From the Fact Check Desk: What Did Obama's Half-Brother Say About Obama's Background?

It was a sloppy paraphrase that emerged as false evidence.

Malik Obama, the older half brother of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, gave a brief interview to Israeli Army Radio.

The Jerusalem Post listened to the interview, apparently, and produced a story saying "Malik Obama says his brother will be good president for the Jews. Barack Obama's half brother Malik said Thursday that if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background."

Nowhere is Malik quoted.

The Jerusalem Post has since taken the story down of its website, but you can see a cached version HERE.

Conservatives jumped on the Jerusalem Post's paraphrase that Malik said Obama "will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background" as some sort of evidence that Malik was saying Obama was raised a Muslim, which the campaign says he was not.

This suspicion reared its head in Israeli blogs and the blogs of supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Sean Hannity fan sites and Free Republic and conservative blogs.

It ended up on Fox News, with anchor Brut Hume saying on June 16 that: "Barack Obama is a practicing Christian, married in a Christian church, whose children were also baptized in that church. His campaign has emphasized his faith in part to dispel what the campaign calls an online smear campaign which contends among other things that Obama was raised a Muslim. There is even a statement on his official campaign website reading, quote, 'Obama has never been a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.' But Obama's half brother is not so sure. Malik Obama tells The Jerusalem Post that, 'if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background.'"

So is it true?



ABC News got a hold of the audio of Malik's interview with Israel Army Radio, and Malik said nothing of the kind.

You can't hear the questions -- only Malik's answers (listen HERE) -- but whatever the interviewer asked about Obama's father's Muslim heritage, or the Muslim minority in Kenya, Malik said, “I don’t think that’s in any way going to be something to worry about. I myself am not speaking for him. But we are here, we love people in general. People love us. I myself love people who love me. You know, so, and I think it’s mutual. I can’t go in terms of Israel and Kenya and America, and so forth, you know, but based on what else I’ve heard him say and what I know of him as an individual, I don’t think Israel should worry too much, you know, about the connection. Because, I am a Muslim myself, and I don’t think that my being a Muslim has got anything to do with my brother being the President of the United States.”

It may be that the Israeli Army Radio interviewer asked about Obama having a "Muslim background." But even if the interviewer did, Malik did not say that or come close to saying that.

It could be that the interviewer used the phrase, and Malik interpreted that in a way that squares with the Obama campaign's story -- that Obama's father was a largely secular man born Muslim.  We don't know.

But nowhere in there does Malik expressly say anything about Obama having a Muslim background.

And nowhere does he "confirm" anything about Obama having a Muslim background.

Malik refers to Obama having a "connection" to something, perhaps Islam, which could clearly be a reference to Obama's father.

This interpretation spreading throughout the blogosphere and cable news is just not supported by the facts. The paraphrase was sloppy, for such a sensitive subject, and Malik's quotes don't even come close to supporting any assertion that Obama himself has a Muslim background.


In Obama's book Dreams of My Father, interestingly enough, he writes about meeting Malik as an adult: “I checked into the cheapest room I could find and waited. At nine, I heard a knock. When I opened the door, I found a big man standing there with his hands in his pockets, an even-toothed grin breaking across his ebony face. ‘Hey, brother,’ he said. ‘How’s life?’ In the pictures I had of Roy, he was slender, dressed in African print, with an Afro, a goatee, a mustache. The man who embraced me now was much heavier, over two hundred pounds, I guessed, the flesh on his cheeks pressing out beneath a thick pair of glasses. The goatee was gone; the African shirt had been replaced by a gray sports coat, white shirt, and tie. Auma had been right, though; his resemblance to the Old Man was unnerving. Looking at my brother, I felt as if I were ten years old again.”

It was later that Malik converted to Islam, Obama wrote in Dreams: “The person who made me proudest of all, though, was Roy. Actually, now we call him Abongo, his Luo name, for two years ago he decided to reassert his African heritage. He converted to Islam, and has sworn off pork and tobacco and alcohol. He still works at his accounting firm, but talks about moving back to Kenya once he has enough money.”

In the Israeli Army Radio interview Malik said that Obama was the "best man at my wedding and I was best man at his wedding."

And in my favorite part of the interview, Malik said, "I think he'll be a good president as long as all of this, you know, doesn't go to his head."

Mark Twain is said to have quipped, "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

And that was before the internet. And cable.

-- jpt

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