Was Obama involved in the death of his personal chef?

We came across a post on Reddit featuring a screenshot from Twitter—now known as X—that depicted Barack Obama playing golf:

The Twitter image is accompanied by a caption that reports that Obama’s personal chef and friend had died in a ‘very mysterious paddle boarding accident’, and that Obama himself had appeared ‘just days’ after the death with ‘injured fingers and a black eye’.

The post adds that Obama loves paddle boarding and that ‘we can all guess what happened’, strongly insinuating that Obama had accompanied his friend for a paddle boarding session and caused his death due to an altercation between the two.

When we did a web keyword search on these allegations, we found that there were other sources that went even further than the Twitter post in pointing to Obama as a suspect in his chef’s death. Articles on the sites The Burning Platform and The Liberty Daily ran articles with headlines suggesting that Obama’s taped fingers could be due to ‘defensive wounds’, and that one wound could also be spotted under his left eye. The Liberty Daily has been listed by the media credibility resource Media Bias/Fact Check as a questionable source due to extreme right-wing bias and reliance on sources that have failed numerous factchecks.

We also found that the photos originated from the British tabloid the Daily Mail. The Mail published an article reporting that the Obamas had returned to Martha’s Vineyard five days after their personal chef and friend Tafari Campbell had drowned in an accident while paddle boarding. Martha’s Vineyard is an island in the US state of Massachusetts popular for summer vacations on which the Obamas own a home.

Though the Mail’s article states that Barack and Michelle Obama were ‘not at home at the time of the accident’, social media users and other internet sources have used the Daily Mail images of the Obamas’ reappearance to allege their involvement in Campbell’s death.

The Official Statement

A search for official statements on Campbell’s death led us to an AP News article in which the police laid out several facts regarding the incident.

In a statement to AP News, a Massachusetts State Police spokesperson said that while an unnamed paddleboarder was with Campbell and had attempted to rescue him, Obama was not the paddleboarder. The police spokesperson confirmed that the Obamas were not on the island on Sunday evening, when the incident transpired. The police declined to give further details about the Obamas’ whereabouts during the incident or the identity of the other paddleboarder. The Obamas’ spokesperson also declined to comment on their location at the time of the death.

The police spokesperson also confirmed that they had found no evidence that the death of Campbell was suspicious, and they refuted another false claim that the medical examiner had called off its autopsy.

A Trick of the Light

While these official statements do not address the details in the Twitter post, a closer look at the photos reveals that there is little basis for the allegations put forth, and simpler explanations are far more likely.

Obama’s ‘black eye’ simply appears to be a combination of shadow and the high contrast of the image, which highlight skin contours. The same effect can be observed on the veins on Obama’s forearm and the wrinkles on his legs, for example. For comparison, another photo shown below taken by the Mail from a different angle appears to have lower exposure to the light, and there is no ‘black eye’ effect observed.

As for Obama’s ‘injured’ fingers, they are very likely not to be injured at all, but rather related to the practice of golfers taping their fingers primarily to prevent blisters. They can also be used to prevent the formation of calluses, provide comfort and support, and improve grip.

It is therefore false that an altercation between Obama and his chef led to the latter’s death and that there were images of his subsequent injuries, or that the investigation and truth regarding the death are being suppressed.

The US-based factcheck organisation Politifact also debunked a claim that Campbell had tweeted he had ‘information that would lead to the arrest of Barrack Obama’ two years ago. The tweet was found to be fabricated, as the account name used in the image does not exist.

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