On Thursday’s "Good Morning America," ABC’s Jake Tapper continued the media’s campaign to defend Senator Barack Obama against charges that, as a young child living in Indonesia, he attended a madrassah, an Islamic school that teaches virulent anti-Americanism. Co-host Robin Roberts and Mr. Tapper alternatively referred to the charges as "smears," "dirty tricks" and "lies." According to a 1999 MRC Reality Check, ABC gave no such courtesy to then-Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. On August 24 of that year, "Nightline" host Ted Koppel devoted an entire half hour episode to the unsubstantiated rumors that Bush used cocaine as a younger person. Obama, who has admitted trying cocaine as a teenager, was not asked about it in a January 24 GMA appearance. Here is Koppel’s explanation for the media’s interest in Bush’s youth:
Ted Koppel: "So here we are in this curious twilight in which [Bush] plainly acknowledges excessive use of alcohol until he turned 40, makes no claim of privacy in the area of marital infidelity, unlike some people we know he did not cheat on his wife, but leaves the question of youthful cocaine use ambiguously addressed with this assertion: I did make mistakes years ago."
-Nightline August 24, 1999
And here is the combined defense of Robert's introduction and Tapper's report on the January 25 "Good Morning America."
Robin Roberts: "Now, to the field of contenders, the presidential hopefuls who want President Bush's job. And the dirty tricks seem to have already begun. The target? Senator Barack Obama."
Jake Tapper: "And Mark Twain once said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes, Robin. And with the presidential campaign starting so early, it looks like those lies are off and traveling."
Now, it’s true that Barack Obama vociferously denied the charges that he attended a Madrassah, while Bush refused to discuss allegations of cocaine use. But ABC seemed much more interested in murky claims against a Republican, than those put to a liberal Democrat such as Obama.
After being introduced, Tapper began the piece, which aired at 7:10, by recounting the coverage the story received from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh:
Jake Tapper: "Good morning, Robin. Well, with Senator Hillary Clinton headed to Iowa this weekend and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani headed to New Hampshire, the presidential race is off and running. And for Barack Obama, it's gotten very ugly. This is the government elementary school in Indonesia that Senator Barack Obama attended from ages six to eight. ABC News wanted to find out more about this school, which a young Obama attended during his brief time in that country in the 1960s after his mother remarried an Indonesian man. And we wanted to know how this innocent elementary school became this false report."
Steve Doocy: "Well, it looks as if that man right there was raised-- spent the first decade of his life raised by his Muslim father, as a Muslim, and was educated in a madrassah."
Tapper: "A madrassah is an Islamic school, in many of which, students are taught a very conservative version of Islam and a radical, anti-U.S. political agenda. Obama, a devout Christian, said he was not raised a Muslim, and that the school he attended was not a madrassah. Obama calls the story a smear."
Obama: "The notion that somehow at the age of six or seven I was being trained for something other than math, science and, and uh, reading is, is ludicrous."
Tapper: "And at the school, where we found basketball and both Muslim and Christian religious classes. 'Here we learn math, sciences, and social studies,' says this sixth grade boy. 'These rumors about our school being an Islamic extremist school are completely incorrect,' says the assistant head master. 'We are a regular public school.'
FNC host John Gibson: "Picture the commercial: 'Hi, I'm Barack Obama, I went to a madrassah.'"
Tapper: "Fox News Channel says they were merely repeating information from the conservative 'Insight' magazine which reported that the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton was investigating the madrassah story, which the Clinton campaign fervently denies. So the smear went from ‘Insight,’ to Fox, to talk radio--"
Rush Limbaugh: "Well, according to 'Insight' magazine, the Hillary's team is interested in his Muslim background."
Tapper: "--To everywhere. Political consultants say these types of smears are difficult to fix."
Nowhere In Tapper’s piece did he mention Obama’s constant promotion of his international experience and the presidential candidate’s touting of the fact that he lived overseas. While this certainly doesn’t make false reporting acceptable, it should mean that scrutiny of his time abroad is acceptable.
Tapper closed the segment with a distinctly sympathetic take on Obama’s plight:
David Bossie (Citizens United): "It's hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. Really, it can really do some damage and that is a problem in today's media culture, the 24-hour news cycle."
Tapper: "And Mark Twain once said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes, Robin. And with the presidential campaign starting so early, it looks like those lies are off and traveling."
Roberts: "It does appear that way. Has Obama’s campaign responded to this, Jake?"
Tapper: "Yes. They put out a very detailed memo yesterday saying that none of these charges were true. They are very aggressively trying to dampen down the story and they say its untrue. They say they learned a lesson from the campaign of Senator John Kerry, who they say, faced false charges in the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth attacks and did not adequately respond to them."
Roberts: Yeah, when I talked to Barack Obama yesterday, he said with his name, he's always been the underdog when it comes to something like this."
As she mentioned, co-host Robin Roberts had the opportunity to ask Obama about these allegations on January 24. The ABC anchor chose instead to spend part of the segment grilling the Senator about the Chicago Bears:
Roberts: "Well, you and Senator Clinton have certainly electrified the field. But there is something that you and Mrs. Clinton do have in common. I understand you both will be cheering for the Chicago bears in the upcoming Super Bowl?"
Obama: "Well, I was at the game. I love New Orleans and it was a wonderful story to see how the Saints gave that city pride exactly at a time when they needed it. But, you know, I'm a Chicago guy and I think we're going all the way this time."
Spreading rumors and false information about any presidential candidates is unacceptable and should be condemned. However, it would be nice if members of the media would leap to the defense of Republicans as eagerly as they do for liberal Democrats.