CNN disproves Obama smear, but exempts Beck from criticism

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

CNN's Howard Kurtz noted Fox News' role in advancing the "bogus charge" -- first made in an article on InsightMag.com -- that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was behind an allegation that Sen. Barack Obama was educated for several years in a madrassa. And a CNN report flatly disproved the Obama-madrassa allegation. But CNN did not report on air that Glenn Beck had also promoted the "bogus charge" against Clinton.

On the January 22 Situation Room, CNN media critic Howard Kurtz stated that a smear reported by InsightMag.com "got a big boost from Rupert Murdoch's media empire." The InsightMag.com article forwarded an accusation that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had said that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." Kurtz, who is also The Washington Post's media writer, cited a segment in which Fox News host John Gibson stated that "[t]he New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past." Kurtz added: "This, unfortunately, is how the media food chain works. A bogus charge appears in some magazine or on some website and works its way up to bigger news outlets, all based on little or no evidence." But, in attacking Fox News, Kurtz left out one of the promoters of the smear -- CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck. On the January 19 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, Beck noted that the source of the story "is a conservative blog" and that "the odds of this being true pretty darn close to zero," but nevertheless said that "if you live in Chappaqua, New York, and you hear a strange grinding noise coming from the Clinton estate, it could be Hillary Clinton sharpening her knives in the basement." Beck, after saying that there was "no evidence" for the charge that Obama "attended a madrassa," continued to assert that Clinton had a "lot to gain" from the story and that she is "that desperate."

He later added:

In today's political climate, it's wise to air your dirty laundry before anybody else does. But the decision to release this absolutely unsubstantiated claim that Barack lied about his past, to imply somehow or another that he's been indoctrinated in radical Muslim ideals, is not only irresponsible, but it reeks of desperation.

Now, who's that desperate? You know, no matter who leaked this statement -- a Democrat, a Republican, a yeti, the Tooth Fairy, I don't know -- there are a few characters out there that have a lot to gain. And there is no one with more to gain than Hillary Clinton.

Now, I am not in any way saying that she released this. Remember, it came from a conservative blog. But if her campaign did smear Obama, then they have set a new high in low blows. Hillary is in old-guard politics, I believe that's the way she is perceived. And a sketchy move like this is even more dated than her hairstyle.

Beck has not mentioned the InsightMag.com story or its allegations on his CNN Headline News program since. At no point in his coverage -- on the January 21 edition of Reliable Sources, in his January 22 post on his "Media Notes" column on washingtonpost.com, or on his report on the January 22 edition The Situation Room -- did Kurtz note Beck's statements.

On the January 22 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer aired a report "to debunk a possible smear campaign against Senator Barack Obama" and said that, by "check[ing] out the fact," CNN was acting "as a serious news organization should do." The report by CNN correspondent John Vause, visited "Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta" and stated that he's "been to madrassas in Pakistan, and this school is nothing like that." (The report did not address the charge that Clinton was behind the story.)

Teasing Vause's report, host Anderson Cooper said: "Other news organizations ran with Insight's story. They didn't check the facts; we did." After Vause's report, Cooper, in an apparent reference to Fox News, said: "Well, that's the difference between talking about news and reporting it. You send a reporter, he checks the facts, and you decide at home."

While no one noted on air that Beck had also echoed one of the allegations in the InsightMag.com article, a January 23 CNN.com article that summarized CNN's debunking of the accusation did include Glenn Beck in a list of news outlets that reported on the InsightMag.com article. From the article:

The Insight article was cited several times Friday on Fox News and was also referenced by the New York Post, The Glenn Beck program on CNN Headline News and a number of political blogs.

A January 20 New York Post article, which appeared after Beck's statements, quoted Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson saying: "We have no connection to this story." The article further reported that Obama strategist David Axelrod said he did not "believe ... for a second" the allegation that Clinton's camp was behind the story.

Despite Beck's record of advancing conservative misinformation and his history of inflammatory statements, ABC recently announced that it has hired him as a "regular commentator" for its Good Morning America program.

From the January 22 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: And as allegations swirl about Senator Barack Obama's education abroad, it's 5 a.m. in Indonesia, where we actually went to check out the facts, as a serious news organization should do, to debunk the rumors. We have a CNN exclusive that you will want to see, this hour.

[...]

BLITZER: Also, potentially damaging rumors swirling about Senator Barack Obama's early education as he eyes the White House. We've debunked them. We're going to show you the truth behind these allegations. This is an exclusive report. We've done serious journalism, gone to Jakarta, in Indonesia, to check out these rumors.

[...]

BLITZER: Plus, a CNN exclusive -- we sent one of our correspondents to Indonesia, to Jakarta, to debunk a possible smear campaign against Senator Barack Obama. We're going to show you what we found on the scene.

[...]

BLITZER: And still to come, our exclusive report on Senator Barack Obama's early education. We actually sent a correspondent to Jakarta, Indonesia, to take a look at these rumors that may be part of a smear campaign against the popular Democrat as the eyes -- as he eyes the White House. You're going to want to see our special report.

[...]

BLITZER: And just ahead, an important story: the education of Senator Barack Obama. As rumors swirl, we're actually on the scene doing serious journalism in Indonesia. We're finding out the facts. You'll see an exclusive report of what's going on. Stay with us.

[...]

[begin video clip]

KURTZ: The allegations got a big boost from Rupert Murdoch's media empire, with the New York Post running this headline: " 'Osama' Mud Flies at Obama." And Murdoch's Fox News Channel touted the claims on two programs.

GIBSON: 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.

KURTZ: But as we now know, there is no madrassa past. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who called Fox's broadcasting of the madrassa tale "appallingly irresponsible," says he didn't think much of a clarification carried this morning on the program Fox & Friends.

Fox News executive Bill Shine says some of the network's hosts were simply expressing their opinions and repeatedly cited Insight as the source of the allegations. Some conservatives say Obama should expect his personal life to come under journalistic scrutiny.

JONAH GOLDBERG (National Review Online editor-at-large): I think the background on Obama, when all he's running on is his background, is fair game. If this thing is a lie or a smear, then it needs to be denounced and pelted from the public sphere for being an unfair and untrue allegation.

[end video clip]

KURTZ: This, unfortunately, is how the media food chain works. A bogus charge appears in some magazine or on some website and works its way up to bigger news outlets, all based on little or no evidence. What makes the madrassa story unusual is that the false allegations are about a candidate's elementary school, nearly 40 years ago, and the attempt to blame this rumor-mongering on the rival campaign of Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Howard Kurtz, reporting for us. Howie, thanks.

And CNN did what any serious news organization is supposed to do in this kind of a situation. We actually conducted an exclusive first-hand investigation inside Indonesia to check out the school that Barack Obama attended as a little 6-year-old boy. We sent our correspondent John Vause to Jakarta -- John.

VAUSE: Wolf, I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some have been calling an Islamic madrassa like those that teach violence and hate in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Well, Wolf, I've been to madrassas in Pakistan, and this school is nothing like that.

[begin video clip]

VAUSE: In the quadrangle of this elementary school, boys and girls, age from 6 to 12, neatly dressed in uniform, playing together, just as a young Barack Obama would have done almost 40 years ago. Here, they're taught science and math and practice traditional Indonesian dance.

Besuki Elementary follows a national curricula, just like it did in the '60s and '70s. Take a close look at Obama's teachers, women and men, all in Western-style dress.

There are religion classes once a week. Most of the 450 students are Muslim and are taught about Islam. The handful of Christians learn that Jesus is the son of God.

The deputy headmaster tells me he's unaware that his school has been labeled an Islamic madrassa by some in the United States and bristles at the thought.

"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," he told me. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preference to one or the other."

Bandung Winadijanto attended Besuki with Obama. Back then, he was known as Barry. They were in Boy Scouts together. And he says, in all these years, not a lot has changed at his old elementary.

WINADIJANTO: No, it's not an Islamic school. It is common -- I mean, it's general, because there's also a lot of Christian students, Buddhists -- Buddhism students, and also [inaudible] students.

[end video clip]

VAUSE: And Wolf, in almost every way, this school is typical of all state-run schools in Indonesia, except this is probably one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Jakarta. The U.S. ambassador lives just up the road, and this school is probably better off than most -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right -- John Vause in Jakarta for us. An excellent, excellent report. Glad we could bring that to our viewers.

From the January 22 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: So, was Senator Barack Obama schooled in Islamic radicalism when he was a little boy?

Well, last week, Insight magazine, which is owned by the conservative Washington Times, reported that Obama attended a madrassa, or a Muslim religious school, in Indonesia when he was 6 years old. The article also accused him of supposedly hiding that he was raised as a Muslim.

Obama has acknowledged he went to a predominantly Muslim school in Jakarta but calls allegations it was a madrassa completely false. Other news organizations ran with Insight's story. They didn't check the facts; we did.

[...]

COOPER: Well, that's the difference between talking about news and reporting it. You send a reporter, he checks the facts, and you decide at home.

From the January 19 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: I can't believe it. We are still nearly two years away from the presidential '08 election, and the gloves have already come off. The candidates are getting ready to rumble. There is a blog report out today.

Now, I saw this on Fox News this morning -- and it is an outrageous claim -- that Barack Obama spent at least four years studying at a madrassa, which is a Muslim seminary, in Indonesia. The report goes on to suggest that the information was leaked by a political opponent within the Democratic Party. I wonder if the name rhymes with Killery Hinton.

It's widely known that most madrassas are funded by Saudi Arabia. Experts agree that the variety of Islam taught in these Muslim schools is Wahhabism. This is the most radical, extreme, and anti-American form.

But before I go any further, it was a little misleading, the report I heard today. I want to be very, very clear. The source of this story is a conservative blog. So, the odds of this being true, pretty darn close to zero.

Here's "The Point" tonight. There is no confirmation, no evidence, nothing, that Barack Obama attended a madrassa. We contacted his office for a definitive answer. We were told, "No comment."

However, what is confirmed by this report is just how dirty the political candidates on both sides are prepared to play. I can't help but get the feeling, and I'm not connecting it to this story, but if you live in Chappaqua, New York, and you hear a strange grinding noise coming from the Clinton estate, it could be Hillary Clinton sharpening her knives in the basement.

Here's how I got there. You know, I have my doubts about Barack Obama's qualifications to be president. I just don't see it, at least not now, anyway. And I'm a conservative and he's a liberal.

But to his credit, Barack has been very forthcoming about his past. He's talked about, you know, that he tried pot and cocaine -- and he went a step further and said he did inhale. Good for you. And thank you for telling us the truth and telling us first.

In today's political climate, it's wise to air your dirty laundry before anybody else does. But the decision to release this absolutely unsubstantiated claim that Barack lied about his past, to imply somehow or another that he's been indoctrinated in radical Muslim ideals, is not only irresponsible, but it reeks of desperation.

Now, who's that desperate? You know, no matter who leaked this statement -- a Democrat, a Republican, a yeti, the Tooth Fairy, I don't know -- there are a few characters out there that have a lot to gain. And there is no one with more to gain than Hillary Clinton.

Now, I am not in any way saying that she released this. Remember, it came from a conservative blog. But if her campaign did smear Obama, then they have set a new high in low blows. Hillary is in old-guard politics, I believe that's the way she is perceived. And a sketchy move like this is even more dated than her hairstyle.

Maybe that's why lifelong Clinton supporters are leaving her campaign like rats jumping off a ship. Three of her closest confidants have already defected to rival campaigns. Now, I knew that Hillary was a political animal when she didn't throw Bill Clinton's clothes out on the lawn of the White House after the [Monica] Lewinsky scandal. I would have paid money to see that.

She made a deal, I believe, to run for the presidency. And she is playing all the angles to stay in the game. Write this down -- I'm predicting tonight that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee for president. I want you to know, I say write it down so you can cross it out when I change my mind in about six months.

Even though I think that releasing this report about Barack Obama was dirty pool, now that it's out, we have to deal with it. So, tonight, here's "What I Know." Rumors are going to fly this campaign season, and it's our responsibility as voters and Americans to separate that fact from fiction. Because this one report is on this one blog, does that make it true? No. Not even close to it.

But as a voter, now we have to investigate it. A candidate's past should be reconciled with their present. "What I Don't Know" is, how nasty can this race get? I mean, if this is the sign of things to come, this election will seem more like extreme fighting matches than any kind of democratic process. At least it's not on pay-per-view.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, CNN, CNN Headline News
Person
Howard Kurtz, Glenn Beck
Show/Publication
Reliable Sources, The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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