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Posted by on Jan 23, 2007 in Politics, Religion | 28 comments

Dirty rotten lies: Barack Obama and the madrassa smear

Remember that story, gleefully reported by FOX News, that Barack Obama had attended a madrassa in Indonesia for a couple of years as a child?

(I wrote about it here, Capt. Fogg here.)

Well, it seems there’s no truth to the story:

Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a “madrassa” are not accurate, according to CNN reporting.

Insight Magazine, which is owned by the same company as The Washington Times, reported on its Web site last week that associates of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, had unearthed information the Illinois Democrat and likely presidential candidate attended a Muslim religious school known for teaching the most fundamentalist form of Islam.

Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, from 1967 to 1971, with his mother and step-father and has acknowledged attending a Muslim school, but an aide said it was not a madrassa.

A Clinton spokesman has “denied that the campaign was the source of the Obama claim”. So who’s playing dirty here? The right-wing smear machine or the Clinton campaign?

Good job, CNN. I guess you’ve made up for that whole Obama/Osama thing.


At Captain’s Quarters, sensible conservative Ed Morrissey calls the Insight story an “embarrassment,” yet another example of “single-sourcing” that “only belongs in gossip columns”. And he defends Obama from some of the criticism he has received from the crazies on the right: “It seems more than a little irrelevant what kind of school in which his parents enrolled him when he counted his age in single digits. Obama has not lived his life as a Muslim but as a Christian, and received most of his education in American public schools… He isn’t a stealth Muslim regardless of his middle name or his two-year attendance in a school in Indonesia.”

And, in this case: No one has offered “any proof that this information came from the Hillary Clinton campaign”.


Madrassa (or madrasah, or madrassah, or any number of similar variations of that transliteration) just means “school” in Arabic, but it can also refer to an Islamic religious school. Some such schools are theologically and ideologically extremist, not to mention anti-American and anti-Western, in their teachings, but some on the right seem to view them uniformly as terrorist training camps.

Hence the intent of the smear: Obama was indoctrinated by terrorists and may be a terrorist himself. Crazy, of course, but some are just crazy enough to buy it.

For more, see here.


Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Crooks and Liars has the CNN video. And puts the whole incident in context: “The only thing this story ‘exposes’ is the anatomy of a right-wing hit job: Conservative Insight magazine runs an unverified story that the minions at FOX News then cite to smear politicians they don’t like. And when it blows up in their faces, they claim they were just citing a source and wipe their hands clean. That’s how right-wing ‘journalism’ works.”

(Think Progress has more.)

And see this great post at The Anonymous Liberal. It’s a must-read with all sorts of background and context.

Back in the MSM, be sure to check out Howard Kurtz’s “Media Notes” at WaPo. (And Kurtz has more here.)

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • How about providing even ONE source to support your (and Joe’s) reckless claim that this was a “right wing hit job”? Do you believe only Republicans play dirty political pool? Do you have a single shred of evidence to support your assertion?

  • Kim Ritter

    Well, it is a fact that Insight magazine, published by the same group that prints the conservative Washington Times, was negligent in publishing as fact, what later turned out to be untrue gossip. Their journalistic standards should have been a bit higher. Whether that amounts to a plot by the right-wing smear machine is unproven.

  • Rudi

    Pat The story in Insight had no sources or a byline. Would you except the same BS as a comment without citation or from an anonymous commenter? WT and Insight(even TMV) should have higher standards than an anonymous commenter. If DUmmiesUnderground did the same thing would your denial be the same?

  • Rudi… I have no objection to criticizing, strongly, poorly-sourced stories, be they by liberal or conservative publications (though I note that few people identify CNN as a “liberal” station, even when it was owned by Ted Turner, a very rich, rather odd liberal married to Jane Fonda). My objection is to the assertion that this must story could only possibly be a “right wing hit job”, rather than a carefully orchestrated Democratic hit job by early primary contestants. I don’t have any idea who did it, but there’s no evidence that this came from the Republicans, other than that it was in Insight. By that standard, will any of you accept assertions that negative slanderous stories about Republicans appearing in the NY Times and CNN must be “left wing hit jobs”?

  • By the way, not that I’m vouching for it, but in fairness, there should be a link to Insight’s response to Kurtz.

    And I find it fascinating that the new standard for determining that a political allegation is not true is to just ask the candidate (Obama in this case) and accept his answer as truth, without need of any further investigation.

  • Livie

    The ultimate owner of the Times & Insite is Rev.Moon. A most dispicable character, convicted abductor of children & tax evader.

    ANY thing they print is suspect.

  • …but isn’t that what conservatives have done w/ republican candidates in the past, HMV? i’m just saying…

    …btw i can’t wait for the dems to fully get into power so i can attack them w/ the ferocity i currently do the repubs…

  • Bill Shine, Fox News’s senior vice president for programming, says the “Fox & Friends” hosts “did say repeatedly, over and over, that they were getting this from Insight magazine.”

    As if citing this smear source that is owned by the dubios Moon sect, relieves him from the obligation to conduct independent investigations. Dan Rather faced the consequences when he based a report partly on an unrealiable source. Why does Shine still have a job?

  • Blue Neponset


    Yes, if the NYT and CNN act like Fox News did in this case then you can accuse them of perpetrating a “hit job”.

  • Lynx

    Upinsmoke, I’m sure you’ll retract you’re “we don’t need a muslim president” claims about Obama shortly.

    Won’t you?

  • Kim Ritter

    There was definitely irresponsible reporting, by Insight , a little-known right wing rag, and by FNC, who of course multiplied the damage many times by broadcasting the story. They have proven time and again, that they are willing to lower their standards if the gossip concerns the opposite side, and if it is juicy enough.

  • Lynx

    Oh and am I the only one that finds it somewhat surreal that where Obama went to school for a few years when he was like six is an story important enough for CNN to send a correspondent to Indonesia to research the school? I mean c’mon, what’s next, Pre-School Veterans for Truth”? “Obama stole my cookie!”

  • It’s a little ridiculous that anything someone does before they are 16-18 is even considered part of their political record (aside from felonies). What real control do you even have over your own life until you’re out of high school?

  • Rudi

    PatHMV A Google of “CNN Liberal” yields this:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 1,720,000 for cnn liberal. (0.21 seconds)
    I guess noone accuses CNN of being Liberal – LOL.

  • Lynx

    Uhmmm, Rudi, “CNN liberal” yields this:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 5,790 for “cnn liberal”. (0.05 seconds)

    On the other hand CNN liberal, without quotations yields:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 2,030,000 for cnn liberal. (0.05 seconds)

    Now how in the hell did you get your result? Incidentally both results are larger than the ones you get if you replace “liberal” with “conservative” (1,910,000 and 774).

  • Funny, when Insight does critical anonymously-sourced pieces on the admin they’re a celebrated journalistic outlet.

    What PatHMV said. And put me in Cap’n Ed’s camp on how silly the story was in the first place. Also echo what I said in the previous thread on it–assigning sources and motivations without solid evidence is fugnuttery, and on simple timing and such it’s more likely to be strictly infighting among primary candidates.

    Find the actual source used by Insight, and we’ll know something. Until then it’s yak yak.

  • derrick cho

    The Washington Times is a rightwing source. Fox News leans that way. They spread a story designed to inflame many against Obama and with the clever trickery of College Republicans (who believe in Darwinian elimination of each other as a traing ground) associates Hillary with the slime. And there is a long history of this.

    Now we hear that all the history of the right, Rove’s spreading rumors that a judge who worked with children was a child molestor and the hundreds of ugly incidents including McCain as a NV agent never happened, and that we are falsey accusing these poor innocent people.

    Yet if someone got mugged and a black person convicted of hundreds of tefts was found with the purse and responded, “oh I just found this in the alle,” the right would react with national outrage to anone who said the individual might be innocent. But in theur own little games they are always the victims when caught.

    Little whiners, the Republican party is dominated by thugs. They are so proud of how tough they are, but if someone calls them they declare they are so sweet.

    Scum, spreading scum.

  • Lynx, in fairness to Rudi, let me point out that Google can give you very different results in the hit count when searching at different times or in different locations. I’ve played several games with people on-line looking for the most popular words, and it’s amazing how different the same search at the same time from different parts of the country can be.

    Now Rudi, I have to say that’s not a terribly good metric. Searching for ‘Fox liberal’ (without the quotes) gives me 1,960,000 hits. ‘CNN conservative’ (again, no quotes) gives 1,540,000 hits. Putting in the quote marks gives just 790 hits for [“liberal CNN”], while [“conservative fox”] gives 28,000 hits.

  • Lynx

    PatHMV, I wasn’t suggesting Rudi was being dishonest, I just found the difference curious.

  • CStanley

    Wow, derrick cho, thanks for that fact based analysis!

    Can you clarify for me: in your analogy of the black convict who claimed that he found the purse in the alley, is it your opinion that he’s guilty until proven innocent because of his prior convictions? If not, then can I assume you apply the presumption of innocence to any GOP operatives that you’re accusing here? Or does that go by the wayside simply because you don’t think THEY apply presumption of innocence to criminals? So getting back to the analogy, we really shouldn’t consider the black guy innocent until proven guilty if he happened to be a person who didn’t apply those same standards to others?

    Just checkin’, to make sure I understand how this works.

  • Lynx, you’re right, it really is an odd phenomenon. I think it varies based on what server cluster your query is routed to.

    P.S. I meant to add kudos to CNN for actually sending a reporter out to check it out. Hope it was a real reporter, and CNN didn’t color the story to maintain its access to officials in Jakarta.

  • joec

    Yes, this innuendo is based on an uncredited story in a Republican magazine. And the fact that it ran on the Fox News morning coffee table chat show does heighten the low smear aspect. But “Fox and Friends” has always struck me as a tabloid type of program designed to appeal to an audience to whom journalistic integrity isn’t too important. Is there a suggestion here that everything reported on Fox News should be automatically dismissed as worthless?

  • Rudi

    Using qualifiers like AND, OR and NOT are preffered to “” or a string of search words. I was just being lazy and making a point on the quick. Fox wouldn’t vett the story, it fit into their unwritten agenda. CNN isn’t as Liberal as when Turner actually owned the outlet.

  • “On the other hand CNN liberal, without quotations yields:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 2,030,000 for cnn liberal. (0.05 seconds)”

    On the third hand (oops?), Fox liberal, without quotations yields:
    Results 1 – 10 of about 1.800.000 for fox liberal. (0,12 seconds)


  • Oops, now I see, Pat already checked it. The different results may come from me using

  • joec

    “Right wing hit job” indeed. Evidence, please!

  • Sam

    Evidence. Since this isn’t a murder trial but popular opinion I usually go by the following. Who benefits from this story, and who is pushing it the most? If those two things match up, you have your answer almost every time. Example:

    Who benefits from Global Warming being a hoax? Where do the scientists that support Global Warming as a hoax get the majority of their funding?

  • Running an unverified story that the minions at broadcast news then cite to smear politicians they don’t like sounds much more like how LEFT-wing ‘journalism’ works! Remember the New York Times?

    Jason Blair?

    The CBS Memo scandal that brought down Dan Rather?


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