This article examines the rumors about President Barack Obama which accused him of being Muslim, unpatriotic, and a terrorist sympathizer. Despite ample evidence that the rumors were patently false, on Election Day, fully 10% of the voters continued to believe that he was Muslim. In addition, many continued to harbor the pernicious racial, socio-ethnic, and religious biases that shaped the rumors. This article asks, and answers “why” the rumors persisted.
This article provides an answer from a unique communication theory perspective. This article first mines the sources of the Obama rumors, and how those rumors were amplified in the media. Next, using semiotic concepts, the article illuminates how the Obama rumors played upon themes of patriotism, “American-ness,” race, and Islamophobia. This article then takes its most novel approach by setting forth the contours of rumor communication, and the central role quotidian hermeneutics played in embedding the Obama rumors.
“Quotidian hermeneutics” is a method by which to analyze everyday conversations. Specifically, conversations amongst in-group members have an underappreciated impact on voters’ source of information and voting decisions. By examining the characteristics and conversational properties of rumors, this article demonstrates how peer groups engaged in quotidian discourse helped re-frame, mediate, and reinforce the Obama rumors. The value of this article lies in two facts: first, the rumors of Obama’s Muslim allegiances were believed in numbers sufficient to tip the election. Second, with regards to issue-based decision making, interpersonal communication represents a significant source of political information and voter influence. Thus, what likely voters discussed in everyday conversation, and how they discussed the Obama rumors provides one answer as to why the Obama rumors persisted.
Bryan Adamson, The Muslim Manchurian Candidate: Barack Obama, Rumors, and Quotidian Hermeneutics, 25 St. JOHN'S J. C.R. & ECON. DEV. 581 (2011).