MARQUETTE - State Senator Tom Casperson began distancing himself this morning from statements he made Tuesday about President Barack Obama's birthplace.
When asked by Michael Shiels, host of the downstate radio and television program "Michigan's Big Show," if he thought Obama was born in the United States, Casperson responded, "Don't know."
When Shiels cited a poll indicating that only 26 percent of delegates to Michigan's Republican Party Convention believe Obama was born in America, Casperson said that number didn't surprise him, based on "everything everybody is saying."
State Sen. Tom Casperson
"It seems like that issue was dropped immediately, as far as the major media went, and my gut tells me if it had been a different president, like say George W. Bush, they'd have been digging into that like there was no tomorrow and trying to get to the bottom," he told Shiels. "They never really did try to get to the bottom, and so it became a conspiracy theory and no big deal."
Casperson - who attended the convention and said he was not aware of any poll that took place - said this morning that he was "completely surprised" by the question from Shiels. The host, Casperson said, called Monday evening and asked the senator to appear as a Tuesday morning guest in order to discuss one of his bills currently moving through the legislature. Until the segment began, he said, the topic of Obama's birth never came up.
He said Shiels also put him in a tight spot by mentioning some of Casperson's professional acquaintances as people who doubt claims that Obama was born in the U.S.
"I just simply said 'I don't know' and that's all I said," Casperson said today. "I could have done it better ... Quite frankly, when I said I didn't know, I didn't realize it would cause such a firestorm, because it wasn't an issue for me. I've never made it an issue."
Casperson said he paid little attention to the national discussion about Obama's birth certificate, and that, given an audience with Obama, he would choose to discuss many more important things.
Casperson also told Shiels that he thought the national media treats Obama differently than former President George W. Bush. He echoed those statements today.
"I really believe (national) media does play a role in this," he said this morning. "I think had they scrutinized the claim hard right in the beginning - not coming out and dismissing those that made the claim as conspiracy people, but come out and actually look at the claim and dig in and burrow down - they could have solved this or ended it. And they didn't."
The media's role, he added, is to hold "elected officials' feet to the fire."
News organizations, he said, should have stepped up early in the process to end the debate.
"The original documents, if I understood it right, the way they had laid it out, were copies," Casperson said. "They weren't originals. That doesn't mean he's wrong. It just means that was a little bit different in itself. And so, that's where the media could have stepped in immediately and said, 'We want to see the originals and let's make sure this is correct.'"
Casperson said he didn't speak with Shiels following the segment, which also touched on his legislation and on Obama's proposed increase to the federal minimum wage. A representative said Casperson's office has been flooded with phone calls and emails following the Tuesday remarks.
Casperson, who has been busy - penning more than two dozen public acts - since being elected to the Michigan Senate two years ago, said he wants to get back to business.
"Let's move on. There's a lot of things we can have debates about, about the president's policies, and we should have those," he said today. "This is not one of them. This should be put to bed and gone.
"The people have decided. The president has been voted in. He's our president. We move forward. History is going to bear out the claims or no claims, whether this was true or not true. History will take care of that for us."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.