Below is an excerpt of a Washington Post story that published June 30 under the headline "In Flag City USA, Rumors About Obama Are Flying." It was distributed to 669 news organizations in 56 countries, including The Courier.
The entire story about what folks think about Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama can be read here.
Do you think this story typifies the Findlay community? Are you struggling to determine who Obama really is? What have you heard about him that you think might not be true?
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- WFIN interviews with Post reporter Eli Saslow and Courier editor Peter Mattiace
- Local reaction, "National story giving Findlay 'a bad name'" (Courier, 7/1/08)
- Courier editorial, "Hit job" (Courier, 7/1/08)
"In Flag City USA, Rumors About Obama Are Flying"
By Eli Saslow, The Washington Post
FINDLAY, Ohio -- On his corner of College Street, Jim Peterman stares at the four American flags planted in his front lawn and rubs his forehead. Peterman, 74, is a retired worker at Cooper Tire, a father of two, an Air Force veteran and a self-described patriot. He took one trip to Washington in 1989 -- best vacation of his life -- and bought a statue of the Washington Monument that he still displays in a glass case in his living room.
He believes a smart vote is an American's greatest responsibility. Which is why his confusion about Barack Obama continues to eat at him.
On the television in his living room, Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service. But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor's house, at his son's auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate's background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
"It's like you're hearing about two different men with nothing in common," Peterman said. "It makes it impossible to figure out what's true, or what you can believe."
Here in Findlay, a Rust Belt town of 40,000, false rumors about Obama have built enough word-of-mouth credibility to harden into an alternative biography. Born on the Internet, the rumors now meander freely across the flatlands of northwest Ohio -- through bars and baseball fields, retirement homes and restaurants. ...
Peterman hung the American flag on his porch first, in 1960, and the rest of College Street followed his example. By 1980, patriotic displays had grown into an unspoken contest of one-upmanship. Sixty flags planted in one yard on Memorial Day; a living-room window painted red, white and blue; a Buckeye tree decorated with Christmas ornaments celebrating Americana; a gigantic plastic unicorn perched on a front porch and draped in an American flag.
The entire block -- and, soon, the entire town -- shared in unabashed pride and gratefulness for the country that had given them this place. In 1968, a local congressman persuaded the House of Representatives to officially declare Findlay as Flag City, USA.
But with their pride came a nasty undercurrent, one that Obama's candidacy has exacerbated: On College Street, nobody wanted anything to change. As the years passed, Peterman and his neighbors approached one another to share in their skepticism about the unknown. What was the story behind the handful of African Americans who had moved into a town that is 93 percent white? Why were Japanese businessmen coming in to run the local manufacturing plants? Who in the world was this Obama character, running for president with that funny-sounding last name?
"People in Findlay are kind of funny about change," said Republican Mayor Pete Sehnert, a retired police officer who ran for the office on a whim last year. "They always want things the way they were, and any kind of development is always viewed as making things worse, a bad thing."
When people on College Street started hearing rumors about Obama -- who looked different from other politicians and often talked about change -- they easily believed the nasty stories about an outsider.
"I think Obama would be a disaster, and there's a lot of reasons," said [College Street resident Leroy] Pollard, explaining the rumors he had heard about the candidate from friends he goes camping with. "I understand he's from Africa, and that the first thing he's going to do if he gets into office is bring his family over here, illegally. He's got that racist [pastor] who practically raised him, and then there's the Muslim thing. He's just not presidential material, if you ask me."
Excerpts from comments posted on www.thewashingtonpost.com:
"Fiendly, OH... Home of the Patriots! AH, to be Old AND Ignorant. Must be nice. These morons don't deserve their Chinese-made flags. Let them vote for Uncle Adolf."
"Considering that the Washington Post is yet another media source with blind love for Obama, how do I know that the Post's version of Obama is right?"
"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."
"Findlay is an example of a broken educational system."
"There is a mindset in Ohio that gives reason for it being a rust bucket state. This is one state in which the people gave up thinking long ago and it shows."