Headmaster Disputes Claim That Obama Attended Islamic School

Insight magazine is standing by its article asserting that Sen. Barack Obama attended a school that teaches a fundamentalist version of Islam.
Insight magazine is standing by its article asserting that Sen. Barack Obama attended a school that teaches a fundamentalist version of Islam. (By Charles Rex Arbogast -- Associated Press)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fresh doubt was cast yesterday on a magazine's allegation that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attended a madrassah, or religious school that teaches a fundamentalist version of Islam.

Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school in Indonesia, told CNN that his institution -- which Obama attended four decades ago, beginning when he was 6 -- is not a madrassah.

"This is a public school," Priyono told CNN correspondent John Vause in Jakarta. "We don't focus on religion." Classes in Islam are offered to the predominantly Muslim students at the school, CNN reported.

Insight, a weekly Internet magazine owned by the conservative Washington Times, had reported the madrassah allegation late last week and added, citing unnamed sources, that the information had been unearthed by researchers close to the campaign of Obama's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. In an online posting, Insight called yesterday's Washington Post article on the controversy a "hit piece" by the "liberal media establishment."

While not addressing the veracity of the madrassah allegation, the magazine said it had contacted the Obama camp, which declined to comment.

"Insight's story was not thinly sourced," the posting said. "Our reporter's sources close to the Clinton opposition research war room confirm the truth of the story. The Clinton camp's denial has as much credibility as the 'I never had sex with that woman' statement."

Spokesmen for Obama and Clinton called the Insight story absurd. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs yesterday criticized Fox News for picking up the allegations, saying of the network's slogan: "It would be nice if 'fair and balanced' included some actual journalism once in a while." A Clinton spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said yesterday that "comments like this prove the point: This is a biased publication with no discernible journalistic standards."

Fox says two of its programs merely took note of what Insight had reported. The morning show "Fox & Friends" aired a clarification yesterday, reporting that Obama's camp had called the story "completely ridiculous" and that "the Clinton camp has said, 'We had nothing to do with that.' "

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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