Birther Director Claims That Cory Booker Does Not Live in Newark

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 15 2013 1:46 AM

Birther Director Claims That Cory Booker Does Not Live in Newark

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Turns out he lives behind this podium.

Photo by Michael Bryant-Pool/Getty Images

Nearly one year ago, after Hurricane Sandy temporarily paralyzed parts of New York and New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker responded with the sort of cartoonish aplomb that's made him famous. He tweeted his whereabouts and plans. He tweeted back at Newark citizens who had ultra-specific problems. On Nov. 1, a resident of Booker's Homestead Park neighborhood tweeted that her block was still dark. "There is someone at my house now (Eric)," tweeted Booker. "I've got space u can relax in, charge devices & even a working DVD player. Come by." And he continued.

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Hunter Walker, then at the New York Observer, followed up with one of the people who eventually crashed with Booker. She even provided a photo.

“He brought us DVDs, he’s bringing in food … he came by brought us popcorn and then brought us trick-or-treat candy. He’s been back and forth checking on us and calling … You know, ‘There’s beds, get in the beds, bring your covers.’ Everybody wanted to camp out that’s what we were doing and, you know, we slept over last night,” [Alice] Bell said. Along with popcorn, the menu at Mr. Booker’s house consisted of chicken, fish, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, corn bread and candied yams from King’s Family Restaurant. According to Ms. Bell, “we ate good.” The DVD selection focused on movies for the mayor’s younger house guests.

This was pretty widely reported at the time. Why do I bring it up now? In November 2012, it was expected that Booker would be a candidate for statewide office soon, but he hadn't declared it yet. The "slumber party" story was reported before any of the sources had a reason to promote Booker, just like the story of Zina Hodge, a woman who lived on Booker's block and told reporters that the mayor had saved her from a burning building. In 2012 multiple people told reporters that the mayor lived on Hawthorne Street.

Anyway: Compare this with the story the Daily Caller splashed on Sunday night. It's titled "Neighbors: Cory Booker never lived in Newark." It is, indeed, about neighbors who claimed that Booker never lived in Newark, when asked by "independent filmmaker Joel Gilbert" and reporter Charles Johnson.

“Does he still live here?” Gilbert asked Booker’s neighbor, Tashay Thomas. “He never did,” she replied. “His security guards live here.” Why did he claim to live there while sending police to be quartered in a private home? “Because he is a liar.” Thomas replied. Thomas yelled out to someone across the street: “They’re looking for that fake mayor who says he live here. He does not live here!” “Cory Booker don’t live here,” said James Sharp, another neighbor. “Only his bodyguards live here.”

Reporters in New York and New Jersey were dumbfounded. BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer obtained rental checks paying for the apartment and a May disclosure that Booker once lived there, as well as dug up a story from this summer about how Booker was planning to move to a new property. Bill Wichert attended GOP candidate Steve Lonegan's press conference on the story, which featured the three Booker critics from the DC's video/article and no other proof from the candidate. Wichert talked to other residents of the neighborhood and found people who didn't have axes to grind and said Booker lived there.

Might we be missing something about the depth of this investigative journalism? Well: The "apartment" blockbuster was accompanied by another Gilbert interview, in which Cassandra Dock—not identified as a Booker critic and supporter of Chris Christie—claims that the burning building story was also a hoax.

Maybe you find this combination of assertions and one-source claims very convincing! Maybe you're confused and wonder what else independent filmmaker Joel Gilbert has directed. I can help you out with that—Gilbert directed Dreams From My Real Father, a 2012 documentary that asserts Barack Obama is really the illegitimate son of Frank Marshall Davis, a communist poet who knew the future president's family. (Both that film and the Booker tapes are products of Gilbert's Highway 61 Entertainment.)

In Dreams From My Real Father, Gilbert stitched together photos of Davis and Obama in similar poses, photos that were allegedly of a young, S&M-modeling Ann Dunham (they weren't), and a narration from an Obama impersonator who copped to the sordid truth. Gilbert distributed millions of copies of the film on DVD, but Mitt Romney never held a press conference to endorse the film's theory. Unlike Lonegan, who spent one of the final days of his campaign asking the media to look into claims made by this director and a couple of sources whose claims were undermined by previous reporting, financial records, and other witnesses.

This is arguably only the second-flimsiest story that the DC has published about a New Jersey politician this year. No. 1, it seemed, was a multipart series about Sen. Bob Menendez and false allegations that he short-changed hookers in the Dominican Republic. The DC was the only American media outlet that ran with this; other outlets quickly spotted a hoax. But the Menendez stories, which were based on video interviews with mysterious women claiming to be prostitutes, have never been taken down. Based on the statement the DC gave BuzzFeed, I'd guess the Booker story is staying up, too.

The Daily Caller emailed early Monday evening to deny that it “asserted” Booker lived elsewhere, saying the sources quoted in the article, not its author, made the claim.

Quick recap: A director best-known for a birther conspiracy film about President Obama makes short documentaries asserting that Cory Booker (who also happens to be a black politician—what are the odds?) is lying about his past. The news organization that publishes these claims does not back them up, explaining instead that it's only reprinting what the filmmaker's interview subjects had to say. The story is linked all day—one of only two news cycles before the election—on the Drudge Report and Fox News. It's endorsed by the candidate's opponent. If you were a conspiracy theorist, you'd think Booker planned it.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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