For those of us who believe our media reveal deep-seated truths about our society, President Obama's response Wednesday to the allegations he wasn't born in America cracked open a treasure trove of bitter, tough-to-face lessons.
Obama handled the press conference itself deftly, placing most of the blame on the need for such an announcement squarely on the shoulders of the news media. Opening his speech with a jab at the TV network's preemption of regular programming, he urged the country to focus on more substantive issues and avoid the "carnival barkers" pushing paranoid conspiracy theories.
(It's worth noting the Poynter Institute and the Pew Research Center have shown that birther stories were about 4 percent of the news mix in major media during the week of April 11, when Obama suggested they swamped budget coverage. A week later, the coverage doubled to 8 percent. H/T to Poynter's Julie Moos.)
No mention of the man who kickstarted this conversation, Donald Trump. And no mention of the poll numbers cited by NBC News showing an increasing number of Republicans falling for the chatter. Rather than blame potential voters, instead he dumped scorn on an institution he knows conservatives hate, too. The news media.
He's also thrown a gauntlet to journalists, telling them in front of the world -- if this conspiracy keeps spreading, it will be because of your coverage.
Who would have suspected, basking in the world-changing spirit of electing America's first black president back in 2008, that three years later he would be holding a national address to refute continually debunked allegations he was not born in the U.S.?
It's an odd dance. The president must pretend the spread of birther talk is mostly about the news media, though some people are falling for it. And the media pretends the persistence of this issue has little to do with their willingness to give Donald Trump airtime, regardless of how stupid his lies are.
And now that Trump has proven he can push America's uneasiness with its biracial president to the brink of polite conversation, he's ready to take another tack -- implying the leader of the free world is America's biggest affirmative-action hire.
Days earlier, Trump began another line of attack on Obama, wondering about his academic record and how he got into Ivy League colleges. On Wednesday, he doubled down on that talk, congratulating himself for playing "such a big role in hopefully, hopefully getting rid of this (birther) issue."
No mention of Trump's insistence on CNN Monday night that Obama's birth certificate was missing or that the president spent millions of dollars to hide it or that his grandmother said he was born in Kenya before correcting herself -- all long-discredited tropes of the birther conspiracy he has replayed in recent weeks.
Having failed to prove the president isn't "one of us" Americans, he is now seeking to invalidate his accomplishments; often the Plan B for bigots looking to prove people of color really haven't achieved anything.
To serve his ego or his career, Trump seems willing to crack open the worst elements of prejudice and bigotry, covered with the thinnest veneer of politeness. No real politician could try this high wire act without risking a fate similar to recently undeclared presidential candidate Haley Barbour, and it's telling that even the GOP's most extreme voices (Palin, Bachmann, et. al) are only tepidly backing The Donald's play.
Continuing on this path only ensures further distraction, pushing GOP voters toward the fantasy of Trump's dishonest allegations.
At a time when the economy is still limping along and Congress is tied in knots, the best and brightest Republicans should be climbing all over each other for a shot at the president who has to take responsibility for it all.
That Trump is the loudest voice on the right instead, is a gift that keeps on giving for Democrats.
Wonder if the real conspiracy is that Trump really wants to Democrats to win in 2012?