Melanie Morgan, Lee Rodgers, Rush Limbaugh, and John Gibson all forwarded the accusation made by a website controlled by Rev. Sun Myung Moon that Sen. Hillary Clinton was responsible for spreading information linking Sen. Barack Obama to a madrassa, or Muslim school. None of the four cited any evidence, other than the article, that Clinton was responsible for promoting the madrassa story, and the article cited no one by name.
On the January 19 editions of their radio programs, conservative talk show hosts Melanie Morgan, Lee Rodgers and Rush Limbaugh, as well as Fox News' John Gibson on the same day's edition of The Big Story, forwarded the accusation, originally published on the website InsightMag.com, that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) was responsible for spreading information about Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) -- specifically, that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." The article, bearing the headline "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background," asserted that "researchers connected to Senator Clinton" disclosed the "details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past." Despite acknowledging near the end of his show that it "[d]oesn't seem" that "Hillary's fingerprints [are] on the story," Gibson said earlier in that program that "[t]he New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past."
None of the four radio or television hosts cited any evidence that Clinton was responsible for promoting the madrassa story, beyond the InsightMag.com article, which cited no one by name. On December 13, Jason Zengerle, editor of The Plank, the weblog of The New Republic, predicted that Republicans would "launch a savage and despicable whispering campaign against the guy (Barack Hussein Obama, etc.) and then blame it all on Hillary." Zengerle responded to the InsightMag.com article on January 18:
The attribution on all this is broad enough ("political opponents within the Democratic Party"; "researchers connected to Senator Clinton") that I suppose this information about Obama could have originated with people in Clinton's orbit. But let's not forget where this information appeared. And let's be on the lookout for who goes on the cable shows and wonders whether "Barack Hussein Obama" is "The
ManchurianMadrassa Candidate." Something tells me it isn't going to be Hillary, or any liberal for that matter.
InsightMag.com is the successor to Insight on the News, a biweekly magazine published until April 2004 by News World Communications, the company controlled by Rev. Sun Myung Moon that also operates The Washington Times and the wire service United Press International. The website describes itself as a "weekly Internet news magazine."
The InsightMag.com article claimed that "sources close" to a "background check" supposedly "conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton" said that "[t]he idea is to show Obama as deceptive" and speculated that the "predominantly" Muslim school that Obama has admitted he once attended might have taught "a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims":
In two best-selling autobiographies -- "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" and "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" -- Mr. Obama, born in Honolulu where his parents met, mentions but does not expand on his Muslim background, alluding only to his attendance at a "predominantly Muslim school."
The sources said the background check concerned Mr. Obama's years in Jakarta. In Indonesia, the young Obama was enrolled in a Madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim. Although Indonesia is regarded as a moderate Muslim state, the U.S. intelligence community has determined that today most of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.
Although the background check has not confirmed that the specific Madrassa Mr. Obama attended was espousing Wahhabism, the sources said his Democratic opponents believe this to be the case -- and are seeking to prove it. The sources said the opponents are searching for evidence that Mr. Obama is still a Muslim or has ties to Islam.
On The Big Story, Gibson read a statement from Obama's office, which said: "The idea that Senator Barack Obama attended some radical Islamic school is completely ludicrous. Senator Obama is a committed Christian and attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago."
Morgan read from the article, then asserted that Clinton "is going to try to derail the train before it gets out of the station," adding: "And we know that Hillary Clinton has used private eyes to spy on the private lives of many of her political opponents as well as the girlfriends of her husband over the years."
On his program, Limbaugh read the story and claimed: "This is Hillary's team doing this. This is not a bunch of Republicans saying this. They wouldn't dare; they don't have the guts."
Gibson addressed the InsightMag.com article as his "Big Story" at the beginning of the show and again in his "My Word" segment at the end of the program. After claiming that Clinton "has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past," Gibson told Republican strategist Terry Holt: "Now, we have heard about dirty politics before. Republicans aren't involved in this one." Holt responded: "This was either a despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine -- we know that they are capable of doing this. But I also thought, you know, it wasn't directly linked to Hillary Clinton." Holt then speculated that Obama himself could have been behind the story, saying that "if you took a page out of the Clinton book and you are really shrewd and you were Barack Obama, you might want to put this out yourself so that you could deal with it early in the political campaign and get it over with." But Holt also noted that "a madrassa, before it was politicized and really taken over by the fundamentalists primarily from Saudi Arabia, it was nothing more than a parochial school, and Barack Obama was in school 40 years ago."
Still, in his "My Word" segment, Gibson said: "Americans have a visceral reaction to the word 'madrassa.' In our world, a madrassa's where zealots train your Muslim kids to hate America, to hate the West, and to be killers. Saying Obama attended a madrassa is tying Obama's name to terrorism, and that is real political hardball in action, especially when Obama himself said in his own book that he attended a predominantly Muslim school as a youngster in Indonesia."
On the Morning Show, in addition to accusing Clinton of the attack on Obama, Rodgers suggested that Obama may be a "death target" because of the revelation that he was born the son of a Muslim. From the program:
RODGERS: According to Muslim law, Islamic law, the penalty for leaving the faith is death. Today, Barack Obama proclaims his adherence to the Christian faith, he's a member of a church in Chicago -- they say he's not a regular churchgoer, but he's a member -- but will this make him a potential death target? Renouncing Islam and taking another faith is subject to the death penalty under Islamic law. Free choice has nothing to do with it. It doesn't work that way. To them, you are what you are, and if you were born the child of a Muslim father, you are a Muslim for life, whether you like it or not. And the penalty for trying to break away is death.
And that is why you hear about these cases from time to time Muslims who convert to other religions usually change -- move, change their name, hide their identity, because they know what Islam dictates as the price for abandoning Islam. The goo-goo mush-heads among us in this country don't like to believe this is the case, but it happens to be absolutely true. Now we know of cases like writer Salman Rushdie about whom a fatwa was issued calling for any Muslim to kill him, OK? He's fairly prominent in the literary world, and in the larger world not that big a deal, but if he were the most famous, popular author in the world, that's still a hell of a far cry from running for president of the United States. So, you know, make of this whatever you wish, but that is what Islam dictates.
Similar to the attacks from Morgan, Rodgers and Limbaugh, the weblog Think Progress noted that on the January 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Gretchen Carlson focused an entire segment on the revelation that Obama spent four years in a Muslim school.
This most recent focus by right-wing media figures on Obama's background recalls a December 18 column headlined "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always A Muslim" by right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel, who argued that because Obama's middle name is Hussein, his late, estranged father was of Muslim descent, and he has shown interest in his father's Kenyan heritage, Obama's "loyalties" must be called into question as he emerges as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, as Media Matters for America noted.
The accusation that the madrassa story came from Clinton also recalls a suggestion by Sean Hannity and Robert Novak that Clinton was behind a "leak" to the press about Obama's admitted past drug use. As Media Matters noted, Obama himself disclosed in his 1995 memoir that he had used drugs.
Earlier on the KSFO program, after saying that Clinton had started her "character assassination of 'Osama Obama,'" Morgan said: "And those of you who are taping us at Media Matters, 'Osama Obama' is a reference to what Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) called Barack Obama." Rodgers, then said: "Ted Kennedy. Got that, freaks with keyboards? Got that?" "Osama Obama" is a reference to Kennedy's mangling of Obama's name at press conference in January 2005. On a January 12 special "no-holds-barred" discussion on KSFO, Morgan accused Media Matters of "thuggish tactics," and Rodgers told Media Matters President and CEO David Brock: "Dave, baby, stick it!"
From the January 19 edition of KSFO's Morning Show:
MORGAN: Well, it is big time finally watching what's going on as Hillary begins the character assassination of "Osama Obama."
RODGERS: "Osama Obama" -- all right, hold it up on that -- this is going to take some time to explain. There are several angles at work here. But of course, she's not going to sign her name to any of the attacks on him -- at least not yet.
MORGAN: Well --
RODGERS: But the wheels are in motion.
MORGAN: And for those of you who are taping us at Media Matters, "Osama Obama" is a reference to what Senator Ted Kennedy called Barack Obama.
MORGAN: It's humor. Humor, folks.
RODGERS: Teddy Kennedy. Teddy Kennedy. Got that, freaks with keyboards? You got that?
RODGERS: So far in this young, at least open presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama really hasn't had a glove laid on him. He's a nice-looking guy, smooth, PR, says all of the right things -- they're mostly meaningless platitudes -- but so far he has been pretty much unscathed, which of course will not sustain in the rough-and-tumble presidential campaign politics when it really gets going. There are two matters that he's going to have to address and deal with. First, Insight magazine today -- and you can find the entire article on Lucianne.com, you may have to go through two or three pages to find it -- but it's from Insight magazine, and they pose this question: Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a madrassa -- that's one of those Islamic schools funded by the Wahhabi sect of Saudi Arabia, the biggest supporters of terrorism in that part of the world. He was educated in one of those as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage. This is the question Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp is asking about Senator Obama. An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party -- gee, I wonder if that could mean Hillary --
MORGAN: Hmmm, no.
RODGERS: -- has discovered that Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Now, to back up for a second, his father was, as everybody knows by now, a black man, a Muslim from Africa. His mother was an American woman atheist, and after they parted ways, she married a guy from Indonesia -- she's running her own U.N. or something -- anyway, and so they went to Indonesia. Sources close to the background check -- which has not yet been released -- said Mr. Obama spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, a Muslim seminary in Indonesia. The source says he was a Muslim but he concealed it. His opponents within the party hope this will become a major issue in the campaign. When contacted by Insight magazine, Mr. Obama's press secretary says he would consult with his boss and call back. He did not.
MORGAN: Surprise, surprise.
RODGERS: Soruces said the -- yeah -- the background check conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton -- hmmm --
RODGERS: -- disclosed details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past and said the Clinton camp concluded that the Illinois Democrat has concealed his prior Muslim faith and education. That's part one of the story, and it gets more complex. You decide for yourself what interpretation you want to put on this. But Thomas Lifson at the American Thinker, valuable website, easy to find on the web -- the American Thinker -- raises a question about Senator Obama that needs to be answered if he is going to run seriously for president, and it's this: He was born, as I said, to a Muslim father, which is -- that's the reason for his first and middle names -- Barack and Hussein, which is his middle name, are Islamic names. According to Islamic scripture, this is what Islam teaches its adherents: One who is born to a Muslim father is a Muslim. Forever. It's like being Jewish descends from the mother, but you can always convert out. Islam? Uh-uh.
RODGERS: According to Muslim law, Islamic law, the penalty for leaving the faith is death. Today, Barack Obama proclaims his adherence to the Christian faith, he's a member of a church in Chicago -- they say he's not a regular churchgoer, but he's a member -- but will this make him a potential death target? Renouncing Islam and taking another faith is subject to the death penalty under Islamic law. Free choice has nothing to do with it. It doesn't work that way. To them, you are what you are, and if you were born the child of a Muslim father, you are a Muslim for life, whether you like it or not. And the penalty for trying to break away is death. And that is why you hear about these cases from time to time Muslims who convert to other religions usually change -- move, change their name, hide their identity, because they know what Islam dictates as the price for abandoning Islam. The goo-goo mush-heads among us in this country don't like to believe this is the case, but it happens to be absolutely true. Now we know of cases like writer Salman Rushdie about whom a fatwa was issued calling for any Muslim to kill him, OK? He's fairly prominent in the literary world, and in the larger world not that big a deal, but if he were the most famous, popular author in the world, that's still a hell of a far cry from running for president of the United States. So, you know, make of this whatever you wish, but that is what Islam dictates. And apparently, Senator Obama has not been enthusiastic about talking about his Muslim heritage and the fact that he went to a madrassa in Indonesia for four years. So the gloves may come off sooner than we anticipated.
MORGAN: I find it interesting that it's coming from Hillary Clinton's camp. This isn't opposition research done by Republicans, folks.
RODGERS: No, no.
MORGAN: This is opposition research, and we know that Hillary Clinton has used private eyes to spy on the private lives of many of her political opponents, as well as the girlfriends of her husband over the years.
RODGERS [imitating Bill Clinton]: Hillary sends her private eyes out to check on my babes.
MORGAN: That's right. A couple of those private eyes live right here in the San Francisco Bay area, and by the way, they're still a little bit ticked off that they didn't get paid in a timely fashion from Hillary Clinton, and they consider --
RODGERS: What? the Clintons failed to pay a bill? That's hard to believe.
MORGAN: Yes, I know. But this is going to get more and more interesting because she --
MORGAN: -- she is not going to allow the momentum to continue to build around Senator Obama. She is going to try and derail the train before it gets out of the station.
RODGERS: Absent this Muslim factor, as I said yesterday, I think she's like -- would like having him in the race because he deflects a lot of other competition from other candidates who, frankly, might be might be more likely to give her some real heat, and she didn't want to say that he wasn't qualified to be president of the United States because one of these days, she might want him as a running mate. But when this becomes public, I don't think she's going to want him as her running mate.
MORGAN: It looks like Hillary Clinton is playing the religious card here. And for all of those people who have criticized us on this radio station for pointing out certain truths about Senator Obama -- that he is from a Muslim father and a white mother and has been raised in relative affluence by his white maternal grandparents -- you might want to stop and rethink your criticism. We are only pointing out the obvious. It looks like Senator Hillary Clinton is playing a race card, a religious card here that is looking a little unattractive, frankly.
RODGERS: Well, it may be unattractive, but a lot of people are going to say, "Wait a minute, he went to one of those schools run by fanatical Muslims for four years? All right, so he was very young, but I'm not so sure this is the kind of gamble I want to take with my vote."
MORGAN: Well --
RODGERS: But you know, people will decide for themselves.
MORGAN: I'm just pointing out that, you know, that the Internet bloggers might want to turn some of their firepower on their own party, where it rightfully belongs.
RODGERS: Yeah. Check it out. Check out both of them.
RODGERS: Obama's history and Hillary's role in the revelations and the whole thing. Have fun, gang.
RODGERS: Have fun.
MORGAN: Just start typing away on your little keyboards there, boys and girls.
From the January 19 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: According to Insight magazine, Hillary's team is interested in his Muslim background, and is he really a Muslim and hiding it from everybody. This is Hillary's team doing this. This is not a bunch of Republicans saying this. They wouldn't dare; they don't have the guts. [laughs] And then we've gotten stories about how mainstream traditional civil rights leaders, such as the Reverend [Jesse] Jackson and the Reverend [Al] Sharpton do not find anything particularly great about Barack Obama because he's really not one of them -- born in Hawaii, educated in Africa in part. So, all these little rifts now are starting to show up. And Hillary was on Matt Lauer Today show, and we've got -- want to play this bite again, with the Clinton war room zeroing in on Obama, and we've added -- we could've played this Wednesday -- we've added my conclusion that I added on Wednesday at the end of this bite.
[start audio clip]
LIMBAUGH: Then Lauer said, look, Senator Obama has announced he's opening an exploratory committee -- is he qualified? He's been in the Senate two years, is he completely qualified to be commander in chief in your opinion?
[Today audio clip]
CLINTON: The voters will make these decisions, that's what's so great about our system --
LAUER: but do you think he's qualified? I mean, he's a fellow Democrat. Would you be comfortable with him in the White House?
CLINTON: I'm going to let all of those decisions be sorted out by voters.
[end Today audio clip]
LIMBAUGH: Meaning, wait 'til we get through destroying this guy ourselves and make it look like the Republicans did it. I'm not worried about Obama, she is saying.
[end audio clip]
LIMBAUGH: No, she's not. She's probably not worried about him at all, and -- but it's, of course, being presented that she is.
From the January 19 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Hi, everybody. Tonight's big story: the gloves are off. Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past. That's right -- Clinton team reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn't know -- that he was educated in a Muslim madrassa.
I was criticized on this show for outing Obama as a smoker, but look at what some anti-Obama Democrats are doing to her political rival now. They're playing the Muslim phobia card. Is this just the beginning? Is the Obama honeymoon officially over? What other dirty little secrets will come out as they battle it out in the race for the White House? With me now, Republican strategist Terry Holt. Terry.
HOLT: Hey, Bill [sic].
GIBSON: This is a -- this is appearing on a website today, the Insight magazine, which -- which is a subsidiary of The Washington Times. Here's the -- here's the question. I'm going to put it up on the screen: Barack's madrassa past. They said during the five years -- he says that "during the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighborhood Catholic school and then to a predominantly Muslim school." That's from his book, The Audacity of Hope. Now, meantime, this is what Democrats are saying, according to Insight magazine. They're looking into his background, they're saying, "He was a Muslim, he concealed it. His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."
Now, we've heard about dirty politics before. Republicans aren't involved in this one. What do you think about what's going on over there?
HOLT: John, the last time I checked, there was still a freedom of religion in this country. This is either a despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine -- we know that they are capable of doing this. But I also thought, you know, it wasn't directly linked to Hillary Clinton. If it wasn't her, then certainly she should disavow it because I think we've spent an awful lot of time in this country trying to tamp down, you know, anti-religious sentiments. But you know, it's also if you took a page out of the Clinton book and you are really shrewd and you were Barack Obama, you might want to put this out yourself so that you could deal with it early in the political campaign and get it over with. I don't know.
GIBSON: Let me look -- let me show you what the press secretary to U.S. Senator Barack Obama said today in a statement about this story. They said, "The idea that Senator Barack Obama attended some radical Islamic school is completely ludicrous. Senator Obama is a committed Christian and attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago." Nonetheless, Terry, what damage does it do to Obama to have the word "madrassa" attached to his name?
HOLT: Well, I think that Barack Obama is such a white-hot political property right now that I'm not sure that it does any long-term damage. He may have to explain this, but, you know, Obama's story is unique to the political field at this point, having been educated overseas. I'd also point out that a madrassa, before it was politicized and really taken over by the fundamentalists primarily from Saudi Arabia, it was nothing more than a parochial school, and Barack Obama was in school 40 years ago. So, I'm not sure that this is a campaign killer, but it does, I think, maybe put on him the burden of explanation, a little bit more about his bio.
GIBSON: Terry, this is a hotly contended -- contested race. Senator Clinton thought she had it in the bag and that she was the nominee already. He's made a surprise run at her. Does this give his team a warning of what sort of things are coming before he could possibly capture the nomination?
HOLT: Absolutely. You know, the Clinton team and the machine, make no mistake, it's still in place. They used to call themselves "the masters of disaster." And if Barack Obama gets into the race against Clinton, I think that he can count on no small amount of disaster being forced upon him by running against one of the most effective and one of the most negative political machines ever assembled in this country. But you know what? If you're going to run for president, you have to be prepared for everything and anything to be thrown at you, and in many ways, voters are looking not so much for the facts about what you've done in your past but, really, how do you handle it? Do you handle it with poise? Do you handle it with honesty and dignity? If he handles this well, I'm not sure that this puts him in a corner he can't escape from.
GIBSON: Terry Holt on the madrassa bomb dropped on Barack Obama. Terry, thanks very much.
HOLT: Thanks, John.
GIBSON: Now "My Word." Let me do a contrast and compare. Two days ago, we did a story about Barack Obama's dirty little secret -- he smokes cigarettes. I got a lot of angry email from the "how dare you" variety. After all, angry emailers said, this is old news. Everybody knows he smokes, and what difference does it make, anyway?
Well, not everybody knows, number one. And number two, many people do care if a person is a smoker. Some people view smoking as a character weakness. I used to be a smoker, and I know what people think about smokers. But smoking cigarettes is a nothingburger compared to what Hillary's people are reported to be doing to Obama.
Reported in Insight magazine today, that's a publication of The Washington Times. Insight says its sources report that the Clinton Democrats are doing background checks on Obama and are going to attach the word "madrassa" to him, as in quote "Obama attended a madrassa as a child." That, my friends, is way worse than saying he smokes Marlboros.
Americans have a visceral reaction to the word "madrassa." In our world, a madrassa's where zealots train your Muslim kids to hate America, to hate the West, and to be killers. Saying Obama attended a madrassa is tying Obama's name to terrorism, and that is real political hardball in action, especially when Obama himself said in his own book that he attended a predominantly Muslim school as a youngster in Indonesia.
The people who want to slime him are going to say "translation, madrassa." Are Hillary's fingerprints on the story? Doesn't seem so. They can deny these stories with a straight face. When the story popped up on Fox this morning, Obama's people were furious. We got a statement from them this afternoon. You saw it earlier.
It's a -- it's bare-knuckle politics, and they know they've been had. My point is simply this: The senator from Illinois is going to get a baptism by fire if he thinks he's going to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination. And if he thinks he's going to get a free ride, he only has to look at today's issue of Insight magazine. My little jab about him being a closet smoker is nothing more than an elbow in the paint compared to that. Picture the commercial: "Hi, I'm Barack Obama. Funny thing happened to me on my way to the White House. Somebody discovered I didn't go to a kindergarten, I went to a madrassa." This is how the big kids play politics. That's "My Word." Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you back here Monday.