A reader recently sent us a chain email that seemed hard to believe.
Accompanied by a photograph of President Barack Obama conversing with a classroom of students, the chain email included the following text:
"Barack Obama, at a recent rural elementary school assembly in South Carolina, asked the audience for total quiet. Then, in the silence, he started to slowly clap his hands once every few seconds, holding the audience in total silence. Then he said into the microphone, 'Children, every time I clap my hands together, a child in America dies from gun violence.' Then, little Darrell, with a proud South Carolina drawl, pierced the quiet and said, ‘Well, dumb a--, stop clappin’!’"
The reader wanted to know: Did this really happen?
We didn’t hear back from the White House, but we couldn’t find any instance of such an exchange in transcripts listed on the White House website or in the Nexis news database. A Google search turned up many variations of this claim repeated in the conservative blogosphere, but none from an independent news source.
Snopes.com, the website that looks into urban legends, has also seen this chain email. Back in 2008, when Obama wasn’t even president yet, an email circulated that was essentially the same, but which involved a "little feller in East Texas" named Richard Earl.
Even earlier, in September 2007, Snopes found one aimed at Hillary Clinton, who was then running against Obama in the Democratic presidential primary. This time, the episode supposedly took place in North Florida, with an unnamed "young voice with a proud southern accent" saying, "Well, just stop clappin’, ya evil b----!"
It’s possible that this joke is very old indeed, but Snopes tracked the inspiration for it at least as far back as a 2005 video released by the group "Make Poverty History." The video, titled "Click," shows a variety of celebrities -- including Bono of U2, Brad Pitt and George Clooney -- snapping their fingers every three seconds. The narrator, Liam Neeson, explains that a child dies unnecessarily due to extreme poverty every three seconds.
By the next year, 2006, Snopes documented an email similar to the Obama email, this one with Bono the target. In this version, it’s a voice with a "thick Scottish brogue" that tells Bono, "Well stop ----ing doing it then!!"
This makes it clear that the episode is a joke rather than an actual event involving Obama.
A chain email said President Obama told a room of students, "Children, every time I clap my hands together, a child in America dies from gun violence." A child then purportedly told Obama he could solve the problem by not clapping anymore.
We failed to find any evidence that this happened to Obama, and the existence of earlier emails making fun of Hillary Clinton and Bono make clear that this is a joke being passed off falsely as a real anecdote. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.