"Madrassa" redux? Gibson cited dubious tabloid article to smear Obama, Clinton

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On the February 28 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson devoted two segments to a February 26 article in London's Daily Mail to claim that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) presented a false picture of his father, Barack Obama Sr., in his memoir Dreams From My Father (Crown, July 1995). According to Gibson, the article demonstrated that Obama falsely portrayed his father as "a ray of hope" and "a great man," and that Obama obscured the fact that his father was "a wife-beating alcoholic who didn't bother to get a divorce before marrying the next woman and having a few more kids." Gibson said the article "looks like it's been well researched," but offered no evidence to support the reliability of the tabloid newspaper's sources or the story itself.

Gibson defended the article to Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers, who called the piece "garbage" and "absolutely, just from beginning to end, total trash." Gibson said: "They interviewed people in Kenya. They interviewed people in Britain." He also suggested that the article was "a cynical political ploy" by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), despite acknowledging that he had "no proof" that Clinton or any of Obama's "political opponents" fed the story to the Daily Mail.

In fact, the Daily Mail article, headlined "A Drunk and a Bigot: What the U.S. Presidential Hopeful Hasn't Said About His Father," falsely suggested that Obama omitted details about his father's life to present a "conveniently potted account of his personal history." According to the Daily Mail, "We have discovered that his father was not just a deeply flawed individual but an abusive bigamist and an egomaniac, whose life was ruined not by racism or corruption but his own weaknesses."

One example of information the Daily Mail falsely claimed Obama omitted was that his father's bigamy was a factor behind his parents' separation:

Mr Obama Jnr claims that racism on both sides of the family destroyed the marriage between his mother and father.

In his book, he says that Ann's mother, who went by the nickname Tut, did not want a black son-in-law, and Obama Snr's father 'didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman'.

In fact Ann divorced her husband after she discovered his bigamous double life. She remarried and moved to Indonesia with young Barack and her new husband, an oil company manager.

Obama Snr was forced to return to Kenya, where he fathered two more children by Kezia. He was eventually hired as a top civil servant in the fledgling government of Jomo Kenyatta -- and married yet again.

However, on Pages 125-126 (paperback) of Dreams From My Father, Obama recounted a conversation with his mother that addressed his father's bigamy -- the same conversation cited by the Daily Mail:

She stuck her head out of the kitchen. "I hope you don't feel resentful towards him."

"Why would I?"

"I don't know." She returned to the living room and we sat there for a while, listening to the sounds of traffic below. The teapot whistled, and I stamped my envelope. Then, without any prompting, my mother began to retell an old story, in a distant voice, as if she were telling it to herself.

"It wasn't your father's fault that he left, you know. I divorced him. When the two of us got married, your grandparents weren't happy with the idea. But they said okay -- they probably couldn't have stopped us anyway, and they eventually came around to the idea that it was the right thing to do. Then Barack's father -- your grandfather Hussein -- wrote Gramps this long, nasty letter saying that he didn't approve of the marriage. He didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman, he said. Well, you can imagine how Gramps reacted to that. And then there was a problem with your father's first wife ... he had told me they were separated, but it was a village wedding, so there was no legal document that could show a divorce ..."

The passage in Obama's book directly refutes Gibson's claim that the Daily Mail "exposed" the fact that Obama's father "didn't bother to get a divorce before marrying the next woman and having a few more kids." The paper didn't "expose" the fact at all; Obama did.

Powers cautioned Gibson against "jump[ing] to conclusions" about the Daily Mail article, noting that the story was similar to InsightMag.com's discredited article claiming that sources close to Sen. Clinton said Obama attended a madrassa as a young boy in Indonesia. Gibson was among several media figures to hype the false InsightMag.com story. After it was proven false, Fox News' vice president for news John Moody reportedly warned his staff: "For the record: seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC." Nevertheless, Gibson, during his "My Word" segment, said: "I find it hard to believe that it is coinky-dinky that at the same time Sen. Clinton would like to knock Sen. Obama down a peg or two, a story that does just that would come along from another source that isn't her."

From the February 28 edition of The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: OK, Kirsten, today, Obama gets good and he gets bad. Today, the Daily Mail, a British paper, is telling a story about his father, and it makes it look like the story that Barack told in his book about his father is a dad tall tale.

Is -- are we looking at a situation where, you know, he's looking at his dad through a son's eyes or was this a cynical political ploy? Now, I should explain that the Daily Mail is saying is that Barack Obama Sr. was far from an inspirational figure. He was an alcoholic, a bigamist, and a wife-beater, where Obama cites him as a ray of hope in his book.

POWERS: Well, I'm gonna, you know, if I have to choose between the Daily Mail, who writes -- this was the headline of the article -- "A Drunk and a Bigot: What the U.S. Presidential Hopeful Hasn't Said About His Father." It's a tabloid. I think I'm gonna take what Barack Obama says about his father over what this tabloid says. This article is garbage. It really is --

GIBSON: They interviewed people in Kenya.

POWERS: Yeah. Yeah. It's not --

GIBSON: They interviewed people in Britain.

POWERS: It is so biased, it's not even an article. I mean, that's not a -- this isn't written as a column, it's written as reporting. It is absolutely, just from beginning to end, total trash. And it's just -- it's unbelievable, actually. And I --

GIBSON: You're certifying it isn't true?

POWERS: And I don't -- and here's the other thing about it. Even if it was true, we don't live in Europe, we live in the United States. We don't choose our candidates based on what their parents did or didn't do, so I don't --

GIBSON: Well, who dropped this on the Daily Mail?

POWERS: Who knows? I have no idea, but you hear plenty of --

GIBSON: His political opponents, maybe?

POWERS: Look, there have been plenty of people who have shopped around stories about him that were not true, like that he went to a madrassa, for example. And that was pinned on Hillary Clinton, which, of course, also wasn't true. So, look, I think we should wait before we jump to conclusions about this story but, like I said, even if it's true, his father's not running for president. He is.

GIBSON: Yeah, but if it were true, he's telling a much different story about his father. Doesn't that matter?

POWERS: That his father was inspirational to him?

GIBSON: Yeah.

POWERS: Well, how -- there's nothing in this story that says that his father wasn't inspirational to him. This -- you're saying that his father shouldn't have been inspirational to him.

GIBSON: How's he doing with his smoking?

POWERS: Who cares?

GIBSON: Kirsten Powers. OK, Kirsten, thanks very much.

[...]

GIBSON: Now "My Word": Things are getting rough on Mr. Obama. Today, the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, did some checking on what Obama said in his book about his father, Barack Obama Sr., and it was not pretty. While the junior senator from Illinois portrayed his father's life as an inspiration, the Daily Mail of Britain exposed a different Barack Obama Sr. -- a wife-beating alcoholic who didn't bother to get a divorce before marrying the next woman and having a few more kids.

Now, the Daily Mail story looks like it's been well researched, and it certainly did send reporters to interview principals, like the senior Obama's ex-wives, and they did dig up eyewitnesses to the senior Obama's personal faults, but you never know. There are people in the world of politics who want to do harm to Sen. Obama, and tripping him up on the truth certainly would not do him any good.

So, who would that be? Now, I have no proof that it would be any of his political opponents, the most prominent of which is, of course, Sen. Clinton. I've just been trained by the hard realities of this business to follow this simple rule: There are no coincidences in the news, especially political news. In other words, I find it hard to believe that it is coinky-dinky that at the same time Sen. Clinton would like to knock Sen. Obama down a peg or two, a story that does just that would come along from another source that isn't her. That would be coincidence of the most highly unlikely kind.

No, there is a fair chance that this is the work of political operatives whose job it is to dig into the background of opponents, like Sen. Obama. If he says "X," go check it to see if it actually is "Y." He says his dad was a great man, let's go see if he really was. Obama is trying to run a campaign of hope, of a new kind of politics, unfortunately for him, the campaign trail runs through territory we commonly refer to as "old politics." A road that is often muddy. People who travel that road pick up some of that mud on their clothes.

In my new book, called Welcome to the Big Leagues, Mr. Obama, this will be chapter three. You can count up the first two for yourself.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
John Gibson
Show/Publication
The Big Story with John Gibson
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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