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Videos with AI Voices Promote Unsupported Rumors About Death of Obamas' Chef, Tafari Campbell

The July 23 death of the Obamas' chef, Tafari Campbell, brought with it a number of misleading rumors that were amplified by AI-voiced YouTube videos.

Published Aug 21, 2023

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in support of Nevada Democrats at Cheyenne High School on Nov. 01, 2022 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Image Via Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A handful of similar-looking YouTube channels in August 2023 were promoting unsupported conspiracy theories about the death of former U.S. President Barack Obama's family's personal chef, Tafari Campbell, and the creators of the clips were doing it with voices generated by AI.

Campbell accidentally drowned while paddleboarding on July 23 near the Obamas' waterfront estate on Martha's Vineyard, according to news reports. A research team found his body the following day.

Campbell previously served as a sous chef in the White House during Obama's time as president, and continued on as the family's personal chef in the years that followed.

The chef's death sparked a number of baseless conspiracy theories about the Obamas, despite the fact that Massachusetts State Police had said that a post-mortem examination by the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner "found no evidence that the death was suspicious," as The Associated Press (AP) reported.

AP has since called into question, in multiple articles, many of the rumors that were passed around online, finding that the claims either didn't line up with the facts, or were free of evidence.

In this story, we'll examine three popular videos that were being shared on YouTube that promoted various rumors about this matter. We'll also talk about a few of the conspiracy theories about Campbell's death.

Note: For a comprehensive examination of all of the known rumors about Campbell's death, we recommend the aforementioned reporting from The AP.

Campbell's Wife Did Not 'Expose' the Obamas

First, the Drama Bay YouTube channel uploaded a video on Aug. 20 with the title, "Barack Obama's Late Chefs Wife Comes Out To Expose Obama Family?"

The video featured the voice of a narrator that had been created with AI. It also had been viewed more than 280,000 times in its first 24 hours.

However, the video presented no evidence that Campbell's wife, Sherise Campbell, was planning to "expose" the Obama family.

Instead, the fake narrator's voice began by saying, "The truth behind Obama's late chef's wife being silent on his death." Later in the video, the narrator reversed course and said that Sherise Campbell had "posted a heartfelt message in honor of her husband." In other words, she hadn't been "silent" regarding her husband's death.

These kinds of videos seemed to be little more than misleading clickbait created in an apparent attempt to earn advertising revenue based on views from users who might not bother to ensure the content is truthful. Such users might instead immediately believe information before their eyes, as long as it validates their preconceived viewpoints. In other words, the creators of such videos appeared to be treating their viewers as if they weren't intelligent, something that some of the viewers didn't seem to notice, according to the comments under the clip.

Note: We previously published other articles about false celebrity news that came from some of the very same YouTube channels mentioned in this fact check.

Video with Fake Obama Voice

A second video that was posted by the Viral Vision YouTube channel on Aug. 21 made the following misleading claim in its video title, misspelling two first names and one last name in the process: "Barrack Obama Reacts To Chefs Wife Blaming Him For The D*ath Of Her Husband Talafi Cambell."

As of this writing, the video had received nearly 50,000 views in its first five hours of being available. 

The video featured fake, AI-generated audio of the former president supposedly reacting to "allegations" that had been lodged by Sherise Campbell in regard to her husband's death.

In the audio clip, the fake Obama voice said, "While I cannot comprehend the basis of the allegations made against me, I urge everyone to remember the importance of unity, understanding, and not rushing to judgements."

To be clear, Obama never said these words.

Campbell's Purported 'Tell-All Book'

In another video that was created for the This Happened YouTube channel on Aug. 21, the title claimed, "Obama's Chef Was Writing a Tell-All Book Before Mysterious DEATH?!"

The video was viewed nearly 75,000 times in its first four hours after being published.

AP previously reported of the claim that Campbell had been writing a "tell-all book" about the Obamas that there was "no evidence" to support the idea, and added that the rumor had "originated from a social media account known to spread misinformation."

The thumbnail image for the video displayed a picture of Obama and Campbell with the words, "Exposing Gay Affair?"

Those three words apparently referenced a New York Post article from Aug. 12.

The Post's article said that, in November 1982, Obama wrote a letter to a woman named Alex McNear, whom he was either dating at the time or had dated in the past.

The letter purportedly included a passage that had previously been redacted, in which Obama had written: "In regard to homosexuality, I must say that I believe this is an attempt to remove oneself from the present, a refusal perhaps to perpetuate the endless farce of earthly life. You see, I make love to men daily, but in the imagination."

The letter is currently owned by Emory University.

The article said that the redacted section of the message was previously transcribed by author and former Emory Professor Harvey Klehr.

We reached out to Klehr by phone and he confirmed that he did, indeed, transcribe the section of the letter, just as the Post had reported. He originally transcribed the letter for author and historian David Garrow around the time of the publishing of Garrow's 2017 biography, "Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama."

Obama's Statement on Campbell's Death

On Aug. 3, Barack Obama paid tribute to Campbell on Instagram.

His caption read, "Tafari Campbell showed us what true character looks like. He believed that actions speak louder than words. And he used his immense gifts to bring people together, provide comfort, and spread joy. I'll miss him every day."

Former first lady Michelle Obama also shared a statement, calling Campbell a "beloved part of our family."

Sources

@barackobama. Instagram, 3 Aug. 2023, https://www.instagram.com/p/Cvfr4ekvSaJ/.

Carman, Tim, and Emily Heil. "The Obamas' Chef, Tafari Campbell, Was Known for His Food and Discretion." Washington Post, 26 July 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2023/07/25/tafari-campbell-obama-chef-remembered-drowning/.

Clark, Meredith. "Obama's Resurfaced Love Letters Reveal He Made Love to Men 'in the Imagination.'" The Independent, 14 Aug. 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/obama-gay-love-letter-girlfriend-b2392802.html.

"Harvey Klehr, Ph.D." Victims of Communism, https://victimsofcommunism.org/leader/harvey-klehr-phd/.

Levine, Jon. "Barack Obama Told Ex, 'I Make Love to Men Daily, but in the Imagination.'" NYPost.com, 12 Aug. 2023, https://nypost.com/2023/08/12/barack-obama-told-ex-i-make-love-to-men-daily-but-in-the-imagination/.

Marcelo, Philip. "Obama's Bandaged Fingers Don't Suggest a Role in His Chef's Death. It's Golf Tape for Blisters." The Associated Press, 1 Aug. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/fact-check-obama-chef-drowning-golfing-227752847018.

---. "Obama's Doctor Didn't Conduct His Late Chef's Autopsy and the 911 Call Wasn't Delayed, Police Say." The Associated Press, 31 July 2023, https://apnews.com/article/fact-check-obama-chef-drowning-vineyard-452209903189.

Marcelo, Philip, and Melissa Goldin. "FACT FOCUS: No Head Trauma or Suspicious Circumstances in Drowning of Obamas' Chef, Police Say." The Associated Press, 26 July 2023, https://apnews.com/article/obama-chef-drowning-marthas-vineyard-paddleboard-fact-check-d4f16bea75238408942af34bb53c6579.

"Obamas' Personal Chef Drowns near Family's Home on Martha's Vineyard." The Associated Press, 24 July 2023, https://apnews.com/article/obama-chef-drowning-marthas-vineyard-7c75e65b4e550823ee21334a0450323c.

Vasquez, Ingrid. "Barack Obama Remembers Late Chef Tafari Campbell: 'I'll Miss Him Every Day.'" People.com, https://people.com/barack-obama-pens-tribute-to-late-chef-tafari-campbell-7569664. Accessed 21 Aug. 2023.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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