On Saturday, the New York Times published an article that misstated White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's place of birth, which prompted the press secretary to criticize the Times for getting his birthplace wrong. Soon thereafter, CNN's Jake Tapper trolled Spicer on Twitter, reminding him that somebody who works for Donald Trump maybe isn't in a place to be complaining about birthplaces being misrepresented.
The Times had originally referred to Spicer as "New England-born." However, as the paper later explained in a correction, Spicer was merely raised in New England — Rhode Island to be exact — not born there. According to the Times, Spicer "would not go on the record and give the correct facts pertaining to his birthplace," though a birth announcement discovered by CBS reporter Stefan Becket says that the press secretary was born in New York.
In any event, Spicer was not happy that the Times incorrectly accused him of being born in Rhode Island. "For the record @nytimes @grynbaum can't even get where I was born right and failed to ask," Spicer wrote on Twitter.
"I imagine it must be really annoying when someone puts out false info about where you were born," Tapper wrote soon thereafter. "Must really bother you!!"
"cc @BarackObama," Tapper added.
Tapper, of course, was referring to Trump's repeated suggestions that Barack Obama was not born in America. For years, Trump cast doubt on Obama's birthplace; this began in 2011, when Trump was reportedly considering a run for president the next year, and continued as late as 2015, when he said "I really don't know" if Obama was born in the United States.
At one point in 2012, Trump claimed that an "extremely credible source" had told him that Obama's birth certificate was "a fraud," and at one point said that he'd sent private investigators to Hawaii to look into the issue. ("They cannot believe what they're finding," he said at the time.)
Obama was born in America, a fact Trump finally admitted a few months after winning the Republican presidential nomination. In any event, the future president launched his political career by stoking birther conspiracies, and spent years on the birther train before finally stepping off it, and back into objective reality, in 2016.
You could argue that it's petty for Tapper, a journalist, to mock Spicer for this. But birtherism wasn't just some harmless rumor that made the rounds on the Internet and died without consequence. It was a concerted attempt to delegitimize the first black president by playing to racist fears of "the other," and it even gained currency with several Republicans in Congress. All of this was despite a complete lack of evidence to support the charge. Trump used his stature to repeat the bogus accusation, thus amplifying it and giving it a veneer of credence to the mainstream. That's really bad.
You can learn a lot about a politician based on how they choose to launch their career. For Trump, it was the possibility that Obama is actually a secret Kenyan unqualified to hold political office. Trump's willingness to play along with birthers is a central component to his political appeal, and that's not something that we — or Spicer — should forget anytime soon.