Fox defense of Gibson's report on Obama smear missed mark

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

According to an report, Fox News vice president Bill Shine defended John Gibson's reporting on the discredited accusation that Sen. Barack Obama attended a madrassa in his youth. But a statement from Shine, as quoted by the report, never addressed Gibson's charges that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was behind the smear.

According to a January 25 report, Fox News senior vice president of programming Bill Shine defended Fox News host John Gibson's reporting on an article posted on the website claiming that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) disclosed that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." Shine stated that "when John Gibson focused on the item, he, like other news outlets, presented Senator Obama's statement on the subject. We consider the matter closed and believe the senator feels the same way." But in the portion of the statement quoted in the article, Shine did not mention other comments by Gibson: While acknowledging near the end of his show that it "[d]oesn't seem" that "Hillary's fingerprints [are] on the story," Gibson had said earlier in the program that "[t]he New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past." Gibson also remarked, "[L]ook at what some anti-Obama Democrats are doing to her political rival now."

The article noted that "Obama denied that the story was true, and Clinton denied that she was spreading the story." The article further noted that "ABC and other media outlets including CNN went to the school" Obama attended as a child and "debunked" the charge. Shine's statement in the article also "acknowledged that 'the hosts of "Fox & Friends" gave too much credence to the Insight magazine report and spent far too long discussing its premise on the air. Those remarks, however, were clarified on the next "Fox & Friends" program.' "

In one of the two segments he dedicated to the story, Gibson read a statement from Obama's office that 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." Shine's statement cited the fact that Gibson read the Obama statement as part of his conclusion that the "matter [is] closed." But the statement as quoted by the article never addressed Gibson's charges that Clinton "has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past." In addition, 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."

Further, despite reading a copy of Obama's statement, Gibson continued to parrot the report and suggest that there may have been truth to the report's claim that Obama attended a madrassa. In the segment with Holt, Gibson said: "I'm going to put it up on the screen: Barack's madrassa past." He later referred to the story as "the madrassa bomb dropped on Barack Obama." 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." Unlike Fox & Friends First, Gibson has not addressed the smear since his January 19 program.

Finally, according to the article, Shine's statement said that because Gibson read Obama's statement and Fox & Friends First issued a clarification on the air, Fox "consider[s] the matter closed and believe[s] the senator feels the same way." But in a January 22 report on CNN's The Situation Room, media critic Howard Kurtz reported that Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told him that Gibbs "didn't think much" of the clarification on the January 22 edition of Fox & Friends First, which was reiterated on the same day's edition of Fox & Friends. Moreover, in a memo released on January 24 and picked up by National Journal's The Hotline, Obama's office called the reports "malicious, irresponsible charges."

From the January 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First:

DOOCY: One other thing. We want to clarify something: On Friday of last week, we did the story from the Insight magazine where we talked about how they were quoting that Barack Obama, when he was a child growing up in Indonesia, had attended a madrassa. Well, Mr. Obama's people called and they said that that is absolutely false. They said the idea that Barack Obama went to a radical Muslim school is completely ridiculous. In his book it does say that he went to a mostly Muslim school but not to a madrassa.

KILMEADE: And the reason why -- because the madrassa -- really, when that term went out there, and the Wahabbiism that was speculated in the article, really started taking root in Saudi Arabia and around there after the fall of the shah and then all of a sudden that starts rampaging across the Arab world, and we're dealing with that -- the radical Islam now. But they wanted to make it clear they had nothing to do -- he had nothing to do with going to any radical Islamic school, and he was very angry about it.


KILMEADE: And also, just to add to that. The Clinton camp said they said an unnamed Clinton source says they don't think America is ready to elect a Muslim candidate. Clinton camp says that has nothing to do with us. We did not have anything to do with that story.

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

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.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.