A Web site created a stir by publishing a story claiming Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., had plans to use a purported Islamist upbringing of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., against him in her presidential campaign. Experts discuss the struggle to separate fact from fiction in the news.
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On Jan. 17, an article appeared on the Web site of Insight magazine, which began, "Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage? This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama."
That "story" became quite a story itself: discussed as though fact, debunked as fiction, a case study in how information — anonymous and apparently incorrect information in this case — can spread quickly and cause a political stir.
David Kirkpatrick unraveled the tale in today's New York Times and joins us now. Also with us is Ellen Hume, director of the Center on Media and Society at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She's a former White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and political writer for the Los Angeles Times.
And welcome to both of you.
David, the article appears on a Web site. Tell us what happens. Give us a quick run-through.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, New York Times:
Well, the article appeared on the Web site of Insight magazine. Its editor was disappointed that Matt Drudge did not pick it up, as he often does Insight's more sensational scoops…
At his online site.
Yes, right, with his Web site, which has a broader readership, so he e-mailed the story to producers at FOX News and MSNBC.
And in the FOX morning show, I think starting around 6:00 a.m., they picked it up and ran with it. They even added a little bit of extra detail. They elaborated on what a madrassa was. A madrassa is an Islamic school, full-stop, and they described it as a kind of school for teaching terrorism, basically, a place where hatred of the U.S. is inculcated.
And they bantered about that for a while. And then, later that afternoon, another FOX host picked it up and talked about how mischievous it was of Sen. Hillary Clinton to have promulgated this rumor, because the initial Insight story was not just that Sen. Barack Obama had attended an Islamic school. It was that Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign was planning to go forward with insinuations that Obama had attended this school and then had lied about it.