White House

Obama's Clooney Joke Got Lots of Laughs. Too Bad Nobody Fact-Checked It First


President Barack Obama and George Clooney at at a National Press Club event for Darfur, in 2006.

Photograph by Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and George Clooney at at a National Press Club event for Darfur, in 2006.

You might have heard that President Barack Obama attended a $40,000-a-head fundraiser at George Clooney’s Hollywood home last night. And did you hear the story the president told about the iconic “Hope” poster that became the emblem of his 2008 campaign and that hangs in Clooney’s house? Obama recounted how it was based on a photo of him and Clooney at an event for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. “This is the first time that George Clooney has actually been photoshopped out of a picture,” the president quipped. “Never happened before, will never happen again.”

Funny, right? There was just one problem. Obama was wrong.

Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles-based artist who designed the poster, worked off a different photo taken by the Associated Press. The news agency took Fairey to court over his use of the copyrighted image, and in the course of the brouhaha Fairey admitted he’d tampered with evidence to make it look like the photo he’d used was one of Obama with Clooney, not the AP photo in question. Federal prosecutors proceeded to file a charge of criminal contempt against Fairey; he pled guilty to the charge in February. Apparently the news of Fairey’s guilty plea—and the rest of the saga, which was widely covered in the press during the past three years—escaped the attention of the president and his speechwriters.

But AP White House reporter Jim Kuhnhenn jumped on the president’s statement, correcting the record for other journalists—a correction that the White House Press Office was probably fairly embarrassed to have to send out at 7:46 a.m. this morning. Wonder if the speechwriter has spent the day boning up on fact-checking?

Dwoskin is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow her on Twitter: @lizzadwoskin.

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