President Barack Obama dismissed a recent poll showing that a third of Americans don’t know he’s a Christian – and blamed an online campaign of misinformation by his conservative enemies for perpetuating the myth that he’s a Muslim.Obama, speaking with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on Sunday afternoon, was equally dismissive of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck – saying he didn’t watch the Fox host’s Saturday rally in Washington but wasn’t surprised that Beck was able to “stir up” people during uncertain economic times.
Williams, sitting under a tent in a rain-soaked New Orleans, where the First Family commemorated the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, asked Obama why so many people were uncertain about something so fundamental as his faith.
“I can’t spend all of my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead,” quipped Obama, who took a deep breath to gather his thoughts when asked if the poll reflected his inability to communicate with voters.
“The facts are the facts. We went through some of this during the campaign – there is a mechanism, a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly,” said a visibly annoyed Obama, referring to “birthers,” who have waged a guerrilla campaign questioning either the existence or the validity of his Hawaiian birth certificate.
“I will always put my money on the American people, and I’m not going to be worried too much about what rumors are floating around there.”
A stunning 18 percent of Americans identify Obama as Muslim, according to a Pew poll released earlier this month. Only a third identified Obama, who speaks passionately about his faith in his autobiography, as Christian.
Obama, who just returned from a long vacation on Martha’s Vineyard said he didn’t watch Glenn Beck’s massive rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, adding that he was focused on the long-term, not on the “Nightly News.”
“It’s not surprising that someone like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of [the American people]. … That’s been true throughout our history,” he said.
Obama doubled down on his support for a mosque and community center planned for a site two blocks north of ground zero in lower Manhattan – and denied reports that he tried to back away from backing the controversial project.
“I didn’t walk it back it all,” he said. “I was very specific with my team… The core value and principle that every American is treated the same doesn’t change… At [a White House Ramadan celebration], I had Muslim Americans who had been in uniform fighting in Iraq… How can you say to them that their religious faith is less worthy of respect?… That’s something that I feel very strongly about.”
He added, “I respect the feelings on the other side.”
The president, a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s sluggish response to Katrina, bristled when asked if the BP Gulf oil spill was his administration’s Katrina – because of a failure to act quickly enough.
“It’s just not accurate,” he told Williams. “The only thing in common with the Katrina response was [oil spill incident commander] Thad Allen… We had immediately [deployed] thousands of vessels, tens of thousands of people.”
The spill has wreaked less havoc on the Gulf Coast “because of the sturdiness and steadiness” of his administration’s response, Obama added.