Barack Obama media controversy From a deleted article in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Various claims, half-truths, and innuendo about the background and loyalties of Barack Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois and 2008 U.S. presidential candidate, have circulated since 2004, often through the Internet. Challenges to Obama's own account of his upbringing and religious beliefs, thinly attributed to anonymous sources, the campaign of rival presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Republican operatives, were amplified in 2007-2008 by Fox News Channel, CNN Headline News, CBS News, and The Washington Post. This resulted in a media controversy, including charges that mainstream news outlets had not met their journalistic responsibility to adequately assess or debunk anonymous and unverified claims.

Contents [hide] 1 Origins 2 "Madrassa" media controversy 3 Katie Couric on CBS News 4 Washington Post article 5 Involvement of Clinton supporters 6 Responses by Obama campaign 7 Impact on voter opinion 8 Satire and parody 9 See also 10 External links 11 References

[edit] Origins Barack Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and identifies himself as a Christian who has never been a Muslim.[1] However, allegations disputing Obama's account of his past appeared during the 2004 United States Senate election in Illinois. A press release issued by Republican candidate Andy Martin accused Obama of concealing his family history and the religious influences of his childhood years in Muslim-majority Indonesia in order to maintain political support among Jewish voters. Said Martin, "His Muslim religion would obviously raise serious questions in many Jewish circles."[2][3][4][5] In December 2006, as speculation on Obama's possible 2008 presidential bid was growing, writer Debbie Schlussel posted a column on her website postulating that because his father was born to a Muslim father, people in Arab and Islamic countries would regard Obama as a Muslim, rendering his loyalties to the United States suspect.[6][7] The appearance of a similarly themed chain e-mail, accusing Obama of being a radical Muslim who was educated in a Jakarta Wahhabi school, has been dated to the same month as Schlussel's column.[8]

A second rumor began circulating in October 2007, after a photo in TIME magazine showed Obama standing at a political event without his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem.[9] Adding the middle name passed down to Obama from his paternal grandfather, an anonymous chain e-mail charged that Barack Hussein Obama was not worthy of the office of U.S. Commander-in-Chief.[10][11] Other e-mails, including one proposing that Obama could be part of a treasonous Muslim conspiracy, have also been reported.[7][4] In November 2007, the New York Post reported that flyers accusing Obama of being a "Muslim extremist" had been anonymously put on cars in South Carolina, an early U.S. presidential election primary state.[12]

[edit] "Madrassa" media controversy See also: Insight (magazine) On January 16, 2007, Obama announced the formation of an exploratory committee for his candidacy in the 2008 presidential election. The following day, a web magazine named Insight, owned by the Unification Church's News World Communications, published an article saying that the campaign team responsible for preparing Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid was investigating Obama's "Muslim background." Attributing its findings to anonymous sources "close to the background check," the Insight report used the politically loaded term[13][14] madrassa to refer to the government-run elementary school (SDN Menteng 01) Obama had attended while living in Indonesia between the ages of 6 and 10, and also stated that Obama had been "raised as a Muslim" by his stepfather, Lolo Soetoro.[15] Two days later, material from Insight's report appeared in television broadcasts by the Fox News Channel[16][17] and Headline News networks,[18] as well as in the New York Post the following day.[19][20][21]

An Obama spokesman responded by saying "the allegations are completely false".[22] An article about the controversy in The New York Times said that there was no evidence that the Clinton campaign intended to spread the accusations,[20] and a Clinton spokesman said the story was "an obvious right-wing hit job,"[18] adding: "In this case both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton were victimized."[23] British newspaper The Times suggested the Insight report "may be wishful thinking on behalf of Republicans", stating to its readers "The Clinton camp is determined not to be accused of digging dirt on Mr Obama because they fear such tactics could backfire."[24]

CNN correspondent John Vause visited SDN Menteng 01 and interviewed the school's deputy headmaster, as well as one of Obama's former classmates. Vause reported his findings on the January 23, 2007 edition of CNN's Situation Room newscast:

I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that.[18]

The Associated Press visited the school also, and spoke with the current vice principal, two of Obama's former teachers, and a spokesman for Indonesia's Ministry of Religious Affairs, concluding:

Interviews by The Associated Press at the elementary school in Jakarta found that it's a public and secular institution that has been open to students of all faiths since before the White House hopeful attended in the late 1960s.[25]

Obama had in fact mentioned SDN Menteng 01 in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, writing "In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school, two years at a Catholic school. In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell my mother that I made faces during Koranic studies."[26]

A December 2007 Insight column criticized news media discussions of its January article:

We at Insight demand a correction from CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post for their repeated distortions or incomplete recital of our story. The focus in our story in January, 2007 was Hillary’s campaign strategy, not Obama. We were right in our January report about Hillary’s activities, the facts continue to prove us right that Hillary will do all she can to sabotage Obama, and we will ultimately be fully vindicated. Once again, the liberal media will have egg on its face.[27]

[edit] Katie Couric on CBS News On January 25 the Insight story was mentioned on CBS News video blog "Katie Couric's Notebook". Katie Couric read (she does not write her own blog)[28]:

Last week, a magazine called Insight printed a story claiming that Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was enrolled for "at least four years" in an Indonesian "madrassa," a school that promotes radical Islam... [It was] a false story. Obama was never enrolled in a madrassa. And during the years he lived in Indonesia--with a nonpracticing Christian mother and a nonpracticing Muslim stepfather--he attended two schools, one secular, the other Catholic. In fact, Obama has never been a Muslim... Let's fact-check first and broadcast second.[29][30]

In April 2007, "Katie Couric's Notebook" again mentioned Obama's childhood.[31] Couric cited a Los Angeles Times article which reported that according to childhood acquaintance Zulfan Adi, Obama had "prayed in the mosque."[32] Couric further asked "Is America ready to elect a president who grew up praying in a mosque?"[33] The video was later taken down from CBS's website and the transcript amended with "In a later Chicago Tribune article, however, the source [Adi] said he was not certain whether they prayed together."[34][35][36]

[edit] Washington Post article In November 2007, The Washington Post ran a front page story by reporter Perry Bacon Jr. headlined "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him."[37] The story was soon criticized by Democratic blog sites for recycling previously discredited rumors.[38][4] Responding to "a swift Internet reaction that left some staffers stunned at its ferocity," Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell noted that "Obama's connections to Islam are slender at best," and criticized Bacon's article for uselessly rehashing old rumors and failing to include "convincing evidence of their falsity."[39]

[edit] Involvement of Clinton supporters The Clinton campaign asked for the resignation of two volunteer Iowa county coordinators in December 2007 following reports that both had forwarded anti-Obama hoax emails accusing Barack Obama of being a Muslim who might be intent on destroying the United States.[40] A Clinton spokesman said the campaign had no previous knowledge of their coordinators' involvement: "We’ve made it clear to all paid staff and volunteer leaders that the senator and the campaign have a zero tolerance policy for this type of activity," she said.[41]

In December, 2007, shortly after his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, former Senator Bob Kerrey praised Obama for his experience with Muslims, saying "I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal" and, on a separate occasion, "I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust him because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa. I feel quite the opposite. I feel it's a tremendous strength..."[42] Kerrey insisted that his intention had been to praise Obama, but media reaction included the observation that he had "stirred the pot",[43] and "create[d] a misleading impression."[14] Kerrey had made a similar comment in October.[44] On December 20, Kerrey apologized to Obama for unintentionally "insulting" him.[45]

[edit] Responses by Obama campaign The New York Times reported in November 2007, on efforts by the Obama campaign to combat misinformation about their candidate, including an open letter[46] signed by three Iowa ministers, two rabbis, a Catholic nun, and the Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, saying: "Senator Obama is a committed Christian who found Christ long before entering politics and has been outspoken about his faith ever since." The Times article quoted Obama telling his supporters: "You have e-mails saying that I'm a Muslim plant that's trying to take over America. If you get this e-mail from someone you know, set the record straight."[47] In the same month, the Washington Post quoted Obama strategist David Axelrod saying: "He understands that there are scurrilous attack e-mails going on underground that distort his religious affiliation and worse, but his judgment is that he trusts the American people more than that."[37]

When asked by a questioner about his "Muslim background", Obama responded "My father was from Kenya, and a lot of people in his village were Muslim. He didn’t practice Islam. Truth is he wasn’t very religious. He met my mother. My mother was a Christian from Kansas. I’ve always been a Christian…. The only connection I’ve had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father’s side came from that country. But I’ve never practiced Islam."[48]

Obama's half-sister Maya has described their mother as agnostic, rather than Christian. "'I wouldn't have called her an atheist,' she said. 'She was an agnostic. She basically gave us all the good books - the Bible, the Hindu Upanishads and the Buddhist scripture, the Tao Te Ching – and wanted us to recognise that everyone has something beautiful to contribute.'"[49]

[edit] Impact on voter opinion An August 2007 CBS News survey reported:

When asked early in the questionnaire what comes to mind when they hear the name Obama other than running for president, one in 10 voters mention his name—that it is a foreign-sounding name, or that it reminds them of Osama bin Laden or terrorism. 9% mention that he is a Senator, and 6% say that he is African American. And some voters perceive, incorrectly, that Obama is a Muslim. When asked what his religion is, 7% volunteer that he is a Muslim, as many as say he is a Protestant (7%). The latter includes 1% who correctly identify him as a member of the United Church of Christ. Eight in 10 don’t know.[50]

Citing the CBS poll as one indicator that anti-Obama chain emails have influenced the opinions of some voters, an October 2007 article in The Politico also notes:

"barack obama muslim" is the third most popular Google search for the presidential candidate's name, behind "barack obama" and "barack obama biography," according to Google Suggest, which tracks the frequency of word searches.[51]

[edit] Satire and parody The Comedy Central television network lampooned Fox News Channel's handling of the Insight report on a January 2007 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.[52] In November 2007, cartoonist Gary Trudeau penned four Doonesbury comic strips portraying the reactions of the strip's characters to reading anti-Obama chain emails on the Internet.[53] Later that month, Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles mocked his employer's front page story with a cartoon showing a man reading a newspaper article headlined: "Obama's eating of vegetables fuels rumors about him."[54][55]

[edit] See also Defamation Dirty tricks Islamophobia Journalism sourcing Media bias News propaganda Whisper campaign Yellow journalism

[edit] External links "Debunked Insight Magazine and Fox News Smear Campaign", Barack Obama U.S. Senate Office, January 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-11. Myths and falsehoods about Barack Obama From Media Matters. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Barack Obama From Snopes.

[edit] References ^ Obama Has Never Been A Muslim, And Is a Committed Christian. Obama '08 (2007-11-12). Retrieved on 2008-01-16. ^ Martin previously made antisemitic comments about a federal judge during a 1983 bankruptcy case. He has been described by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta as a "notoriously vexatious and vindictive litigator who has long abused the American legal system",[1] and his numerous legal filings have been called "malicious" by Florida's highest court.[2] Asked if he was responsible for anti-Obama e-mails circulating on the Internet, Martin replied: "They are all my children."[3] ^ Hayes, Christopher. "The new right-wing smear machine", Nation, November 12, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ a b c Reinhard, Beth. "Obama fights stories about 'Muslim roots'", The Miami Herald, 2007-12-17. Retrieved on 2007-12-21. ^ For Martin's own account of his role, see: Martin, Andy. "Why does Barack Obama lie about his religious history?" (blog), ContrarianCommentary, December 11, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Schlussel, Debbie. "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, always a Muslim" (blog),, December 18, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ a b Smith, Ben; Jonathan Martin. "Untraceable e-mails spread Obama rumor", Politico, October 13, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ "The enemy within",, March 15, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ "Hand over heart",, October 27, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Dobbs, Michael. "Obama nabbed by the patriot police", Washington Post, November 2, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ For more about Obama's middle name and its use in the media, see: Wallis, David. "Malice in the middle: Barack Hussein Obama and the history of bad middle names in politics", Slate, December 27, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-13. ^ Reid, Tim. "Palmetto bugs: Slingers of slime step it up in SC", New York Post, November 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Moeller, Susan. Jumping on the US Bandwagon for a "War on Terror". Yale Global Online. Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. ^ a b Dobbs, Michael. "True But False", The Fact-Checker,, 20007-12-19. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background" (web), Insight, January 16, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-26. ^ "Obama Smeared As Former ‘Madrassa’ Student, Possible Covert Muslim Extremist", Think Progress, 2007-01-19. Retrieved on 2008-01-02. ^ Gibson, John. "Hillary Clinton Drops Madrassa Bomb on Barack Obama" (Transcript), The Big Story w/ John Gibson, Fox News Network, 2007-01-19. Retrieved on 2008-01-02. ^ a b c "CNN debunks false report about Obama", CNN, January 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Haberman, Maggie. "'OSAMA' MUD FLIES AT OBAMA", New York Post, 2007-01-20. Retrieved on 2008-01-02. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, David D. "Feeding Frenzy for a Big Story, Even If It's False", New York Times, January 29, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-30. ^ "Obama, School Deny Radical Islam Claim" (video), Associated Press, WPVI-TV Philadelphia (ABC), January 25, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-11-18. ^ Kurtz, Howard. "Hillary, Obama and Anonymous Sources", The Washington Post, 2007-01-22. ^ Carter, Bill. "Rivals CNN and Fox News Spar Over Obama Report", The New York Times, 2007-01-24. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Reid, Tim; Tom Baldwin. "Obama 'was educated in madrassa'", The Times, 2007-01-20. Retrieved on 2007-12-22. ^ Pickler, Nedra. "Obama challenges allegation about Islamic school" (Reprint), The San Diego Union-Tribune, Associated Press, 2007-01-24. Retrieved on 2008-01-02. ^ Timeline of a Smear From Media Matters. ^ "Washington Watch: Our Focus Was Hillary, Not Obama's Muslim Background", Insight, December 11, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Roberts, Johnnie L.. "Couric's Contretemps", Newsweek/, April 10, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-09. ^ Couric, Katie. "Katie's Notebook: The Obama Story That Wasn't", CBS Evening News, 2007-01-25. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ Although the article in Insight claimed their sources said Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary", it also said "the background check has not confirmed that the specific Madrassa Mr. Obama attended was espousing Wahhabism." The Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune stories all reported that Obama's stepfather was a practicing, though not pious, Muslim. ^ "Katie Couric: 'Is America ready for a President who grew up praying in a mosque?'", Insight, April 10-16, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ Paul Watson (March 16, 2007). Islam an unknown factor in Obama bid: Campaign downplays his connection during boyhood in Indonesia (Reprint). Los Angeles Times. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved on 2007-12-11. ^ B.J.L.; S.S.M. (2007-04-12). Couric's "Notebook" rehashed debunked Obama rumors. Media Matters for America. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ Barker, Kim. "History of schooling distorted", Chicago Tribune, 2007-03-25. Retrieved on 2007-12-10. ^ Kandra, Greg. "Katie Couric's Notebook: Obama's Background", CBS News, April 11, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. (amended version) ^ The Tribune does not in fact quote Adi as saying he was uncertain that he had prayed with Obama. I does contain this sentence: "Zulfan Adi, a former neighborhood playmate of Obama's who has been cited in news reports as saying Obama regularly attended Friday prayers with Soetoro, told the Tribune he was not certain about that when pressed about his recollections." Earlier the Baltimore Sun had said "childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque", quoting Adi as saying "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque", and also "Sometimes, when the muezzin sounded the call to prayer, Lolo and Barry would walk to the makeshift mosque together, Adi said. 'His mother often went to the church, but Barry was Muslim. He went to the mosque,...'" ^ a b Bacon Jr, Perry. "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him", Washington Post, November 29, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Elliott, Geoff. "Obama targeted in smear campaign", The Australian, December 1, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-21. ^ Howell, Deborah. "Refuting, or Feeding, the Rumor Mill?", Washington Post, December 9, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. See also: Parry, Robert. "Washington Post Buys into Anti-Obama Bigotry" (web), Baltimore Chronicle, November 29, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Pickler, Nedra. "Clinton Volunteer Asked to Resign" (Reprint), The Boston Globe, Associated Press, December 9, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ "Third Clinton Volunteer Knew of Smear E-Mail", National Journal, December 10, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-15. ^ Stein, Sam (2007-12-17). Kerrey Says Obama Attended A Secular Madrasa. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on 2008-01-04. ^ Baldwin, Tom. "Clinton backer stirs the pot by referring to Obama's 'Muslim' roots", The Times, 2007-12-19. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ Bob Kerrey discusses leadership. (2007-10-30). Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ Pickler, Nedra. "Kerrey Apologizes to Obama Over Remark" (Reprint), The Seattle Times, The Associated Press, December 20, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-23. ^ "Letter from Religious Leaders Supporting Obama" (PDF),, January 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Zeleny, Jeff. "Obama Fights Foes, Seen or Otherwise", New York Times, January 23, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Michael, Saul. "I'm no Muslim, says Barack Obama", New York Daily News, 2007-12-23. Retrieved on 2008-01-04. ^,568,obamas-muslim-past-back-on-the-agenda,13523 ^ "CBS News poll: Barack Obama and the 2008 election, August 8-12, 2007" (PDF), CBS News, August 15, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ Smith, Ben; Jonathan Martin. "Untraceable e-mails spread Obama rumor", Politico, October 13, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-16. ^ "Obamania: FOX News reports Barack Obama was raised a Muslim" (video), The Daily Show, Comedy Central, January 29, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-12. ^ Trudeau, Gary. "Doonesbury" (2007-11-19); (2007-11-20); (2007-11-21); (2007-11-22). Slate. Retrieved on 2007-12-12. ^ "Opinions: Tom Toles Cartoons" (drawing), Washington Post, November 30, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-12. ^ Mitchell, Greg; Dave Astor. "'Wash Post' Cartoonist Mocks Own Paper Over Obama Story", Editor and Publisher, November 30, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-12.

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