CNN report “does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting”

In a January 23 posting, claimed that “CNN didn't debunk anything” about Insight's January 17 accusation that “researchers connected to” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had said that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) “spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.” The January 23 article then rehashed the unfounded smear against Obama and suggested that the issue should be investigated “by other news outlets -- such as Fox News -- who will look the facts straight on, without a vested ideological interest in downplaying Obama's Muslim heritage.” also posed this question of Obama: “If he was raised in a secular household (as he claims), why does he have -- or retain -- Muslim names, Barack and Hussein?”

As Media Matters for America noted, on the January 22 edition of The Situation Room, CNN correspondent John Vause visited “Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta.” Vause stated that he had “been to madrassas in Pakistan, and this school is nothing like that.” In its unbylined January 23 article, responded: "Insight never -- not once -- in its article claims that Obama went to a Madrassa. We didn't claim it; Hillary's people did." (CNN did not report on the source of the smear.) The January 17 article had asserted that “sources close” to a “background check” supposedly “conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton” said that "[t]he idea is to show Obama as deceptive" and speculated that the “predominantly” Muslim school that Obama has admitted he once attended might have taught “a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims."'s response to CNN said the report “does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting.”

A January 20 New York Post article quoted Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson saying, “We have no connection to this story.” The article further reported that Obama strategist David Axelrod said he did not “believe ... for a second” the allegation that Clinton's camp was behind the story. referenced the denial from the Clinton camp after Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote in a January 22 post on his weblog “Media Notes” that the original story was a “flimsy charge from some magazine.” That same day, responded that its story “was not thinly sourced” and noted that "[t]he Clinton camp's denial has as much credibility as the 'I never had sex with that woman' statement."'s January 23 posting did not address the comments by either Wolfson or Axelrod.

Finally, in a January 19 post on the Chicago Tribune's Change of Subject weblog, Tribune metro columnist Eric Zorn wrote about Fox News' reporting of the January 17 story and cited each of Obama's memoirs, including a passage from Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (Crown, 1995), in which Obama wrote: “In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school, two years at a Catholic school. In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell my mother that I made faces during Koranic studies.” Zorn further cited Obama's advisers, who noted that Obama was educated in Indonesia beginning in 1967 but that “the type of madrassas linked to the Taliban did not emerge until the Afghan war against the Soviets,” which started 12 years later.

From the January 23 article:

We seem to have touched a raw nerve with the liberal media establishment. First, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and now CNN are doing everything possible to assault and undermine Insight's credibility. CNN ran a news segment last night on Paula Zahn's show, “CNN debunks false report about Obama.” In the wake of our story, CNN sent their correspondent to check out the Muslim religious school attended by Barack Obama as a young boy. CNN concluded that allegations “that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a 'madrassa' are not accurate.” The school's deputy headmaster told CNN: "“This is a public school. We don't focus on religion.” CNN's correspondent then told the “Situation Room” on Monday: “I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. ... I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that.”

We at Insight commend CNN for at least showing the initiative to follow-up on the story and send a correspondent to check it out. But, contrary to their claims, CNN didn't debunk anything about our story. For the record, Insight never -- not once -- in its article claims that Obama went to a Madrassa. We didn't claim it; Hillary's people did. We reported -- and we fully stand by our story -- that the Hillary Clinton camp had conducted their own opposition research on Obama's Muslim past, and that the Clinton investigators had concluded Obama had attended a Madrassa. This is what Hillary's camp was saying and desperately trying to prove -- not Insight. Our sources also confirmed to us that the Clinton camp had come to the conclusion that not only had Obama been raised and educated as a Muslim, but that he had been deliberately concealing it. Moreover, our sources also said that Clinton's people were seeking to find out about the possible radical Wahhabi angle, and then peddle their information to their media allies later this year -- prior to the January 2008 primaries.

More to the point, we are a magazine that focuses on political intelligence. Our stated mission is to provide our readers with credible, reliable, cutting-edge information on what is really happening behind the scenes in the corridors of power. We did that in this case: we revealed what is truly going on in the Clinton camp.

Insight's reporting and scoops have placed us consistently ahead of the curve. We have a proud record for accuracy and independence. We have broken numerous major stories that later appeared in establishment print publications such as Newsweek, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. We were one of the first to report tension between President Bush and his father, the tremendous resentment by the GOP leadership against the White House, conservative threats to stay home during the elections, fights over strategy, and the resignations of key White House officials over the Republicans' loss of Congress.

Insight operates with seasoned journalists and a limited budget. Although we are not able to send correspondents to places like Jakarta to check out every fact in a story, we harness our resources for what we do best -- providing our readers with political intelligence.

As for CNN's investigation into Obama's Muslim school, we are not yet convinced. To simply take the word of a deputy headmaster about what was the religious curriculum of a school 35 years ago does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting. The State Department portrays Indonesia as a hot bed of radical Islamist activity. Christians and non-Muslims face persecution on a daily basis. CNN's claim that Obama attended a multi-confessional, secular public school needs verification by other news outlets -- such as FOX News -- who will look the facts straight on, without a vested ideological interest in downplaying Obama's Muslim heritage.

Some would say if Obama has a Muslim background that could be a good thing, given the global threat from militant Islam. That is not for us to judge. Ours is to report, so the American people can have the information they need to make informed decisions. Recent history and contemporary events have shown that the religious belief systems of Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were significant in their policy-making. The same might be true with Obama --whatever he believes. And perhaps also with Mitt Romney, Bill Richardson, and all other candidates standing for election to the highest office in the land.

The media uproar over our reporting reveals a media establishment choosing not to ask the tough questions about Obama's Muslim past: If he was raised in a secular household (as he claims), why does he have -- or retain -- Muslim names, Barack and Hussein? Were his father and stepfather as secular as he says? What is the exact nature of Obama's current religious affiliation and what are the beliefs and teachings of his current church in Chicago, the Trinity United Church of Christ? Does he adhere to these teachings or is he a Sunday bench warmer only? These kinds of tough questions need to be asked of all presidential candidates regardless of political party. This is the duty of a responsible press. We at Insight do not intend to shirk our responsibility -- no matter how often we are attacked.