TODAY   |  August 30, 2010

Obama dismisses rumors about religion

In an NBC exclusive interview, President Obama speaks out about the millions of Americans who believe he is a Muslim. NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: President Obama back at the White House today, a day after he traveled to New Orleans to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina . And the president has faced a storm of his own recently after polling shows that a staggering number of Americans believe he's Muslim. NBC 's Brian Williams talked to him about that during an exclusive interview. Brian , good morning to you.

BRIAN WILLIAMS reporting: Well, good morning to you, Matt. And when you think about it, it's right, nowhere in our recorded history, in the history of the presidency -- 44 people have occupied the job -- has one ever had to face accusations by his enemies that he is somehow a Muslim. So we figured here yesterday -- this had flared up while the president was on vacation. Our conversation with him was his first coming off vacation, and while we discussed a host of other issues, I decided to ask him about that. Mr. President, you're an American-born Christian .

President BARACK OBAMA: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: And yet increasing and now significant numbers of Americans in polls, upwards of a fifth of respondents, are claiming you are neither. A fifth of the people, just about, believe you're a Muslim. This...

Pres. OBAMA: Keep in mind those two things, American-born and Muslim, are not the same, so -- but I understand your point.

WILLIAMS: But either or the latter.

Pres. OBAMA: Right.

WILLIAMS: And the most recent number is the latter. This has to be troubling to you. This is, of course, all new territory for an American president .

Pres. OBAMA: Well, look, the facts are the facts, right? And so we went through some of this during the campaign. You know, 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 with the US Senate , we dealt with it when we were first running for the presidency. There were those who said I couldn't win as US senator because I had a funny name and people would be too unfamiliar with me, and yet we ended up winning that Senate seat in Illinois because I trusted in the American people 's capacity to get beyond all this nonsense. And so I will always put my money on the American people , and I'm not going to be worrying too much about whatever, you know, rumors are floating on out there. If I spent all my time chasing after that, then I wouldn't get much done.

WILLIAMS: Even a number as sizable as this, what does it say to you? Does it say anything about your communications or the effectiveness of your opponents to...

Pres. OBAMA: Well, look, Brian , I'd -- I would say that I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead, right? It is -- the facts are the facts. And so it's not something that I can, I think, spend all my time worrying about, and I don't think the American people want me to spend all my time worrying about it.

WILLIAMS: And that quote -- that plastered quote last night, of course, was plastered all over newspapers and all over the Web last night. We also asked the president about that Saturday rally by Glenn Beck that was able to draw a crowd perhaps north of 300,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Dr. King's " I Have a Dream " speech. The president said he hadn't seen any of the rally, but these two quotes are notable and

interesting: "I think Mr. Beck and the rest of these folks were exercising their rights under the Constitution exactly as they should." President went on to say, "It's not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country." So he'd been aware of all the political foment while he'd been on vacation. He also talked about the Islamic center in New York . And I 'm duty-bound to say that five years ago this morning we came out and said that overnight here in this city we could see water had filled the streets, the levees had started. That, of course, started what we've been covering here lo these many five years. Matt :

LAUER: Yeah, we remember it well, Brian . Thanks very much. And of course, Brian 's going to have more of his interview with the president tonight on " NBC Nightly News ." It's now nine minutes after the hour. Here's Ann.