While those who question Obama's presidential eligibility are called "fringe" and "false," the New York Times gave a respectful hearing to a convention pushing a far more incendiary left-wing conspiracy theory - that Bush orchestrated the 9-11 attacks: "Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power."
On Wednesday (the day after President Obama's birthday) Washington reporter Jeff Zeleny devoted his latest "On the White House" web column, "Persistent 'Birthers' Fringe Disorients Strategists ," to the fringe group that questions Obama's birthplace in Hawaii and thus his presidential eligibility.
Zeleny made it clear off the bat that the anti-Obama "birthers" are nutty and wrong in their "fringe conspiracy theory." But did the Times give similar dismissive treatment to a left-wing conspiracy theory many times more incendiary and improbable: That Bush orchestrated the 9-11 terrorist attacks?
No. In fact, reporter Alan Feuer went to a "Truther" convention in June 2006 and treated  the left-wing nuts with affection and even a little respect.
Here's an excerpt from Zeleny's Wednesday piece:
As most of the political conversation in Washington and across the nation has been devoted to health care, the economy and even the president's first nomination to the Supreme Court, a small set of detractors have been obsessively fixated by this date in history: Aug. 4, 1961. That is the day, they argue, that proves that Mr. Obama should not be serving in office because he was not born in the United States.
Their theory, of course, is false. But that has not stopped cable television and talk radio hosts from dedicating countless hours to the topic.
So much discussion has taken place that the White House says it has stopped monitoring it and the Republican National Committee has distanced itself from the so-called "birther movement," whose members insist that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. The fringe conspiracy theory - that he is not constitutionally eligible to be president - has taken on a life of its own and become a dreaded topic for some lawmakers.
Before House Republicans left Washington for their August break, party strategists offered advice for how to handle the situation if it arises during town meetings with constituents. Don't agree with the conspiracy theory, but show respect and try to broaden the conversation to specific policy disagreements with the Obama administration on health care, taxes or the deficit.
Zeleny allowed Democratic politicians to hammer Republicans for not attacking their "birther" supporters sufficiently:
Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, said Republicans have done too little to try to stop the spread of misinformation.
"Some people have rather cynically let it run its course," Mr. Abercrombie said in an interview early Tuesday morning from Honolulu. "It takes advantage of a certain pathological obsession over this election and this person as president. The leadership in the Republican Party could end it very, very quickly and they haven't."
Deep in the article is the suggestion that it's the Democrats who are really pushing the matter.
Republicans suggest that some Democrats are trying to keep the matter alive because it makes the Republican Party look bad. MSNBC, which has several liberal-leaning hosts, has discussed the topic frequently in recent days. Orly Taitz, a California dentist and lawyer who is among the leading voices in the anti-Obama movement, made her case in a combative interview on MSNBC.
James Kirchik of the liberal New Republic agreed , arguing the left wing is pumping up the story to change the subject from Obama's struggling health-care plan and the high unemployment rate.
Unlike Zeleny's take, reporter Alan Feuer's assessment of the 2006 Truther convention didn't label as "false" the beliefs of the fanatics who claimed 9-11 was an inside job by the Bush administration, even though their theory is far more implausible and incendiary than the idea that Obama was born in Kenya. Feuer's generous take on the Truthers suggested that the fact that 500 people gathered at a hotel somehow lent credibility to the underlying issue:
Whatever one thinks of the claim that the state would plan, then execute, a scheme to murder thousands of its own, there was something to the fact that more than 500 people - from Italy to Northern California - gathered for the weekend at a major chain hotel near the runways of O'Hare International.
The text box from Feuer's story even suggested the 9-11 conspiracy theorists could be part of an "American tradition" of questioning authority:
Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power.
- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site