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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley July 1, 2009

E-mail claims Free Flow of Information Act would protect Obama from having to produce birth certificate

Who knows where some political ideas originate.

Any anonymous person can post a statement on the Internet. It can be passed around, repeated, added to and commented on in blog after blog. It can be circulated in chain e-mails. And pretty soon it gathers such steam, its very reach seems to add credibility.

Here, we deal with just such an idea. It's the claim that the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009 passed by the House in March is actually a "stealth" law aimed at protecting President Barack Obama from having to produce his "actual" birth certificate. That's why some conservative bloggers derisively call it the "Obama Birth Certificate Protection Act."

Readers sent us an e-mail that claimed the bill "would guarantee Barack Obama will never be held accountable for producing forged birth documents." Most versions call for readers to contact their local legislator to oppose the bill, which has been introduced in the Senate.

As for the claim that Obama produced "forged" birth documents, that's a matter we have been following for quite some time, and we direct your attention here .

In this item, we wanted to set the record straight about the Free Flow of Information Act. Passed by the House in March, the bill is designed to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources in federal court.

Here's what the bill says: "A federal entity may not compel a covered person to provide testimony or produce any document related to information obtained or created by such covered person as part of engaging in journalism, unless a court determines by a preponderance of the evidence." You can read the bill in its entirety here .

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Many bloggers insist it would also protect federal employees of the executive branch from being compelled to release documents.

But the key words are "covered person." And this is how it's defined later in the bill: "The term 'covered person' means a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person."

In other words, "a covered person is simply a journalist," said Sophia Cope, legislative counsel for the Newspaper Association of America, which has lobbied hard for the bill. "The White House would not fall under that."

This bill has been kicking around Congress for four years, long before Obama announced his candidacy for president. The  idea that it is a covert attempt to block Obama from producing his birth certificate is absurd. We also note that the bill has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. It was so noncontroversial it passed the House on March 31 with a voice vote rather than a roll call. Last Congress, it passed by a vote of 398-21. A Senate version of the bill is under consideration.

Cope isn't quite sure how the intent of the law has been so grossly distorted.

"The bill's intent is to protect reporters and their confidential sources from being subpoenaed to testify, or from having to disclose the identity of those sources," Cope said. "I don't see how it would relate to Obama's birth certificate."

One could argue that this law has simply been misread by some well-intentioned government watchdogs. But this is just the latest conspiracy theory from the fringe of a conservative group convinced that Obama hasn't provided sufficient documentation to prove he was born in the United States, and therefore cannot serve as president. Even among these folks, the claim about the Free Flow of Information Act is more than a stretch. We give it a Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Library of Congress, H.R. 985, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009

Washington Post, "Editorial: Protecting Sources; A federal shield law is within reach," April 6, 2009

St. Petersburg Times, "New hope to protect reporters," May 3, 2009

Interview with Sophia Cope, legislative counsel for the Newspaper Association of America, June 30, 2009

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