet a couple of weeks ago, when a conservative Christian leader - who was actually trying to defend Obama's position on Israel - apparently confused the two men when speaking to a reporter for a religious news Web site.

The report was posted a few days after The New York Times reported that Obama's pastor had traveled with Farrakhan to Libya in 1984 to visit Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan leader.

"I did think that Obama went to Libya, and I think I did tell that to the reporter," said Jan Markell, the founder and director of Olive Tree Ministries Inc., whom the story cites as the source of the information. "There wasn't any malice on my part. I just interpreted it in a completely wrong way."

The posting has remained on since then and the reporter who wrote the story said he wasn't aware of the error until Monday. Thus far, it appears that only one Web log has linked to the story, and that page had reported only a few dozen readers by Monday afternoon.

But Obama and other presidential candidates have seen different Internet legends start small and then quickly take off in recent months, as the Web plays an increasingly influential role in the spread of information about office seekers.

Obama has battled various rumors about his childhood overseas, including one that he attended a radical Islamic school while living in Indonesia as a youth. Obama has denied those stories, and former educators at the schools have debunked them in interviews with the Chicago Tribune and other news organizations.

"I think it's something that everybody has to deal with in this new environment," said Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University. "It's not just blogs that make mistakes, mainstream press makes mistakes also. And now, things that are in print can be distributed more widely."

The Libya story offers one example.

In the Times story of March 6, Wright is quoted saying that "when (Obama's) enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli ... with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."

Just a few days later, the OneNewsNow story reported that Markell, the head of what the reporter calls a pro-Israel ministry, "commends the pastor for his concerns about a 1984 trip Obama made to Libya, where he met with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan."

It quotes Markell as saying that "Wright states a lot of (Obama's) Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in Hades," adding parenthetically within the quote that that would happen "because of that meeting."

Markell said she actually meant to defend Obama for saying that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." After reading that quote, she went to his Web site to read more about his views on Arab-Israeli politics. She said she thinks he is far too liberal but that she doesn't "walk away with the impression he's anti-Israel."

"I'm in a pro-Israel ministry," she said. "There are people jumping on Obama for saying that" about the suffering of Palestinians. "I'm defending him on this point. That could all change in a heartbeat, but as of today, that's my position."




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