April 2011: A very strange news month

A tip of the fedora to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon for borrowing his signature phrase: nobody asked me, but…

Many of the major news stories in April 2011 were very strange. In fact, when historians check the news archives for the month they may wonder whether a full moon lasted for 30 days, encouraging some very lunatic behavior (pun intended).

“The Donald” rises

It was a month in which the mainstream media in the US focused on the 2012 presidential hopes of real estate mogul Donald “The Donald” Trump.

Trump launched a series of rapid-fire attacks on President Obama, questioning whether he had been born in the US, whether he had deserved admission to Columbia and Harvard Law School, and whether Obama was the worst American president ever (to which Trump gave an answer of “yes.”)

Trump also pushed populist themes, bashing China for its trade policy and threatening to seize Arab oilfields, all the while immodestly praising his own business prowess and intelligence. His performance caused conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer to call Trump “the Al Sharpton of the Republican Party, provocateur and clown.”

Stranger still, public opinion surveys showed Trump rising to near the top of Republican presidential candidates in popularity, and near the end of the month a Gallup/USA Today poll showed that only 38% of Americans definitely believed that Obama had been born in Hawaii.

That prompted the White House to release Obama’s long-form birth certificate which showed that he had indeed been born in Honolulu’s Kapiolani Hospital on Aug. 4, 1961. In a brief news conference Obama denounced ““sideshows and carnival barkers,” dismissed the entire controversy as “silliness,” and argued it was time for a serious discussion of the issues—before flying off to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show (leading to this Daily Caller headline: “Obama: I don’t have time for ’silliness’ – I’m late for Oprah.”

Amazingly, “The Donald” declared victory: “I am so proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I feel I’ve accomplished something really, really important and I’m honored for it.”

Federal efficiency on display

April also featured stories of the always awe-inspiring competence of federal public servants.

We learned that the Federal Reserve loaned billions to banks during the financial crisis and the banks promptly bought treasuries, which, as David Weidner of MarketWatch pointed out, didn’t produce the desired lending to American businesses as designed. Weidner noted: “The move yielded an easy profit for the banks, since the Fed was charging almost nothing to borrow and Treasuries were paying at least decent yields. Nothing illegal about the move, except that the easy Fed money was supposed to juice the economy.”

Also in April, Henry P. Krakowski, the head of the air traffic control for the FAA, resigned after numerous reports of air traffic controllers sleeping on the job.

From Kentucky came word of the frisking of a 6-year-old girl by Transportation Security Administration screeners. It was a pat-down so intense that the girl’s parents posted it in a YouTube video, spurring calls for legislation to exempt small children from invasive searches.

The US Postal Service issued a stamp honoring the Statue of Liberty that used an image of the half-size replica from the Las Vegas casino New York-New York, instead of one from the actual statue itself.

Nasty figures from the 1960s resurface

For some reason, two particularly nasty figures from the 1960s—a bad decade if there ever was one—resurfaced in April’s news budgets.

Cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson, now 76-years-old, gave an interview to Spain’s version of Vanity Fair in which he warned of global warming and called President Obama “a slave of Wall Street.”

Then lawyers for Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, came forward with the bizarre story that Sirhan had been a victim of a mind-control plot and hadn’t actually killed Kennedy in 1969. The evidence? Hypnosis sessions with Sirhan where he described how “the girl in the polka-dot dress” manipulated him, and how there was a second gunman.

Three cups of reality?

April was a very bad month for Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling memoir Three Cups of Tea, and co-founder of a charity building and running schools in Afghanistan, as questions were raised about his honesty.

As USA Today reported, a 60 Minutes investigation charged that Mortenson, a mountain climber, “fabricated his now-famous tale about being rescued by Pakistani villagers in 1993. It also raises questions about the financial arrangement between Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute, the charity he founded in 1996, and alleges that many schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that Mortenson’s charity claimed to establish either don’t exist or were built by others.”

Mortenson denied the allegations but a detailed defense was delayed as he went into the hospital for heart surgery.

File all of this under “strange but true.”

Copyright © 2011 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved