the observatory

Obama’s Projector

Cosmic Log explains McCain’s misleading criticism
October 10, 2008

During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, John McCain attempted to skewer Barack Obama by criticizing an earmark Obama had requested for a $3-million “overhead projector.” My colleague Justin Peters, a Chi-town native, picked up on this gross understatement during CJR’s live blogging session:

As somebody who grew up in the Chicago area, I’m pretty sure that the $3.4 million “overhead projector” that McCain was so angry about belongs to the Sky Theater at the Adler Planetarium. The Adler and the Sky Theater have taught generations of students about astronomy.

Anybody looking for complete elaboration should check out this post on Alan Boyle’s blog, Cosmic Log, at The device was indeed destined for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and no mere movie-night projector is this. The one Obama wanted to finance would have replaced an outdated model that is currently in use there, but the earmark for the new projector didn’t get funded, Boyle writes (though it is not uncommon for planetariums to received federal money for such devices).

I guess one can still debate the merits of funding even the most impressive projector (and one at which schoolchildren from across the Midwest would surely marvel on class field trips), but clearly McCain is once again misconstruing Obama’s position on earmarks at the expense of science. Boyle seems proactively peeved:

“All the publicity about this should help the Adler Planetarium raise the $3 million without the federal earmark,” he wrote in an update to his post. “In fact, I’ll be doing my part. I’m sending the planetarium a check for $140 today. This is in lieu of the political contributions that I never give because I’m a journalist. If everyone who has clicked onto this Web page so far sent in that amount as an average contribution, the planetarium would have more than $3 million in new money for their capital fund campaign. I’m going to write on my check that this is for ‘planetarium earmark avoidance,’ and you’re free to do the same.”

Cheers to that, but more importantly, cheers for solid fact checking and elaboration.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.