Born in the USA

The White House today released Barack Obama's full birth certificate. But will it persuade the "birt

So did Donald Trump win? Or will President Obama manage to draw a line beneath the controversy about his citizenship, once and for all? The White House has just released a copy of Obama's full birth certificate, showing, of course, that he was born in Hawaii and is eligible to be President of the United States.

Minutes later, Obama appeared at the White House podium, declaring the country just didn't have time for such "silliness" - and it was all becoming a distraction from real issues like the economy.

The issue suddenly hit the headlines again after a poll showed that two-thirds of Republican voters believe that Obama was born outside the United States, or say they aren't sure. The fact that it re-emerged at this precise moment was largely due to Donald Trump - who may or may not be considering a presidential bid. He's repeatedly been quoted on the record, asking for that full birth certificate to be revealed.

The GOP's party's Presidential hopefuls have already been forced to distance themselves from the false claims by so-called "birthers" - who have been obsessed with challenging the President to produce his full birth certificate and prove where he was born.

There is nothing secret about the document: the official certification released by the authorities in Hawaii shows that Barack Obama was born in the state in 1961 - a fact recorded by local newspapers at the time.

So among the 2012 contenders - Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have completely rejected the "birther" idea - while Tim Pawlenty said "I'm not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama's birth certificate".

But not every Republican leader was so unequivocal. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, says that although he does believe Obama is a US citizen - it's not up to him to tell the American people what to think. Huh? Tea Party supporter Michelle Bachman actually had to be shown a copy of the Hawaii certificate by ABC's George Stephanopolous before she admitted she would "take the president at his word".

Yet tune into a right wing talk show and the claims persist - along with other accusations about Obama being a Muslim, educated at a Madrassa and so on. The Hawaii document, originally posted on the Democrats' website during the 2008 campaign - has been dismissed as fake - even though the independent Factcheck.org website confirmed it is authentic. And a new book on the controversy - Jerome Corsis's Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date.

Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has just vetoed one of the many so-called birther bills which are progressing in several states. Louisiana and Indiana are still debating the measures, which would require any presidential candidate to provide proof of their American citizenship in order to be included on that state's ballot.

It has already proved remarkably fruitful for Democrats, who have siezed on the Donald Trump pronouncements to raise funds from their outraged supporters. But isn't it truly astonishing in this day and age that the citizenship of the President of the United States is an issue at all - let alone one that seems to have gained almost mainstream currency? As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, two years ago: "You couldn't sell this script in Hollywood".

Moments after the brith certificate was published today, Trump emerged in New hampshire, taking full credit for the disclosure - and insisting he's proud of himself. "I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish", he said, barely able to restrain his glee. But will this really draw a line under the whole affair, as the White House hopes - and consign the doubters to the furthest conspiracy-theory extremes? In his statement today, Obama urged the media to ignore the "sideshows and carnival barkers": with wars in Afghanistan and Libya, oil prices soaring and a huge debate over the deficit, he wants to show the American people that he's the one in charge - and the one taking the country's problems seriously.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.