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The Little Lie, and How It Grew

GREAT NECK, N.Y. - Last week, Gayle Quinnell, a septuagenarian reactionary from Shakopee, Minnesota, confessed - on TV - to G.O.P. candidate John McCain that she fears Democratic candidate Barack Obama because "he's an Arab." McCain replied that, no, Obama's no Arab at all, but a "decent family man" (implying that the two depictions are mutually exclusive).

To me, the more intriguing element of this bizarre exchange was the word "Arab," rather than the more common Obama epithets, "Muslim," "terrorist" and "Osama." Mrs. Quinnell's "Arab" formulation was just enough off-key to make me wonder where she picked it up. In a subsequent YouTube video, Mrs. Quinnell helpfully elaborated, explaining that she possesses pages and pages of corroboration, plumbed from the Shakopee Public Library. Since it's unlikely that there's much info on Obama's ethnicity in the Shakopee stacks, I figured what Gayle had done was surf the Web.

So I decided to try tracing her steps. It wasn't hard. No matter where I landed after Googling "obama, arab," I inevitably returned to the same damning quote. It goes: "Mr. Obama is 50% Caucasian from his mother's side. He is 43.75% Arabic, and 6.25% African Negro from his father's side." Also: "Obama is not legally African-American. It is impossible for him to be, in truth, America's first African-American president."

Holy Leopold's ghost, Batman!

As I continued searching, I unearthed this shocker, verbatim, on a dozen websites, including Yahoo!Answers. I found it cited by conservative superstars Rush Limbaugh, Monica Crowley and Laura Ingraham. Every repetition of this statistical proof that Barack Obama is "legally" Arab-American circles back to a Web blogger named Kenneth E. Lamb, a self-described journalist who claims a career of "writing and researching" for such august media outlets as the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Pentecostal Herald and the Jewish Information Network.

Lamb's indictment of Obama the Mock-Negro is threefold. First, Lamb notes, Barack Hussein Obama must be an Arab because his full name is Arabic. Second, "Kenyan government" records, according to Lamb, have listed Obama's father, Barack Obama, Sr., as "Arab-African." Third, Lamb states that Barack is "descended from Arab slave traders" who resided in southern Sudan (an Arab-dominated state) until at least the 19th century, before emigrating to Kenya.

Lamb says that he discovered this "devastating truth" in research for "... a NY daily of international reputation. It wasn't what I thought I'd find. I documented it, presented it to the Washington Bureau Chief, but was hardly surprised that it never saw ink..."

The above statement represents the sum total of Lamb's documentation. There are no footnotes, no genealogical lists, no weblink to the "Kenyan government." There is no proof of Lamb's assertion that every male ancestor of Barack Obama has an Arabic name. For all this "information," the only Web source - for poor gullible Gayle Quinnell, as well as Limbaugh, Crowley and Ingraham - is Ken Lamb.

However, by delving into the Web beyond the point where Mrs. Quinnell hung up her mouse, I learned a few things about Obama's lineage. First, yes, his mom was white. Second, according to Wikipedia and Britannica, Barack Obama's African half originates in the Luo tribe, who fled their roots in Sudan, bound for Kenya, in roughly 1500 A.D. The Luo - who are black as the ace of spades - have no blood connection to the Arabs who invaded Sudan about 500 years ago. Until the early 20th century, Luos got by with only one name. Under British colonial rule, they were forced to take a family name. So Barack Obama's grandfather, Onyango, simply combined his name with his father's, relabeling himself Onyango Obama. Both names, by the way - according to - are Luo, not Arabic. Obama means "slightly bent."

The point where Ken Lamb probably got lost was where Onyango moved to Zanzibar for while, and was lured away from Christianity by some unknown Muslim spellbinder. According to several sources, the Obama clan was Christian - as are 90 percent of Luos - until Barack's grandddad went all Islamic and added another name! According to, the Chicago Sun-Times and Barack's autobiography, Onyango not only decided to call himself Hussein ("the good") Onyango Obama, he decided to hang an Arabic name on his son, Barack Hussein Obama ("blessings on the good, slightly bent"). This Arabic-naming tradition among the Obamas didn't last long. The current Barack Obama named his daughters Malia (a Hawaiian word meaning "maybe," according to Think Baby and Natasha (see "Rocky and Bullwinkle").

For the record, according to the Sun-Times, prior generations of Barack Obama's male forebears (the Luos, until recently, never kept track of mothers' names) were named Mwiru, Sigoma, Owiny, Kisodhi, Ogelo, Otondi, Obongo and Obiyo. His great grandmother was Nyaoke. His step-grandmother, the family genealogist, was named Sarah. Sarah, by the way, is a non-Luo name. It's Arabic (and Hebrew), according to Wikipedia, meaning "woman of high rank, " or "lady governor."

So, what's the difference? Who cares if Barack Obama's forebears were Negro - as they appear to be - or Arab? For sane people, it's all the same. Most of us live side-by-side, in harmony, with Arab-Americans like Dr. Michael DeBakey, Jerry Seinfeld, Ralph Nader, Donna Shalala, Paula Abdul and Frank Zappa.

But Kenneth Lamb's point is that by lying about his Arabicity, Barack Obama is concealing his very identity. Hence, we cannot trust any word that comes out of his lying mouth. Lamb writes that if Obama were to admit that Mwiru, Owiny, Obiyo and Nyaoke were ALL Arab slave-traders, "Mr. Obama will have to admit that which he has never been forced to admit before, even in the face of the massive lies of his autobiography: Mr. Obama's entire projection of who he is, and what he is, is a lie."

Yeah, well, trouble is, according to the record, Obama is actually what he says he is - a half-caste darkie with a weird-ass name. So, how can we explain a growing posse of Web cadets out there - Gayle, Rush and Laura among them - who take Kenneth Lamb's dippy confection about Arabobama the Slave Prince of Wau at face value? Perhaps all we need to do is scroll back to a simpler, more analog era...

One of the Third Reich's lasting contributions to Western culture was the articulation by Nazi propaganda guru Joseph Paul Goebbels of a strategy he called the Big Lie - a whopper told so often, so brazenly and with such conviction that it morphs magically into Gospel in the minds of the masses. Today, the Big Lie remains alive and well, but - judging by Ken Lamb's blog, the Drudge Report and other Internet travesties - it's evident that the Web has spun a 21st-century subspecies of Goebbels' brainstorm: the Little Lie.

The Little Lie, ideally, is uttered but once - weakly - and released like a plankton speck into the Internet's vast soup of words. A typical Little Lie is credible, at first, to only a handful of its author's co-religionists. These believers might be crazier than the aunt in the attic. But they also have the Web. They echo the Little Lie until it loses all contact with its source. Ken Lamb disappears. Second- and third-circulation consumers have no idea that the author's assertions are both groundless and easily debunked.

The Little Lie takes on the cast of verisimilitude. It swells effulgently; it makes its debut on Talk Radio. Pretty soon, it's on national TV, spouted by a cocksure bigot from just south of Lake Riley. Fed by YouTube, it grows, from a once-tiny microorganism, into a myth so smug that it ends up, finally, mocking the very words of its originator, Kenneth E. Lamb, who has said, "Racist presumptions coupled with sloppy vetting don't turn a lie into the truth."

David Benjamin

David Benjamin is a novelist and journalist who splits his time between Paris and Madison, Wis. His novel, a "noir comedy" entitled Three's a Crowd, has just been released by Event Horizon Press. His previous books include, The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked and SUMO: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport. He blogs at


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