Jay raises an interesting point. Where do these things start?
The time line in my story, does indeed suggest that the rumor about Michelle Obama was fanned by a pro-Clinton blogger. But it was out there before that, and had enough currency that one of her closest friends and her chief of staff felt it was significant enough to bring to Michelle Obama’s attention–not once but twice–even before it hit that blog:
According to campaign officials, what finally launched Obama into a full rumor counteroffensive was a story that apparently first made a big splash on the Internet in late May in a post by pro-Hillary Clinton blogger Larry Johnson. Quoting “someone in touch with a senior Republican,” Johnson claimed that there was a video of Michelle Obama “blasting ‘whitey’ during a rant at Jeremiah Wright’s church.” (Later versions of the rumor had Michelle’s “rant” happening at a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition conference.) No such videotape has surfaced.
When the Obama campaign got wind of the rumor in April, Michelle’s close friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett asked Michelle if there could be anything to it; the candidate’s wife dismissed it out of hand. But by mid-May, it was picking up steam on the Internet, and Michelle’s advisers decided it was time to have a serious talk with her about it. On a campaign swing through Oregon, Michelle’s chief of staff Melissa Winter grilled her on the particulars of the various versions. Had she ever spoken at Trinity Church? Could she ever recall having uttering that racial epithet? No, no, Michelle answered again and again. Additionally, she said, “whitey” is simply not a word that African Americans of her generation tend to use — or that she herself would ever say. Michelle was shocked and frustrated when her aides approached her the second time about the alleged incident.
Where did it come from? Jim Geraghty of National Review Online, a conservative who has been one of the leaders in debunking the rumor, has one idea, which was picked up on the other side of the ideological divide* by Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld at TPM: It closely resembles the plot of a 2006 Stephen Frey novel. But how these things catch on continues to mystify me.
*Thanks, commenter Texte