The right-wing smear machine apparently has nothing on Sen. Barack Obama. They just swung and missed big time on this one. This madrassah incident reminds me of what Karl Rove did to John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina Primary. These dirty tricks will backfire because voters want to be inspired. They want to believe in someone like Obama.
This story from Jonathon Alter examines how the right wing smear machine circulates its dirty tricks. If can maintain a collective rapid repsonse team through online activism, then hopefully the Mainstream Media will stop falling for every lie coming out of Faux News.
What will the first full week of Campaign '08 be remembered for? That Barack Obama was under attack for his behavior as a six-year-old. It’s worth revisiting the Madrassa Hoax story for what it tells us about our warp-speed politics.
The subtext of the story was that Obama was some kind of Muslim Manchurian Candidate (or the Russian spy played by Kevin Costner in “No Way Out”)—trained in an Indonesian religious school to be a jihadist who would do Al Qaeda’s work from within. Under the old media order, the whole thing would have made for a nice joke amid the somber mood surrounding President Bush’s State of the Union address. But this is a different time, when every campaign lives in fear of being Swift-Boated. Even after the story was debunked, the folks at Fox News Channel wouldn’t apologize, and in one case kept pushing a line on the air they knew was false.
The pathetic little saga begins on the Web site of Insight Magazine, a scandal sheet connected to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times. On Jan. 17, Insight reported that “Hillary Rodham Clinton’s camp” had conducted a background check that found Obama attended a madrassa (religious seminary) when he moved with his mother and stepfather to Jakarta in the late 1960s. The idea, according to Insight, was to show that Obama was deceptive about his “Muslim past.” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson says flatly: “They made it up.”
True or not, this bit of grade-school innuendo proved irresistible to Steve Doocy, know-it-all host of “Fox and Friends,” Roger Ailes’ idea for a right-wing morning chat show. Doocy garbled the story into a reference to Obama “spending the first decade of his life raised by a Muslim father.” After John Gibson of Fox repeated this yarn, which managed to slime two campaigns simultaneously, CNN dispatched a reporter to Obama’s old school in Jakarta, where he revealed it to be a normal public school with religion classes only once a week and no indication of Wahhabism, the Saudi-inspired extremist philosophy. (Indonesian schools were even more secular 40 years ago than they are today.) The whole underlying tale was untrue.