In a June 7 post, the editors of InsightMag.com defended their widely debunked January 17 article, which reported that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." InsightMag.com now falsely claims that "[t]he Los Angeles Times and The New York Sun did a follow-up piece that largely substantiates much of our original article's claims about Obama's Muslim background -- namely, that he had one."
The "original article's claims about Obama's Muslim background" were not, as InsightMag.com now claims, "that he had one"; the article went much further than merely claiming that Obama had a "Muslim background." In that "original article," InsightMag.com asserted that the Clinton campaign had discovered that Obama had attended a madrassa as a child. Indeed, InsightMag.com editor Jeffrey T. Kuhner made very clear in a commentary two weeks later what it was that InsightMag.com had and had not claimed about "Obama's Muslim background." Kuhner wrote on January 31: "Insight never claimed -- not once -- that Obama had attended an Indonesian Madrassa as a young boy. What we did claim -- and stand behind 100 percent -- is that the Hillary Clinton camp had conducted an investigation into Obama's Muslim background, and they had concluded he had been raised and educated as a Muslim."
Moreover, Kuhner made very clear in that same op-ed what InsightMag.com regarded as the "real issue" exposed in the "original article." Responding to a New York Times article on the madrassa claim, Kuhner wrote: "The Times is trying to obscure the real issue: Hillary Clinton's campaign had been conducting extensive opposition research on her main '08 Democratic rival, and they were zeroing in on his Muslim background." Given what InsightMag.com claimed was the "real issue" -- that the Clinton campaign was allegedly conducting opposition research on "Obama's Muslim background" -- the Los Angeles Times piece (which, contrary to InsightMag.com's suggestion, was merely reprinted in The New York Sun under a different headline) can hardly be said to "substantiate" InsightMag.com's claims in the original article. The Los Angeles Times article called the madrassa claim -- which has been soundly debunked -- "false" and, regarding the claim that the Clinton campaign was behind the madrassa rumor, "[b]oth campaigns denied the story and accused conservative media outlets of trying to use the rumor to smear two Democratic hopefuls simultaneously." Moreover, key portions of the "substantiating" Los Angeles Times article were later challenged by the Chicago Tribune, as Media Matters for America documented.
On January 17, InsightMag.com reported:
Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?
This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama.
An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.
"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."
After the story had been touted by conservative radio hosts and Fox News, CNN sent a reporter to Indonesia, who reported on January 22 that "[a]llegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a 'madrassa' are not accurate." The next day, InsightMag.com dismissed CNN's reporting, claiming that it "does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting" and strenuously denied that it had made any allegations about Obama attending a madrassa:
But, contrary to their claims, CNN didn't debunk anything about our story. For the record, Insight never -- not once -- in its article claims that Obama went to a Madrassa. We didn't claim it; Hillary's people did. We reported -- and we fully stand by our story -- that the Hillary Clinton camp had conducted their own opposition research on Obama's Muslim past, and that the Clinton investigators had concluded Obama had attended a Madrassa. This is what Hillary's camp was saying and desperately trying to prove -- not Insight.
On January 31, Kuhner responded to a January 29 New York Times article that described InsightMag.com's madrassa story as "false," "discredited," and "dubious," writing:
Insight never claimed -- not once -- that Obama had attended an Indonesian Madrassa as a young boy. What we did claim -- and stand behind 100 percent -- is that the Hillary Clinton camp had conducted an investigation into Obama's Muslim background, and they had concluded he had been raised and educated as a Muslim. In fact, our sources close to the Hillary camp confirmed that the investigators were planning to leak this information to their media allies later this fall -- just before the '08 primary campaign. Moreover, our sources also confirmed that the Hillary camp was going to make the issue not so much Obama's Muslim background, but the fact that he had concealed or downplayed it. According to the strategy of the Clinton camp, Obama's alleged concealment and deception was to be the issue -- not so much his Muslim heritage. We also reported that the Hillary camp was investigating whether Obama had actually attended a radical Madrassa -- and that Clinton's investigators were in the process of trying to find that out.
The Times is trying to obscure the real issue: Hillary Clinton's campaign had been conducting extensive opposition research on her main '08 Democratic rival, and they were zeroing in on his Muslim background. This is the truth. This is exactly what we actually reported. This is what actually happened. We got it first and we got it right. No amount of spinning and mud-slinging from the liberal media can change this.
On February 1, InsightMag.com offered its "[l]ast word" on the matter, in which the website appeared to accept the veracity of CNN's reporting but continued to deny that it had made any claims about Obama's past:
Insight reported on January 17 that the opposition research war room of presidential contender Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was conducting a background check on Senator Barack Obama's years in Jakarta, Indonesia, which would conclude that "the young Obama was enrolled in a Madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim."
Under the headline, "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background," Insight cited reports from its very credible sources that the opposition research is seeking hard evidence that Mr. Obama is still a Muslim or has ties to Islam. A Hillary Clinton spokesman has denied any involvement.
The Insight report ignited a controversy with numerous articles and columns from mainstream media operations including CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Some from the mainstream media reported that the claims about Obama were being made by Insight. This is incorrect. Rather, Insight was reporting information our sources said was part of the Clinton camp's opposition research and potential campaign strategy against an opponent.
CNN, and others in the traditional print and broadcast media followed up on Insight's intelligence report and went to the school in Indonesia Obama attended as a boy. CNN reported that the school is not now and never was a Madrassa.
On June 7, however, InsightMag.com again reversed itself, claiming that it had, in fact, made "claims about Obama's Muslim background," and that these claims had been "largely substantiate[d]":
Earlier this year, when Insight published a story that the Hillary Clinton camp was investigating Barack Obama's Muslim background, some media outlets attempted to divert attention from the story by misrepresenting the story and Insight's motivation in publishing it.
CNN claimed to have "debunked" our story. Of course, they did no such thing, as our response made clear. The New York Times then tried to do a hatchet job on Insight's credibility. But our rebuttal piece exposed the numerous blatant misrepresentations in The Times' article.
So where does that leave Insight on the issue? We're happy to see that The Los Angeles Times and The New York Sun did a follow-up piece that largely substantiates much of our original article's claims about Obama's Muslim background -- namely, that he had one. Who was right, the mainstream media or Insight? We at Insight invite the readers to decide.
InsightMag.com was referring to the March 15 Los Angeles Times article, reproduced in the New York Sun under a different headline, which reported: "As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Obama crisscrossed the religious divide. At the local primary school, he prayed in thanks to a Catholic saint. In the neighborhood mosque, he bowed to Allah." The article based much of its reporting on "Zulfin Adi, who describes himself as among Obama's closest childhood friends." The Times quoted him as saying: "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played," and, "His mother often went to the church, but Barry was Muslim. He went to the mosque. ... I remember him wearing a sarong."
However, as Media Matters noted, a March 25 Chicago Tribune article challenged much of the Times' reporting, noting that Adi said "he was not certain" about his claim that Obama "regularly attended Friday prayers" at the mosque with his stepfather and that he "only knew Obama for a few months, during 1970, when his family moved to the neighborhood." The Tribune further reported: "Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia."
Moreover, the Times article in no way corroborated InsightMag.com's original claim that the Clinton campaign had researched and released this information. This allegation remains completely unsubstantiated.