Monday, December 7, 2009

Myths, Truth, and Fiction About Presidential Death Threats

A horrifying statistic was bandied around last summer - the number of weekly death threats against President Obama is 400% higher than those against President Bush the Second. To cut to the chase, that was never true and Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said so last week in his congressional testimony about the two party crashers at the recent White House state dinner:
"The threats right now ... is the same level as it has been for the previous two presidents at this point in their administrations," Sullivan said.
Secret Service: Threats Against Obama No Higher than Normal (CBSNews.Com)

(His full testimony should eventually be available on the house committee’s hearings page.)

The alleged 400% increase was given in several places, including on the air at CNN (search for “400"), though the CNN anchor didn’t give a source, but other media, like the U.K. Telegraph does and provides the source, “according to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service”. So it was a journalist with a new book to promote who was the source for this figure, so it should have been suspect from the start.

And it turns out that this wasn’t the first story rebutting the 400% increase figure, but now with the Secret Service Director saying this in congressional testimony, that should put the matter to rest. If their budget was really as slashed as Kessler alleges and threats had increased, why would Sullivan deny that?

Another, related, story, ran this week in the Times Picayune because it look place just up the road in Poplarville (though it, too, is really old news):
Mississippi man receives probation for Facebook death threats
The twist here, though, is that the threat-maker was black and only posing as a white supremacist on Facebook. And what is absent, again, from this and a few other stories about threats against the president are any details about how he was found - it just says he was charged with sending the threat from a Poplarville computer. So like the skin-heads who were apprehended a week before the 2008 presidential election and whose internet activities were part of the case against them, the Feds must be able to get access to server logs and such without too much trouble in these cases. Fine by me; I guess its just when alleged terrorists have their e-mail monitored and libraries are asked to turn over information about their public access internet computers in related investigations that people complain.

So its a good thing that threats against the president remain constant no matter who is office; race and policies don't affect the number of crazy people out there. What we won’t see during this administration are fictitious representations of presidential assassinations and assassination plots against the president, like the movie and at least one book, that came out when Bush II was in office.

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