In a June 30 interview with "Talk to Al Jazeera," NASA administrator Charles Bolden revealed that President Obama had tasked him with "find[ing] a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."
The media largely ignored the story, with a few exceptions, such as Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer.
Among the media outlets that blacked out the controversy was the Washington Post, which didn't cover the Bolden controversy until today. Even then, the paper printed on page A13 a brief 8-paragraph item by the Reuters news wire:
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that NASA administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. was wrong to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority of the U.S. space agency.
Bolden raised eyebrows in the space community and outrage among conservative pundits by telling al-Jazeera television recently that President Barack Obama had instructed him to work for better outreach with the Muslim world.
He said Obama told him that one of his top priorities was to "find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering."
Improving relations with the Muslim world was a top foreign policy priority for Obama upon taking office last year, and he delivered a major speech on the topic in Cairo in June 2009.
Last week, the White House sought to clarify Bolden's comment, saying Obama wanted NASA to engage with the world's best scientists and engineers from countries such as Russia, Japan, Israel and many Muslim-majority countries.
That failed to end the controversy.
Gibbs was asked at his daily news briefing why Bolden had made the comment.
"I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA," Gibbs said.
Q I wanted to ask you, there are some comments that the NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, made a couple weeks back that drew some interest, specifically from conservatives who are wondering why we he said that one of the charges that the President gave him when he got the job was that he had to focus on outreach to the Muslim world. Why is the NASA Administrator doing that?
MR. GIBBS: That's an excellent question, and I don't think -- that was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA.
Q So did he just misspeak?
MR. GIBBS: I think so.
Q Has the President spoken to him about that clear it up?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Anybody here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sure people -- people at the White House here talk to NASA all the time.