In September 2023, disgraced broadcaster Tucker Carlson revived a long-standing — and long-debunked — conspiracy theory about former United States President Barack Obama, which was shared by “satirists” and gadflies alike.
The claims that Obama engaged in “secret gay trysts” prior to running for political office have circulated since 2008 — almost as long as the equally false claim that he was “born in Kenya.”
Carlson, who was fired from the right-wing Fox network in April 2023, interviewed convicted con artist Larry Sinclair on a stream aired on “X,” the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, which is now owned by tech oligarch Elon Musk. In a post previewing the broadcast, Tucker presented Sinclair as someone “telling his story”:
That framing ignored that Sinclair had already “told his story” — that is, Sinclair claimed that in 1999 he did drugs and had sex with Barack Obama — for years both in print and online. As Politico reported in 2008, he was a known gadfly and disinformation purveyor:
The Duluth, Minn., resident is the sort of figure who appears at the margins of every presidential campaign, and both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had their own obscure accusers with dramatic allegations. But as the old media ignores him, Sinclair has taken full advantage of the Internet, and a video in which he makes his claims that have been viewed more than 900,000 times on YouTube.
Before putting himself in the public eye, Sinclair had been convicted of forgery, fraud and larceny and served 16 years in prison. While promoting his unsubstantiated claims of trysts with Obama in 2008, he was arrested after appearing at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on another charge of larceny.
While Obama has been married to Michelle Obama since 1992, claims that he is, or was, “secretly gay” have lingered online thanks to similarly-discredited figures like New York City-based Pastor James Manning, who made his online reputation on pushing homophobic content online; prolific disinformation specialist Paul Horner, who cast himself as a Secret Service agent writing a “tell-all” about Obama in one of his multitude of posts prior to the 2016 presidential election; and various other low-level channels.
Carlson’s employment at Fox was reportedly terminated after company executives discovered him espousing racist views in private text messages (as opposed to his public embrace of racist conspiracy theories on the air). Despite being promoted by “X” owner Elon Musk, analyses of Carlson’s show viewership have shown a steep decline:
The platform itself has reportedly seen advertising revenue drop by nearly 60 percent since Musk took ownership; he has responded by blaming the Anti-Defamation League rather than documented increases in antisemitic content and hate speech in general on the platform.
Update 9/6/23, 1:57 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag