No one should be surprised that Donald Trump claimed his promotion of birtherism was a service to America or that it was all Hillary's idea (deny, distract, accuse). Any fair analysis of his "admission" it is untrue would need to be severely critical. For the MM, balance requires finding a parallel action by the Clinton campaign. Why make the MM do the research? Better for the Donald to hand them the balance outright - Hillary made me do it, it was all her idea. The NYT statement "No, it was not." misses the point. Of course it was not. But the point is that birtherism is a tactic. So criticism of birtherism requires discussion of the tactic - the deep and sometimes hiding in plain sight reality of that tactic and how truly sinister it is. So sinister, we did not have proper words in our language to describe it and came up with "birther" and "birtherism". Is it treason? Almost. The point is the essential truth that some feel that Obama could not be a legitimate president, even if elected by a majority. The natural human response for many Republican voters and independents who do not inhabit the fringe is to view the birther debate from a distance and decide, well, it's turned into a debate so it may be true...then the debate continues, so it is probably true.
The Times headline "Donald Trump Clung to 'Birther' Lie for Years, and Still Isn't Apologetic" screams the cluelessness of the MM. Are you kidding. Apologize? The tactic had worn out its usefulness and needed to be dropped. He never actually believed it was true, but mostly never cared. That was not the point. The "claim" existed only to drum up support in a run for president, at least in testing the waters, and to send the MM into fact-checking mode, putting the President and Democrats on the defensive. In a world where the base of the Republican party is mostly intuitive and dwells in a land of concrete ideas dominated by ideology and the base of the Democratic party is more analytical, creating the so-called "birtherism" debate is a splendid tactic. This sent the President and Democrats into defense mode, just when the new President and Democrats had the opportunity to advance legislation like the ACA. As a strategy, better to have the Dems busy with their analytic expertise focused on explaining why Obama really was born in the U.S. than explaining proposed legislation to the American people who might actually focus on real issues if not distracted by these tactics.
The "reversal" on birtherism was a gift that the MM did not know how to receive. The birtherism tactic, like similar tactics that succeed primarily when employed by the right, relies on obfuscation and the resulting confusion created among the MM and analysts Part of the problem is their confusion caused by seeing the world as an array of facts to be studied in the absence of context. Context, when understood, provides meaning to facts. Without context, facts are just a matter of debate and we are left with debates about whether or not statements or lies, which lead to whether or not the person who utters the statement is a liar, but we are left without meaning.
How sinister is birtherism? MM can not face the question squarely due to the limitations of the required balancing act. The meaning of birtherism changes with the passage of time. Before Obama was elected President with majorities in the Electoral College and the popular national vote, the debate was about his legitiimacy as a candidate, but after the election, it became about the legitimacy of our democracy. Birtherism is inextricably linked to the "voter fraud" meme as attacks on the legitimacy of every law passed in 2009 to date, including "Obamacare" - the name itself chosen by the right, now used by "both sides" because the left gave up fighting it. Birtherism lends legitimacy to the possibility of armed insurrection and grants credibility to fringe militias. The calls to the fringe right, in code and obfuscation to the "Second Amendment folks", to "take matters into their own hands" is the next logical step - really completing the recipe for reaction to the illegitimacy of democratically elected presidents when they are Democrats.
More to come on this and what to expect in the not-so-Presidential Presidential debates.