On the morning of January 25, on the front page of ABC News' website, a headline read: "Madrassa Madness: Was Hillary Behind Obama Smear?" below pictures of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL), despite the fact that the article to which the headline links notes that the accusation that Clinton is responsible for the smear "remains unproven and unsubstantiated." As Media Matters for America documented, right-wing media figures forwarded the accusation, originally published on the website InsightMag.com, that "researchers connected to" Clinton were responsible for spreading the allegation that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia."
The January 25 ABCNews.com article to which the headline referred was written by ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper, who referred to the InsightMag.com article as "since-discredited." He wrote that InsightMag.com "cited [only] unnamed sources" and noted that, since the article was published, media figures have "repeat[ed] the false charges" against Obama "while bemoaning the notion that the Clinton campaign was investigating Obama's past, a charge that remains unproven and unsubstantiated."
As Media Matters noted, a January 20 New York Post article 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.
From the January 25 ABCNews.com article:
Clinton Camp Denies Role
The round table was discussing a since-discredited story that ran in Insight Magazine entitled "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background." The story cited unnamed sources that claimed that the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat who has announced her candidacy for president, was looking into whether Obama's Indonesian elementary school was a "madrassa" that "espous[ed] Wahhabism, a form of radical Islam."
Clinton's campaign said there was absolutely no truth to the magazine's claim.
"We have no connection to this story and think it's deplorable," said Phil Singer, a Clinton campaign spokesman. "It's an attack on both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama."
The story seems to have started with Insight magazine, then bounced to Fox News Channel, then to myriad other conservative media outlets including the popular Rush Limbaugh radio program. Often hosts repeating the false charges did so while bemoaning the notion that the Clinton campaign was investigating Obama's past, a charge that remains unproven and unsubstantiated.