An Obama picture is worth a thousand words. You know which one. Obama photo. Somalia. Turban. Kenya. African dress. Keywords in search engine wargames played by presidential candidates.
The clear message: He's a Muslim. The subtext: He's not like us. No question the whole sordid incident will be condemned. The Clinton campaign is sinking like the Titanic and willing to take anyone without a life raft with it. Women and children? First. They're the ones looking at Hillary as a role model.
In the Beginning Was the Keyword
During tonight's debate in Cleveland, Ohio, Barack Obama will have Hillary Clinton backed into a corner. No doubt she'll be on best behavior. No cynical, sarcastic mocking of Obama's message of unity. No playing the audience for laughs with her imitation of Obama's audacity of hope, deriding it as the "heavens opening up" and "choirs of angels" descending from above.
If the Obama picture controversy is raised, Hillary will be forced to confirm or deny reports her campaign engages in dirty tricks. So far her campaign hasn't done either. Unknown staffers may have distributed the Obama African dress photo that went viral on the Internet.
If asked, Clinton will be forced to admit she didn't know whether one of her campaign staff associates emailed the Obama photo to The Drudge Report.
During a Monday interview with ABC's Dallas affiliate, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., did not flatly deny the Drudge Report's charge that her campaign forwarded a photo of rival Barack Obama in traditional African dress.
She then turned the tables on her Democratic rival and accused him of using the controversy surrounding the alleged leaking of the photo to distract the public's attention from deficiencies in his platform and experience.
"I know nothing about it," Clinton told ABC affiliate WFAA. "This is in the public domain. But let's just stop and ask yourself: 'Why are you -- why is anybody concerned about this?'"
Clinton said that she found questions about whether her campaign leaked the photo to be "really laughable."
"This is one more attempt by my opponent's campaign to change the subject," said Clinton, "From his health-care plan that won't cover everybody, from an economic plan that won't produce jobs, and from a record that is pretty thin when it comes to national security and standing up for our country around the world."
Hillary argued there are photos of her from around the world wearing "the costume of the country" she was visiting.
"Every time I traveled to foreign countries, I wore the costume of the country. You can find dozen of pictures of me in different parts of the world," said Clinton. "You can find me wearing African outfits, Latin American outfits, Asian outfits, when you travel to foreign countries, it's a sign of respect. What does that have to do with anything?"
On Monday, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said the campaign "did not sanction" the leaking of the photo. But he didn't deny a Clinton aide may have passed it to the Drudge Report. His answer?
"I'm not in a position to ask 700 people to come in," said Wolfson.
Back in October, The New York Times named Tracy Sefl as the Clinton campaign's connection to the Drudge Report. Yesterday, asked point blank by ABC News if she gave the photo to the Drudge Report, Sefl, a vice president at the Glover Park Group, said, "no."
Like Wolfson, she couldn't vouch for all Clinton campaign staffers.
Yet when asked if she attempted to correct the Drudge Report's claim the Clinton presidential campaign is the photo's source, she more or less took the Fifth by replying, "No comment."
In December, two Clinton Iowa volunteers resigned after forwarding a hoax email that falsely said Obama is a Muslim possibly intent on destroying the United States.
Obama's a member of the United Church of Christ. He says he's never been a Muslim, but that won't stop rumors and innuendo. False rumors about his Islamic ties run rampant on the Internet.
The Internet keeps stories on life support well beyond their normal lifespan.
One Nation Under Many Gods
Although Obama is not Muslim, TV and the Internet (including newspaper Web sites) broadcast stories that Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan endorsed Barack Obama on Sunday on the same day the Pew Internet project released its report on the state of religion in the U.S. We are a nation under many gods, but primarily One.
Farrakhan's speech was entitled, "The Gods At War -- The Future is All About Y.O.U.th." He said Obama's the "hope of the entire world" that the U.S. will change for the better.
He never endorsed Obama. He came to the McCormick Center in Chicago to praise Obama, not to bury him.
Farrakhan also took some jabs at Hillary Clinton, saying she represents the politics of the past and has been engaging in dirty tricks.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton distanced the campaign from Farrakhan: "Sen. Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support."
Farrakhan's speech wasn't inflammatory. He compared Obama to the religion's founder, Fard Muhammad, who also had a white mother and black father.
"A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," he said. "A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."
That positive message though will not be found when someone searches for Farrakhan. Many people are searching for Farrakhan. They'll likely find his anti-Semitic remarks and Elijah Mohammed's relationship with Malcolm X. At best they'll find a religion that promotes black empowerment and nationalism, neither of which promise to help Obama's presidential aspiration.
In the late 1970s Farrakhan rebuilt the Nation of Islam, after W.D. Mohammed, the son of longtime leader Elijah Mohammed, moved his followers toward mainstream Islam.
What's unique about the Obama challenge: people are searching for information and finding disinformation. Search has a viral aspect as the Obama keywords prove. Each person searches in his or her own way but now everyone finds the same thing.
Raisin In the Sun
We're all dependent on the search engines to provide relevancy. We're asking the search engines to do more than any algorithm can. Machine translation can't capture the rhythms of poetry and so it doesn't try.
"Harlem", a poem by Langston Hughes about Bill Clinton's adopted town, begins, "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?/ Or does it explode?"
"A Raisin in the Sun" was the first play written by a black woman (Lorraine Hansberry) produced on Broadway and the first with a black director. Sidney Poitier played the lead and reprised his role in the film version.
It's a family drama of a son who dreams of becoming rich by investing in a liquor store but instead is taken advantage of by a con artist. His sister, a college student, searches for her identity and finds it in a Marcus Garvey-inspired back-to-Africa philosophy. The family's matriarch, Lena, dreams of buying a home, and does so with money from her late husband's insurance policy, but the house is in a hostile all-white neighborhood.
Sean Combs (P. Diddy), Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, and Sanaa Lathan have the leads in the made-for-television movie.
It's not a cynical film and it's not funny. Neither are some truths said in jest, even when they're no longer funny.
Bitch Is The New Black
On NBC's Saturday Night Live last week, Tina Fey coined the phrase "Bitch is the new black" while more or less endorsing Hillary Clinton. Was the SNL endorsement real? Or just a joke?
On the February 23 broadcast of Saturday Night Live, Fey said, "Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch. Let me say something about that. Yeah, she is. And so am I."
Except two days later, it's not so funny anymore. Don't believe it?
Search for the big Obama picture. You can still Drudge it up.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!