Defending Fox News, Caplis repeated baseless accusations about Clinton and Obama

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Citing Fox News Channel, 630 KHOW-AM talk show host Dan Caplis repeated the baseless accusation that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was behind the charge that one of her presumptive opponents for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, attended a radical Muslim seminary. Caplis also described Obama's purported attendance as "material fact[]," although the allegation has since been debunked.

Echoing conservative smears on the January 19 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Caplis & Silverman Show, co-host Dan Caplis repeated the baseless accusation -- which he attributed to Fox News Channel -- that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "played the madrassa card" on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Caplis also repeated information about Obama's having attended a radical Muslim seminary, or radical madrassa -- a myth that CNN debunked three days later. Caplis further asserted that if Fox News "has decided to false report and take the consequences, then that would be really out of character for them."

As Media Matters for America has noted, there is no evidence that Clinton -- who recently announced her run for the presidency shortly after Obama announced his formation of a presidential exploratory committee -- was the source of the Obama smear, outside of an accusation in a January 17 InsightMag.com article, which cited only unnamed sources. Furthermore, Caplis' question to his listeners, "[W]ould you be less willing to vote for somebody if they had spent four years in a Muslim seminary ... ?" echoed recent conservative smears of Obama that attempt to portray him as a radical Muslim.

The article by InsightMag.com -- a website operated by News World Communications Inc., which is controlled by Rev. Sun Myung Moon and also publishes the conservative Washington Times -- claimed sources close to a background check conducted by researchers connected to Clinton said, "The idea is to show Obama as deceptive." The article also 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."

Reporting the InsightMag.com accusation on the January 19 edition of The Big Story, Fox News' John Gibson said that "[t]he New York senator [Clinton] has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past." Gibson also 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."

After Caplis promised to "get into the facts of this reported attack by Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama," co-host Craig Silverman questioned the legitimacy of the accusation. Caplis then cited and defended Fox News as his source:

CAPLIS: So I guess now if I accurately report what's being reported as fact by a major news network, I'm a partisan. Well, you know, hey, you can throw labels on anything that you want, but facts are facts. Fox News reporting now as a matter of fact that Hillary Clinton has -- quote, unquote -- played the madrassa card on Obama. Fox reporting as a matter of fact that Obama spent four years in a Muslim seminary. Hey, yeah, if Fox has decided to false report and take the consequences then that would be really out of character for them, but that's the information out there.

As Colorado Media Matters noted, Caplis has in the past praised Fox News for its "credibility," without noting the November controversy over the leak of an internal memo that showed the network's coverage instructions reflected hostility toward Democrats. Moreover, Media Matters has extensively documented that Fox News' coverage most often favors the conservative viewpoint and often blatantly misinforms viewers.

Caplis also questioned Obama's purported "four years" of attendance "in a Muslim seminary," echoing conservative efforts to tie Obama to radical Islam.

For example, as Media Matters noted, right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel argued in a December 18 column that because Obama's middle name is Hussein and his late father was of Muslim descent, Obama's "loyalties" must be called into question. Similarly, on the December 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, correspondent Jeanne Moos noted that "[o]nly one little consonant differentiates" Obama and Osama, a reference to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. She then added, "[A]s if that similarity weren't enough, how about sharing the name of a former dictator? You know his middle name? Hussein."

Despite the conservative media's speculation about the school Obama attended, CNN reported January 22 that "the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa [are] false." CNN senior international correspondent John Vause visited the Basuki school in Jakarta, which Obama attended as a child, and reported that it is a public school, not a religious one. CNN also reported on Fox News' coverage of the Obama smear:

The [unnamed] Obama aide described Fox News' broadcasting of the Insight story "appallingly irresponsible."

Fox News executive Bill Shine told CNN "Reliable Sources" anchor Howard Kurtz that some of the network's hosts were simply expressing their opinions and repeatedly cited Insight as the source of the allegations.

CNN also reported that "Obama has noted in his two books, 'Dreams From My Father' and 'The Audacity of Hope,' that he spent two years in a Muslim school and another two years in a Catholic school while living in Indonesia from age 6 to 10."

From the January 19 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Caplis & Silverman Show:

CAPLIS: ... Barack Obama revealing that he was in a Muslim seminary for four years. And now the "madrassa card," as they call it -- you know, the implications of madrassa: a radical Islamic seminary. So we'll get into the facts of this reported attack by Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, and then find out does it matter to you, would it matter to you if the person you were going to consider voting for for president had been in a Muslim seminary, and was, in fact, a Muslim at one point in his or her life? So that'll be interesting to get into later in the show. And, Craig, that'll tie into a lighter aspect of politics. Barack Obama making sure that he was pictured shirtless on a beach. And, you know, just how much does looks factor into politics? How much does it factor into your vote? And then we'll go through a list of people who are running for big office now and find out whether their looks will help or hurt them, or just be a neutral in your eyes.

[...]

SILVERMAN: Your partisanship is showing as you describe these things. I've been thinking about partisanship -- and I guess I'm a partisan too -- but I try to be objective. When you suggest that Barack Obama spent time in a Muslim seminary, it's not like he went to high school like you did at a seminary, but he -- this was his elementary school education. In fact, the place he went to high school -- I think the school he went to was in Indonesia, where almost all the schools are Muslim because it's a predominantly Islamic society. Do you know what high school he went to? He went to a high school that's renowned in Hawaii. In fact, one of the graduates, Michelle Wie, who's admitted to Stanford now -- bunch of famous graduates of this nondenominational high school. And then you're accusing Hillary Clinton of getting involved in it.

And what else? Oh, and you said that he posed for this picture, that he wanted to be photographed on the beach without his top on. Now, I've heard him protest that he is resentful of the loss of his privacy -- he was on a beach in Hawaii during his winter break with his wife and kids, and that he was stunned to find out he'd been photographed in that way. I heard one of his best friends, a lady from Chicago, talking about his reaction moments after seeing that picture in People magazine, or maybe it was Us magazine. So, when you characterize it as he was hoping that the cameras would get a shot of him, you're being just a little partisan.

[...]

SILVERMAN: And maybe you know something I don't about Barack Obama, but it seems to me you don't like the guy, and you're trying to undermine his candidacy.

CAPLIS: You know, I guess Fox has just decided they don't like having money anymore. They just don't like being on the air, so they've decided to slander and defame Barack Obama through false reporting of material facts. I guess that's the only conclusion I can draw after listening to Craig's rant. So I guess now if I accurately report what's being reported as fact by a major news network, I'm a partisan. Well, you know, hey, you can throw labels on anything that you want, but facts are facts. And Fox News reporting now as a matter of fact that Hillary Clinton has -- quote, unquote -- played the madrassa card on Obama. Fox reporting as a matter of fact that Obama spent four years in a Muslim seminary. Hey, yeah, if Fox has decided to false report and take the consequences, then that would be really out of character for them, but that's the information out there.

I would guess it's the opposite, Craig. I would guess that you're so in love with the blank slate that Obama provides -- which is really consistent right now not with the Democrat on the street, but with Democrat leadership, where they just want to be blank slate, they don't want to have to be pinned down to stand for anything in particular so they can just play the blame game. You're so in love with Obama right now, you're not willing to recognize any facts which hurt him. I just suggest here -- and it'll be a great talk topic later on in the show, anxious to get into it -- hey, you know, would you be hesitant, would you be less willing to vote for somebody if they had spent four years in a Muslim seminary at any point in their life? And I think it's a fascinating question, and I'm not answering that question right now, but I'm anxious to hear your answer and give you mine later in the show.

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