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Campaign Allegation A Source of Vexation

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007

Days after Barack Obama jumped into the presidential sweepstakes, he was hit with a thinly sourced story from his past--39 years in his past, to be exact.

The allegation, by a conservative magazine, raised questions about whether the Illinois senator had been schooled in Islamic radicalism when he was all of 6 years old.

Insight, a magazine owned by the Washington Times, cited unnamed sources in saying that young Barack attended a madrassah, or Muslim religious school, in Indonesia. In his 1995 autobiography, Obama said his Indonesian stepfather had sent him to a "predominantly Muslim school" in Jakarta, after two years in a Catholic school -- but Insight goes further in saying it was a madrassah and that Obama was raised as a Muslim.

Fox News picked up the Insight charge on two of its programs, playing up an angle involving Hillary Clinton. The magazine, citing only unnamed sources, said that researchers "connected" to the New York senator were allegedly spreading the information about her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The New York Post, which, like Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, also picked up the article, with the headline: " 'OSAMA' MUD FLIES AT OBAMA."

Thus, in the first media controversy of the 2008 campaign, two of the leading candidates find themselves forced to respond to allegations lacking a single named source.

"The allegations are completely false," says Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. "To publish this sort of trash without any documentation is surprising, but for Fox to repeat something so false, not once, but many times is appallingly irresponsible. This is exactly the type of slash-and-burn politics the American people are sick and tired of." Obama, aides note, is a Christian and belongs to a Chicago church.

Clinton campaign officials were relieved that what they regard as an absurd allegation was not picked up more widely. "It's an obvious right-wing hit job by a Moonie publication that was designed to attack Senator Clinton and Senator Obama at the same time," says Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. Insight, like the Washington Times, is owned by a company controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. No one answered the phone at Insight's office yesterday and its editor did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

On the morning show "Fox & Friends" on Friday, co-host Steve Doocy said that madrassahs are financed by Saudis and teach a radical version of Islam known as Wahhabism, though he said there was a question whether that was the curriculum in the late 1960s, when Obama attended the school. Another co-host, Gretchen Carlson, said that those on the show weren't referring to all Muslims, only "the kind that want to blow us up."

After the show, Obama aides complained to Fox about what the campaign deemed inflammatory language.

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." He says the show will provide a "clarification" today by including the comments of Obama campaign spokesmen. He says the morning program is "an irreverent show" on which the hosts sometimes express their opinions.

On Friday afternoon, John Gibson, host of Fox's "The Big Story," began a segment this way: "Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassah past. That's right, the Clinton team reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn't know -- that he was educated in a Muslim madrassah."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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