On Reliable Sources, Cullum claimed questions about where Obama's "religion lies, where his loyalty lies" could "backfire on Oprah"

Video ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

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On the December 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, while discussing talk show host Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for president, conservative radio host Blanquita Cullum stated that "the problem" with Oprah's decision to campaign for Obama is "if they start trying to tie in things like this perception of where his religion lies, where his loyalty lies, does that backfire on Oprah?" Cullum added: "I have a tendency to think that she can bring in a percentage of the base that will not normally vote, but it's going to be iffy. It could backfire on her."

Cullum's comments followed a discussion about the criticism surrounding a November 29 Washington Post article about discredited rumors that Obama attended a madrassa as a child.

From the December 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

HOWARD KURTZ (host and Washington Post media critic): I got to break in here. You two can take this outside, hopefully without guns.

Now, Washington Post taking some heat this week for a front-page story. The headline -- if we can put it up -- "Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him." The story said that the Democratic candidate has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim and attended a madrassa as a child. Obama aides sharply disputed the initial story suggesting that he was a Muslim.

Keli Goff, is it news to try to explore and investigate the source of these rumors?

KELI GOFF (political analyst): Sure. On the front pages though, I don't know that that was necessarily necessary. And I think that what some critics take issue with in this particular piece is the fact that it somewhat gave credence -- the lede and the headline seemed to somewhat validate some of these rumors.

For instance, CNN did a story on this, you know, back in January, and the headline was really simple -- it said: "CNN Debunks False Rumors about Obama Attending Madrassa." And that's not exactly what this headline does. It gives some sort of validity by putting it on the front page and exploring it as a legitimate criticism.

KURTZ: Right. And just to elaborate, CNN interviewed the top official at the school that was alleged to have been a madrassa. This is when he was in elementary school, when Obama was in elementary school. And he denied that it had ever been anything other than public school.

CULLUM: But Howard, what it raises -- OK, you can have all kinds of issues coming out -- it raises, where is the "yuck" factor? Where is the perception that we really question issues?

For example, how much will we tolerate whether they had mistresses, whether they had, you know, Rose law firms, all of that kind of scandal. Where is the real bias? Is the real bias that we are concerned truly about a candidate if they reportedly, allegedly, have a Muslim background? And the question is: How is that going to affect the turnout of the vote?

KURTZ: All right. Washington Post editors say this was actually intended to knock down the rumors.

Peter Baker, a reporter defending the piece by his colleague, Perry Bacon, said, "Somehow a story intended to debunk the false claims, trace their origin and explore the challenge they present in the campaign in trying to quash them spawned a furious eruption among liberal bloggers accusing the Post of spreading the rumors."

Let me move on now to Oprah Winfrey. I was up in New Hampshire this week and this got a lot of attention, Oprah at a campaign for Obama. Let's roll some of the tape.

[begin video clip]

JULIE CHEN (CBS News anchor): Oprah is so accessible. She's on the air every day. I mean, that's -- like who doesn't love Oprah?


DANA BASH (CNN congressional correspondent): She actually is somebody who has the ability to move mountains and change minds.


DAN ABRAMS (MSNBC host): Realistically, Clinton is a far more formidable force than Oprah. Yes, she's enormously successful and influential, and I know this is heresy. But I don't know that she will actually lead people to pull the lever for Obama.

[end video clip]

KURTZ: Keli Goff, I've got about half a minute. Why was it such big news that an African-American talk show host in Chicago would stump for an African-American candidate from Chicago?

GOFF: Because Oprah's not a celebrity; she's a brand. I mean, it's nice that people like Barbra Streisand or Ben Affleck, you know, want to share their political thoughts, but at the end of the day, people are paying them to be entertainers and to entertain them.

People look to Oprah not to entertain them, but to give her guidance on everything from what to wear, what to read, and possibly who to vote for. She's in a league of her own.

KURTZ: A huge story.

CULLUM: However, the problem is -- I mean, I agree with you on that, Keli, but the problem is, if they start trying to tie in things like this perception of where his religion lies, where his loyalty lies, does that backfire on Oprah? I have a tendency to think that she can bring in a percentage of the base that will not normally vote, but it's going to be iffy. It could backfire on her.

KURTZ: Well, Barbra Streisand endorsing Hillary Clinton, that didn't seem to be anywhere nearly as big a story.

Keli Goff, Blanquita Cullum, thanks very much for batting these issues around with us this morning.

Posted In
Blanquita Cullum
Reliable Sources
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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