Audit Notes: D’Souza and Forbes Edition

CNBC’s Dennis Kneale takes issue with my description of Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes cover story on “How Obama Thinks” as “the worst kind of smear journalism.” Kneale says on Twitter:

that wasn’t “journalism” dude that was “opinion”—-and rather provocative, which is the point no?

Well, I may have a different definition of “journalism,” but again: This was the cover piece in Forbes, a magazine Kneale used to (managing) edit. I’m not sure where it’s written in the journalism rulebook that opinion pieces aren’t journalism.

By that definition, Kneale would be admitting that much or most of CNBC isn’t journalism since I sure do hear a lot of opining on that network. Like, say, what do you call this (besides comedy gold)?

(h/t to commenter pritesh)

The Economist also takes down D’Souza’s Forbes piece, whose premise is that Obama’s anti-American policies are explained by the fact that his father, whom Obama met once ever, was a Kenyan tribalist socialist anticolonialist and drunken polygamist who wanted to confiscate 100 percent of rich people’s money. Or, as The Economist writes, Obama may act this way because his policies are what a near-majority or majority of the country agrees with:

I DON’T find it at all difficult to understand how Barack Obama thinks, because most of his beliefs are part of the broad consensus in America’s centre or centre-left: greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, universal health insurance, financial-reform legislation, repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and so forth. Dinesh D’Souza, on the other hand, appears to have met so few Democrats in recent decades that he finds such views shocking, and thinks they can only be explained by the fact that Mr Obama’s father was a Kenyan government economist who pushed for a non-aligned stance in the Cold War during the 1960s-70s. Since the majority of Democrats don’t have any Kenyan parents and have no particular stake in the anti-colonialism debates of the 1960s-70s, I’m not sure how Mr D’Souza would explain their views. In any case, Mr D’Souza’s explanation of Mr Obama’s views doesn’t make any sense on its own terms. This, for example, is incomprehensible: “If Obama shares his father’s anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income in overall taxes to pay even more.” Come again? Progressive taxation is caused by…anti-colonialism? Message to American billionaires and the people who write for them: many events and movements in world history did not revolve around marginal tax rates on rich people in the United States.

And yeah, Occam’s Razor:

There’s no need to search for abstruse reasons why an extreme movement conservative like Dinesh D’Souza might oppose raising taxes on the rich or defend privilege in access to education. And it’s not surprising that a centrist liberal like Barack Obama thinks people earning more than $250,000 per year ought to be paying more taxes. In fact, that conviction is shared by a majority of the American electorate. If Mr D’Souza finds it bizarre, it’s not Mr Obama who’s out of touch with America.


Meantime, mainstream conservative figures like Newt Gingrich are all but abandoning the dog whistle and are just spelling it out with talk about “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.”

Ooga booga, America!

— Daniel Larison of American Conservative eviscerates D’Souza :

Dinesh D’Souza has authored what may possibly be the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written. He takes a number of decisions Obama has made on a grab-bag of issues, declares that they are “odd,” and then proceeds to explain the “oddness” he has perceived by cooking up a bizarre thesis that Obama is a die-hard anticolonialist dedicated to his father’s anticolonialist legacy. That must be why he aspired to become President of the world’s remaining superpower and military hegemon–because he secretly loathes the exercise of Western power and wants to rein it in! It must be his deeply-held anticolonialist beliefs that have led him to escalate the U.S. role in Afghanistan, launch numerous drone strikes on Pakistan, and authorize the assassination of U.S. citizens in the name of antiterrorism. Yes, zealous anticolonialism is the obvious answer. Even for D’Souza, whose last book was a strange exercise in blaming Western moral decadence for Islamic terrorism, this is simply stupid.

Even if Obama were anticolonialist, it wouldn’t actually explain why he is “anti-business,” but then you would have to believe that he is strongly anti-business in the first place. D’Souza’s initial assumption that Obama is “the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history” is not much more than assertion. Viewed from most places in the country, Obama does not appear anti-business at all, but rather he seems pitifully captive to business interests in the worst way.

And this is excellent:

This is not incredible. It is inexcusably moronic. It is ideological Birtherism. What I mean by that is that D’Souza’s argument is another example of the embarrassing insistence coming from the right that America did not really produce Obama or the political views he holds and that the only way to understand him is to look elsewhere. For starters, it simply isn’t true that Obama “learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction.” He did not come “to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation.” Even when U.S. policies might have given him reason to see things that way over the decades, Obama did not see things that way.

All in all, D’Souza’s article reads like a bad conspiracy theory.

But because it was in Forbes, an “MSM” publication, this piece of garbage will be seized on and pointed to as fact for years to come by cynical folks who know better, like Newt Gingrich, and by those who don’t, like Free Republic commenters or your relatives (you know the ones) who pass on those slap-me-stupid email forwards.

This will happen no matter how much we (left, right, and center) criticize it, debunk it, and generally obliterate it with facts and reality.

Further Reading:

Forbes’ Shameful Piece on Obama as the “Other”: The worst kind of smear journalism by Dinesh D’Souza


Dinesh D’Souza Digs Himself in Deeper: Some more criticism of Forbes’s disastrous Obama cover story

Audit Notes: Forbes Compares Obama to Lenin, Racist BS, Some Sanity

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.