Monday, January 22, 2007
Inside Obama's alleged madrassa
The call from the news desk in Atlanta came at 4 a.m. Sunday. It was about a report that presidential hopeful Barack Obama may have attended a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, as a boy. That seemed an odd claim; at 4 a.m., downright bizarre.

A day's travel later, cameraman Brad Olson, producer Andy Saputra and I were in Jakarta, Indonesia, outside the school in question. A hotbed of radical Islamic extremism it was not. Moms and dads dropped their kids off for school, kids played soccer, expensive houses lined the street, including the U.S. ambassador's residence.

We went in and spoke with the deputy headmaster, other officials, even some of Obama's old schoolmates. There were boys and girls singing and dancing, Christian kids next to Muslim kids.

This was nothing like the madrassas I had been to in Pakistan, where young boys learn the Koran by rote, memorizing every word, where no other religion is tolerated, where the teachers are men with long beards dressed in traditional garb.

To be honest, I felt embarrassed to ask the school about the controversy in the United States. The deputy headmaster was surprised, and I think a little taken aback that some had made the assumption his school was a hotbed of radicalism.

An old classmate of Obama's was more blunt. He said it was a racist assumption that every school in a Muslim country is a hard-line extremist madrassa.

I spoke with the bosses back in New York and Atlanta and outlined the facts, not entirely sure what they would want me to do next. The response was pretty simple: Do the story, report what you find, nothing more, nothing less. So that's what I did.
Posted By John Vause, CNN International Correspondent: 8:46 PM ET
  51 Comments
It sounds like someone was trying to sensationalize and terrorize Obama's nomination. I like Obama. I think he is smart and would make a good President. I have heard people say that Obama's name will hurt him. We'll see. I just hope that the democrats can get a candidate who can WIN! I will vote for the democrat no matter who the candidate is. For God's sake PLEASE,no more elephants!!!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 9:17 PM ET
This poor man is going to be slaughtered for various reasons: his race, his religion, his age. I think what bothers me most about Barack Obama is that I really don't have the slightest idea of who he actually is, aside from all the negative things that keep getting reported about him. Surely, there has to be a good side to the man. I'm very glad that you knocked one bad thing out. Next?
Posted By Anonymous Sharla Jones, Stratford, NJ : 9:21 PM ET
Good job, John. I could wish, however, that CNN had been as diligent in debunking right-wing smear jobs back when it mattered - in '04.

Who knows whose State of the Union Address we'd now be waiting to hear?
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 9:22 PM ET
To come out with a fake story like this and then feed it to Fox "News" sounds like a typical Karl Rove trick;and then to hint that it comes from Hillary! Somebody must be quite proud of themselves.
Posted By Anonymous alex d. chapman,jr. ville platte,la : 9:31 PM ET
Hi John,
I'm feeling another media frenzy whipping up. 2008 is an eternity away, and one thing we can count on is that none of us knows which candidate will soar or sink like a lead balloon. I'll leave the speculation on Obama for others. I have more pressing issues, like should I watch "24" or AC360 tonight. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif : 9:35 PM ET
4 am on a Sunday. I'll keep my 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. I wouldn't sell my soul to the highest bidder or Satan for that!
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 9:40 PM ET
I'm sure that tracking down all the 'slime' is more than a full time job. As an issues voter, I find it appalling that so much of the media and politicians waste our time with this crap. Thanks for tracking this down. More reporting like this could force more truth in packaging-labeling -advertising from those who want our votes. I also hope that all the reporters remember what happened to Judith Miller.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 9:49 PM ET
Hi John,
Let the mud slinging begin!

Your day's travel may have just been the beginning of a "hard-line hotbed" of extreme political tabloid maneuvers during the next presidential journey.

Thanks for checking it out. Sounds like a dead end to dirt on Barak Obama. Thanks for humility about the assignment.

Unfortunately, the lead may have been a bit of misinformation fed to the press.
Posted By Anonymous Liz, Milwaukee, Wisconsin : 9:50 PM ET
I get the feeling that Obama is like a "bubble on a griddle" bouncing around from place to place. I don't think he will make a good president either, bouncing around like that.
We want stability and a person who knows how to lead.
It would be better if Obama just stay home(senate) and get more experience.
I am sure he will someday be a good president, not "monkey see, monkey do" type.
Posted By Anonymous Randy Kaye Crownpoint, New Mexico : 9:53 PM ET
"We Report. You Decide."
How can you expect us to decide when what you report is a lie.

Way to go Fox... But then again, what else can we expect from a network that considers shows like "The Simple Life" as groundbreaking television.
Posted By Anonymous Melba, Atlanta, Georgia : 9:54 PM ET
can we be positive for once. Going in circles to hurt people that are unhurtable is no new issue in America but for heavenly sake you gat the wrong guy. I would Vote for Obama and I have had a handful people for this, just wait!!
Posted By Anonymous emma, boston, ma : 9:55 PM ET
Don't worry CNN. This story won't hurt Obama in any way. Hillary has already decided to select Obama as her running mate. Therefore, she will be soft on him throughout the campaign process. Obama is the media "golden boy" along with Oprah and her fans.

So, Democrats and socialists alike; your ticket has arrived early, it's Hillary-Obama 2008.
Posted By Anonymous Valerie, Garland, Texas : 10:08 PM ET
Hopefully Obama has thick skin because there is more to come. So let the trashy games begin!
Posted By Anonymous Brenda, Long Beach Ca. : 10:15 PM ET
All of this stuff about Obama being a fundamentalist Muslim is silly. This is a ploy to knock Obama out of the running for president. Its fodder for his opponents to use against him. O.K. so he was born and raised in the Islamic tradition, his mother identified more with the Muslims, that doesn't make him a sleeping traitor. Obama didn't leave the country and go into some cave somewhere and conspire against Americans. He went to the South Side of Chicago to help underprivileged Americans get ahead. I think Obama has something to offer this country that is radically different that the same song and dance the other politicians have been giving. Give the man a chance. Let him develop and trumpet his platform. Give Hillary a chance to get into the race and let them duke it out a bit. Please stop making these refernces to Saddam Hussein because is middle name is Hussein and madrassa because he went to a Muslim school. The man is American, trying to do a very patriotic thing, and that is lead this country. You never know, he may have some insight into this Muslim mess that can bring our troops home and stop this war. He may be uniquely suited to lead our country at this particular time in our history. GIVE THE MAN A CHANCE!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Madeliene Bolden, Atlanta ,Georgia : 10:16 PM ET
I think Ombama is the right candidate to lead the Country. He definitely has my vote.
Posted By Anonymous Mitty, Miami, Florida : 10:31 PM ET
The media slashing is well and alive, unfortunately.
But this is not what Sen. Barack Obama is about. Anyone wondering WHO he is should read, or better yet, listen to his latest book, "The Audacity of Hope." There, you will learn of THE MAN, straight from THE MAN.
Even if the poop about his early schooling was true, what choice did HE have back then? He is who he is, today, a man of principle, intelligence, and values.
Who ever wrote that slop should get a life and quit playing in the dirt. The American people are fed up with the politics of mud, and those who sling it, are just making fools of themselves.
And, they'll just keep slinging as long as they get attention, so ignore them.
Posted By Anonymous Chris, Bellevue, WA : 10:48 PM ET
CNN must be getting a lot of pleasure with its screaming headline about the "debunking." I don't know whether Obama did or did not attend a madrassa. But the CNN reporter went to the school 30 years or so after the fact and spoke to one former classmate. Today, the school looks harmless; and the single classmate says it wasn't a madrassa. If that's what CNN calls debunking, sounds like readers should still keep an open mind.
Posted By Anonymous Steve K., Santa Barbara, CA : 11:07 PM ET
Why wasn't John sent to debunk the phony Bush National Guard story with the fake paperwork? Media bias? NAH!
Posted By Anonymous Dave, Peoria, IL : 11:20 PM ET
That's really exciting. I think instead of hurting Obama's run, I think people need to see the good that's coming out of it. Maybe Obama has more worldy perspective than we've seen, and maybe he's got the personal experience and knowledge to deal with this Islamic phobia we have in the U.S.
Posted By Anonymous Emily N, San Diego, CA : 11:23 PM ET
We need John Edwards - not Obama. Obama has potential but is really a media creation - and runs the risk of being a flash in the pan.
Posted By Anonymous Lon, Atlanta, GA : 11:27 PM ET
So the political game for '08 has already begun ... if not the public, the media is definately onto it.
Posted By Anonymous Shruti Bala, Glendale, AZ : 11:32 PM ET
"GOP" Swift Boating is starting early. I thought "Lee Atwater" was dead but Rove and the GOP have brought him back. Kudos to CNN.
Posted By Anonymous Dave Spencer, Portsmouth, RI : 11:51 PM ET
I dont watch tv much work and family take up a lot of time. CNN and the History channel is what I watch when I can. I remeber a show done about JFK and his election. It was said that some worried that because he was a catholic he would be puppet of the pope. I agree with the statement Mr. Obama's old classmate made about our country's collective assumption that muslim schools are all extremist. I think racism is still alive in our country, though not as obvious as it was before. The fact that he attended a muslim school being news at all proves it. History has proven JFK a great president and a patriot regardles of his spiritual beliefs. If a man or woman for that matter can bring about peace and prosperity and securtiy for our country then they have my vote. Catholic, hindu or muslim they are Americans first.
Posted By Anonymous Frank, Carlsbad, Ca. : 12:01 AM ET
So... the mud slinging is going to start already? We just got over this In Novemeber.
It would be really nice if those who are running this time around could act more intelligent and mature than a group of children in a day care class. Quit your bickering...we don't care how well you can argue anymore. We only care how well you can work for those who elected you.
Posted By Anonymous Anita, Hinckley MN : 12:09 AM ET
Let the games begin.. It's unfortunate this country will never accept an African American President. I feel bad for Obama. He hasnt seen anything yet.
Posted By Anonymous D. Madison, Elk Grove, Ca : 12:52 AM ET
Thank you to and to CNN for investigating and reporting in person. There are so many unfounded rumors published in the media today that it's hard to tell a fact from a rumor.
Posted By Anonymous Tedd Elie, Gladstone, OR : 12:54 AM ET
The reporter offered no substantial evidence of what the school was really like 35 years ago when Obama attended. One unsubstantiated comment from a supposed classmate 35 years ago is not a debunking or a verification of the story. We do not know what happened 35 years ago, and the reporter shed very little light on the facts. All we know is that right now (35 years later) is that the school at that location is open to other religions.

The story also reported attacks by Democrats against Fox News for reporting what the Insight article claimed, even though CNN Headline News also reported it. Why didn�t the reporter ask those criticizing Fox News whey they didn�t also criticize CNN Headline News?
Posted By Anonymous Mark Farnsworth, Colorado Springs CO : 2:44 AM ET
Thank you so much for your entry, and your investigation. I have read the reports referenced in the report you presented, and I have to say I am just disgusted by the rhetorical attack unleashed, way, way, way below the belt, and with no facts- other than the ones Mr. Obama offers in his books. This is sickening, and no one should be allowed to put out such damning claims without something to back it up. They all all of us, and Barack Obama, an apology for their yellow conduct.
Posted By Anonymous Sakara, Seattle Washington : 3:56 AM ET
This bit of muck reveals why it's necessary to expand our knowledge and understanding of peoples and cultures of the world. This can be achieved through study, travel and extended stays as Senator Obama himself has done.

Sen. Obama is highly intelligent, well educated, very accomplished (Columbia, Harvard Law & Harvard Law Review, private and public sector experience including community outreach). He seems to be a good human being with some fine leadership qualities including grace and charisma.

It's amazing to see so many strong candidates willing to go through the meat grinder for the opportunity to serve as President. Wouldn't it be refreshing if this campaign were marked by substantive and civil discourse of serious issues facing us? If not, it will be a very long two years.

So, thank you, John, for a fine bit of journalism.
Posted By Anonymous Doro, Portland, Oregon : 4:15 AM ET
This is so racist .I think the american press needs to realise that the world is multi ethnic and multi religous.Its not just red and blue.If you can't recognise it admit .But don't call it terrorist.Now i have to take a pain killer cos i just developed a haedache due to disbelief of level of ignorance of you lot.Anderson it is also your job not just to report the story but to educate people.All Obama is doing is running for president cut him so slack
Posted By Anonymous Doofan,Abuja,Nigeria : 5:19 AM ET
Visiting the school ~25 years after the fact proves what?

Obama most likely did NOT attend anything resembling a madrassa, but a topical/empty investigation does nothing but serve the neocon's interests.

About all you proved is perhaps that CNN is more of a DNC lapdog than originally thought. FNC is the alpha RNC lapdog. The people still end up underserved, as usual.
Posted By Anonymous Haywood Jablomey, Washington DC : 7:06 AM ET
It just goes to show that what we are fed as "news" is rarely fact (and that one should never trust what the Washington Times has to say about anything). And to trade on America's ill-informed fears about Islam (Osama bin Laden is not representative of even MOST muslims) is unconscionable.
Posted By Anonymous Kristin, Washington D.C. : 7:50 AM ET
But what if he had gone to a madrassa? Madrassa is simply the Arabic word for "school."

I'll preface my remarks by saying I'm not Muslim. You may take them more seriously. I'm American. White. A woman.

But I have also lived in Middle Eastern Countries. As a young child, I attended a Catholic school in Southeast Asia, although I am not Catholic. Somehow though, I doubt that will be front page news when I make my run.

I've been in several madrassas, "where young boys (and young girls} learng the Koran by rote, memorizing every word, where no other religion is tolerated, where the teachers are men with long beards dressed in traditional garb." Muslims don't have the corner on the intolerance market, and learning by memorization is a common religious and cultural practice.

While I don't discount that some "madrassas" might have specific fundamentalist, political Islam ties and even al-Qaida links, I think we need to be careful. The headmasters I spoke with through the course of my research in madrassas were not overtly sinister, just looking to provide their students with clean water, sanitation and an education.

We wonder why some people hate us? The fact that this story has gotton so much attention should make us take a look. Who is doing the hating now? And we wonder why.

--First time blogger
Posted By Anonymous Kristin, Washington, D.C. : 7:55 AM ET
Did the reporter/news, go and investigate the Catholic school that Obama attended, because just maybe he was sexually assaulted by one of the priests with all the coverups that's going on - my point is, why would one say that he attended a radical school just because it was Moselim? What is wrong with America. Obama will never win an election because there is just too much racism in America still today!
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl, Steubenville, OH : 8:02 AM ET
Good job in tracking down and reporting the truth. I would like to think that there will be more of this to occur as Nov 2008 approaches. By that, I mean more untruths stated and more good research done by the media. That will distinguish good reporting from bad. I have done research and anyone out there that has not done research on any of the candidates are not using their fingers and the internet. You can find out voting habits, issues voted on, etc. by just clicking. I hope each one of us will not be taken by the negative and seek out the truth. I hope each one of us will not let age, color, etc. stop us from electing a good individual.
Posted By Anonymous Wayland, Wiesbaden, Germany : 8:17 AM ET
As soon as you see that the story is from Insight/Wash Times, you have to start to doubt it. They never let facts get in the way of a story.
Posted By Anonymous W.D.Russell, East Liverpool, Ohio : 8:51 AM ET
Its the Carville-Begala-Wolfson-etc War room at work. It stinks of Clinton type dirty tricks
Posted By Anonymous Jay Philly Pa : 9:20 AM ET
I hope Mr. Obama treats this exactly for what it is ... absolutely nothing. This reeks of typical Rovian tactic - keep the masses in line with FEAR! The only thing this smells of is desperation on the part of the GOP. And I find that highly pathetic.

Thanks to CNN for uncovering the truth ... too bad you weren't as diligent about the out and out lies and pitiful smear tactics that were the norm in '00 and '04. Better late than never I suppose.
Posted By Anonymous Veronica Feinstein, Stamford, CT : 9:22 AM ET
John/Anderson:
So, as I understand it from last night's broadcast of AC360, a Washington D.C. publication, ran with "bogus" information on Barak Obama's elementary school without checking its legitimacy?

The last thing America needs is an irresponsible newspaper taking a trip back to the late 1890's in the era of Yellow Journalism. Thank you for holding them accountable.

Thank you also for your honesty, John, about the "uncomfortable" process you must have gone through covering this issue in the Indonesia school.

It is going to be a LONG, LONG presidential campaign.

Again, John/Anderson 360, thank you for sorting out the truth from obvious published distortions.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 9:26 AM ET
Here we go again - Carl Rove sending more erroneous info the Rupart Murdok establishment to smear a liberal. They don't know how to be clean and they don't know what a fair and unbias press is supposed to report. They have caused the divides that we see in this country. Where is the FCC
Posted By Anonymous Sheila Phila, PA : 9:32 AM ET
I really like Barack Obama. I hope he becomes our nation's next president. He is not a radical like a lot of people portraited him. He attended both Muslim and Catholic schools. He is very open minded. I have listen to him talk and he clearly cares about Americans, especially the working class and the poor. Our country is ready for a change. I really feel that Barack Obama can bring both the Republicans and the Democrats to work together once again. I have looked at what he has done in his past and he has helped a lot of seniors, poor, and disabled people. How many politicans can honestly say that? I don't belong to any particular political party and I'm clearly looking at which political candidate can best help our country to take the right course. Barack Obama is, in my opinion, a messenger of hope for this country.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Salt Lake City, Utah : 9:37 AM ET
I read your article on CNN's main webpage and I would simply like to thank you for providing an objective eye to the sordid world of politics today. Especially in the current chaotic international climate on "The war on terror" it is more crucial than ever before that the media not casually throw about allegations or accusations that have not been examined properly. Because as any intelligent person can tell you, in the world of politics it is a sad and disappointing fact that once any assertion has been made against you you are guilty until proven innocent. Thank you for clearing Barak Obama's name. I just hope the American public can view these events with a discerning eye as well, and therefore also question the assertion that it was Hillary Clinton's campaign that "tipped" Insight Magazine.
Posted By Anonymous Sondra G., Old Greenwich, CT : 9:42 AM ET
As I see it, there really aren't too many areas to highlight if one is speaking in terms Dems.

We have at the front Hillary Clinton. Please! Billary? Cease and desist. This is our future we're talking about, no spoiled, rich so called entertainers.

There aren't too many reasons to turn your nose up here. She's experienced, tough as nails, and I don't see her taking BS from anyone. That's what this country needs: Someone who won't kiss butt every time a self proclaimed "Savior" threatens us. Baggage? You may not approve of the way she handled Bill's indiscretion, but it was and isn't none of your business as it had nothing to do with governing our country.

Then comes Obama. To be quite honest I can think of only one possible reason I wouldn't vote for him AT THIS POINT IN TIME. He hasn't had much experience, sort of scary at thid point. I'm not sure he would have declared when he did had Oprah had not stated her position on LKL several months back.

There are going to be all sorts of excuses as to why voters will turn from these two candidates. One is a female. Lord knows most men cannot tolerate the idea of being led by a woman. And many women have been controlled by a man most of their life and are afraid to make a move on their own,

Obama? Bless his inexperienced, enthusiastic heart. He was born Black. Oh, you're saying you didn't notice? Then your reason would be?

Well, that should keep me off the blog for a few more months!

One last suggestion: If we're devoted to keeping them honest why not a monetary penalty to the party responsible for releasing info before it has been confirmed, or before a statement of non-verification is issued.

Maggie
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 9:57 AM ET
This is so ridiculous. Even if it did turn out to be a madrassa, he was a KID and didn't really have a choice of where his mother sent him to school. Obama has proclaimed to have become a Christian in his adult life. This is one of the things I hate about politics...the mud slinging. Personally, this wouldn't make a difference to me, Obama still has my vote if he decides to run!
Posted By Anonymous Pamela, St Louis, MO : 10:08 AM ET
This story has been debunked. Why are you continuing to show it as "alleged" as it will stick in people's minds even though it is not a true story. This is a typical Republican misinformation campaign similar to Fox "News" tactics.
Posted By Anonymous T. Bishop, Calabasas, CA : 10:32 AM ET
I agree that it probably wasn't a madrassa, but the logic you use in this story is the same as if I went to a public school in Mississippi today and said look there are black and white kids here together, that means there was never segregation here.
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 11:40 AM ET
Why focus on a school which has a majority Muslim religion and relate that to the credibility of a US senator? Regardless of Sen.Obama's Back ground i will vote for the canidate that represents the American people with results for the future and demands a high standard for our society, and let's not forget about our children, Ya Know our Future!
Posted By Anonymous Kristopher Vis, Pine Bluff Arkansas : 12:22 PM ET
Bwah! It's hilarious to see guys like Steve K. and Mark Farnsworth and Haywood Jablomey twist and spin so they can continue to believe their beloved Fox. A contemporaneous (ie: at the time in question) eye witness isn't enough, but a made-up story in a right-wing rag IS??

Give it up, guys - Fox and Insight Mag are busted.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 12:25 PM ET
At least Obama went to school...I'm still skeptical about our current president's education every time he opens his mouth.
Stop bashing and think about this. I personally would rather have Big Bird in office then the idiot we're currently dealing with. It's time for a change and regardless of this story, whether it's true of not, I like Obama. At this point, we should take what we can get.
Posted By Anonymous Simon, West Chester PA : 12:26 PM ET
Hillary must be worried already. This name calling, mud slinging will be entirely boring by election time. Hillary can't decide what she stands for until the people tell her what they want. Then she'll jump on the band wagon. She's wishy washy and a career politician. Let's get someone in the White House who hasn't made a career of taking and pushy their own agenda. When will America wake up and take their country back?
Posted By Anonymous Sadie, Vista, CA : 12:27 PM ET
who cares if that school was a madrassa! He had no choice in the matter anyway, and second he grew up to be a great leader and has my vote.
Posted By Anonymous Wayne, Phoenix AZ : 1:34 PM ET
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