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Obama not worried about Muslim rumors

The fact that only 34% of people correctly identify him as Christian doesn't bother the president, he tells NBC. 'There is a mechanism, a network of misinformation… in a new-media era.'

August 30, 2010|Michael Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —

President Obama said in an interview Sunday that he can't worry about dispelling every rumor about him — even though a recent poll showed nearly 20% of Americans erroneously believe he is Muslim.

"The facts are the facts, right?" Obama told NBC's Brian Williams in New Orleans, where he was marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. "There is a mechanism, a network of misinformation that in a new-media era can get churned out there constantly.

"We dealt with this when I was first running for the U.S. Senate. We dealt with it when we were first running for the presidency. ... I will always put my money on the American people. And I'm not gonna be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating on out there."

A poll released by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center earlier this month showed that 18% of people believe Obama is Muslim — up from 11% in March 2009. Only 34% said, accurately, that he is Christian, down from 48% last year.

Obama also defended his comments on a proposed Islamic community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York, and said he has been consistent on the issue.

"I was not endorsing any particular project. I was endorsing our Constitution. And what is right," he told NBC. "The media, I think, anticipating that this was going to be a firestorm politically, seemed to think that somehow there was inconsistency, and there wasn't."

Citing the Constitution's freedom of religion, Obama has said that the Muslim group has the right to build the center. So has New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The proposed center has drawn criticism from politicians including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat.

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