Insight claimed "[l]ast word" on madrassa smear

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

In a February 1 article, InsightMag.com presented its "[l]ast word" on the controversy surrounding its January 17 article reporting that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." In its most recent article, InsightMag.com appeared to back away from a January 23 posting in which it defended its much-maligned story. On January 23, InsightMag.com dismissed a CNN report that Obama did not attend a madrassa, stating that "CNN's claim ... needs verification by other news outlets -- such as FOX News." However, in its February 1 posting, InsightMag.com appeared to accept the veracity of that CNN report without any reference to Fox.

From the February 1 InsightMag.com article:

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."

Some reporters drew an inaccurate conclusion that because information from Indonesia discredited the idea that Obama's school was a Madrassa, Insight's article was false. Some even went on to suggest that the story was intended to denigrate Islam or even Sen. Obama's religious beliefs. This is false. Insight abhors religious or racial intolerance. Such prejudice or bigotry has no place in society, including journalism.

The "[l]ast word" appeared to be a step back from a January 23 posting, in which InsightMag.com claimed that "CNN didn't debunk anything" and rehashed the unfounded smear against Obama. From the January 23 posting:

As for CNN's investigation into Obama's Muslim school, we are not yet convinced. To simply take the word of a deputy headmaster about what was the religious curriculum of a school 35 years ago does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting. The State Department portrays Indonesia as a hot bed of radical Islamist activity. Christians and non-Muslims face persecution on a daily basis. CNN's claim that Obama attended a multi-confessional, secular public school needs verification by other news outlets -- such as FOX News -- who will look the facts straight on, without a vested ideological interest in downplaying Obama's Muslim heritage.

It is unclear what caused the apparent backpedal. Although InsightMag.com had previously stated that CNN's findings needed to be verified by a news outlet like Fox, the February 1 article made no reference to Fox. In fact, Fox News issued a "clarif[ication]" on the January 22 editions of Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends First, noting the strong denials from both the Obama and Clinton camps. And an ABCNews.com article posted January 25 quoted a statement by Fox News senior vice president of programming Bill Shine in which he stated that Fox "consider[s] the matter closed." Shine's statement also made no mention of remarks by Fox News host John Gibson about Clinton's involvement in the smear, and never addressed Obama's reported dissatisfaction with the Fox & Friends clarification.

As Media Matters for America noted, on the January 22 edition of The Situation Room, CNN correspondent John Vause visited "Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta." Vause stated that he had "been to madrassas in Pakistan, and this school is nothing like that." On January 24, the Associated Press (AP) debunked the madrassa story, and ABC reaffirmed CNN's and AP's reporting the following day.

InsightMag.com ended its "[l]ast word" by stating that "Insight stands by its story" and claiming: "We are pleased that our inside-Washington knowledge and contacts could contribute to the political debate. Such a debate is, however, not within Insight's purview as a subscriber-based political intelligence report."

From the February 1 posting:

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.

Some reporters drew an inaccurate conclusion that because information from Indonesia discredited the idea that Obama's school was a Madrassa, Insight's article was false. Some even went on to suggest that the story was intended to denigrate Islam or even Sen. Obama's religious beliefs. This is false. Insight abhors religious or racial intolerance. Such prejudice or bigotry has no place in society, including journalism.

If read carefully, one can see that Insight's story simply reported on a potential attack strategy on Obama by his Democratic Party opponents.

Insight stands by its story. Having laid the ground, we now leave it to the mainstream print and broadcast news organizations to ferret out more facts and make judgment calls on relevance. We are pleased that our inside-Washington knowledge and contacts could contribute to the political debate. Such a debate is, however, not within Insight's purview as a subscriber-based political intelligence report.

Network/Outlet
Insight
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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