Wait…Barack Obama was president during 9/11?

Barack Obama had a big part in 9/11. - GIF on Imgur

According to APA Dictionary of Psychology, false memory is a distorted recollection of an event that never actually occurred. False memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others. During the process, individuals may forget the source of the information (Dictionary). Retroactive interference occurs when new information presented interferes with your ability to retain previously encoded information. Essentially, the new information that a person receives works backward in time to distort memory of the original event (“How…”).

At a 2016 Trump Rally, The Daily Show’s segment “Fingers the Pulse”, correspondent Jordan Klepper, interviewed several supporters of the now current president about their views. So let me put this into context for you…

Interviewee: Barack Obama had big part of 9/11.

Interviewer: Which part?

Interviewee: Not being around, always on vacation and never in the office.

Interviewer: Why do you think Barack Obama wasn’t in the oval office on 9/11?

Interviewee: That I don’t know. Would like to get to the bottom of that.


So can a false memory form because of retroactive interference? A recent study on this idea focuses on the idea that,“The argument advanced in this article is that false memories can arise because of…namely, the decline of distinctiveness and the rise of retroactive interference.” (Howe). In this particular situation, the interviewee’s recall of 9/11 may have been skewed because of information encoded during former President Obama’s actual presidency in 2009-2017. Because of retroactive interference-the information taken from Obama’s presidency-a false memory of the situation was formed. The interviewee may have felt as though during Obama’s presidency, he was not doing a good job, always on vacation, and never in the office to do his job. Though, when that information was encoded, it may have distorted his recollection of memory of our president during 9/11, former President George W. Bush. 

Though this show may be staged, this interviewee showed his confidence by stating that he felt as though Barack Obama was our president during the September 11 Attacks, which occurred in 2001. Similarly, false memories can be formed because, “finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not.” (“How…”). With this in mind, no one in his life up until that point has informed him that his construction of that memory was incorrect. The strength in his false memory of Obama not doing his job during 9/11, was increased due to people not informing him that Obama was not the president until after 9/11. Agreement of an event by people is a very powerful technique for maintaining as well as instilling false memories.

This was just a quirky and fun example of false memory! But in all maybe we should cut this guy some slack, I mean, for all we know it could have been staged!


Dictionary. “APA Dictionary of Psychology.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2020, dictionary.apa.org/false-memory.

“How False Memories Form.” How False Memories Form, www.uky.edu/~bdabra2/HowFalseMemoriesFormLoftus.htm.

Howe, Mark L. “Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology | ScienceDirect.com, 1998, www.sciencedirect.com/journal/journal-of-experimental-child-psychology.

6 thoughts on “Wait…Barack Obama was president during 9/11?

  1. cbilly

    OH MY GOSH! The interview made me laugh so hard, I was not expecting that at all. I’m glad that you found a funny way to explain false memory. I think you did a good job of explaining the topic as well. I am glad that you addressed how he could have kept that false memory. I didn’t know that even if other people don’t say anything about a false memory it is reinforced.

  2. cwehner

    Fascinating description of false memory! While this is an extreme example of false memory, I think it speaks to an important aspect of what contributes to schemas. Assuming this interview wasn’t staged, the man was clearly a Trump supporter — and likely an avid one, considering that he was at a rally and wearing a MAGA hat. One could assume that he’s also a staunch Republican who sees members or the Democratic party as at best, contemptuously stupid and at worst, maliciously attempting to destroy the United States. It follows, then, that he would see conservative presidents like Bush as strong people and good leaders who do what’s best for the country, while liberal presidents are weak and incapable (which is ironic given our current president, but I digress). If this schema is part of how he sees the world, perhaps that’s part of why his memory is so flawed — a liberal president in office during a horrific terrorist attack would fit his schema better, and so his memory has adjusted to fit. Granted, this is a lot of “what ifs,” but I do wonder if it played a role!

  3. chooker

    I believe that we all have at least one false memory (I know my sister does about me lol). But some are a lot extreme than others, obviously from that interview above they can be very extreme. People can be so set in their ways of thinking that this “memory” they have is so true when it can not be further from the truth. This was a great topic for a blog post!!

  4. jwhearty

    It’s interesting that the brain can create such a false memory and that this individual has not been corrected on it yet. I wonder if there are other events in history that he has false memories of. I also wonder if the political agenda and topics that people are more passionate about are subject to false memories more so than other events. I was very confused when I first read to the tile this is a really good example of false memory which was also entertaining to read about.

  5. wharris2

    Its always scary to think about whether you have a false memory about a situation and just have not realized it or been corrected on it yet. I think you did a good job describing what a false memory is as well as integrating how retroactive interference can play a part in it as well. Also, I really enjoyed the example because I had never seen “fingers the pulse” before, so I might have to look into old YouTube clips of it later.

  6. vleonled

    False memory is really interesting, because in these cases, I believe it has strongly to do with bias. People are using what they believe in and using the false information they have sought out to come up with what they believe to be “facts”. Coming up with their own information, like Barack Obama was president during 9/11, is a way for people to justify their thoughts and try to become believable to the public. Some of these false memories might stem from personal beliefs, in this case, I am assuming this man wants to blame Barack Obama on not doing enough during 9/11. In current news, I am interested in learning more about how people’s memory distorts their political beliefs.

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