WaPo ombudsman rips WaPo "Obama is a Muslim" story but fails to fully correct it

And still manages to leave a couple of major errors uncorrected. With a track record like this, we’re sure to hear any day now that they’ve hired Jim Henley to verify quotes.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve written three posts about this story, two since it was published. One, two, three. In the second, I highlighted an error that Post reporter Perry Bacon made with regard to a quote from a Robert Spencer article. In that article, Spencer debunked the rumor that Barack Obama is or ever was a Muslim. If the Post really did its homework, it would have also found this Jihad Watch that Robert wrote on the subject, in which he said of the rumor:

That’s a lot of hooey.

Here’s a visual aid that I created the day we produced the show.


If “That’s a lot of hooey” is too technical a phrase for the Post, I’ll help out. It means that Robert Spencer does not believe in the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In Spencer’s article on the subject, there appears the following passage.

Given Obama’s politics, it will not be hard to present him internationally as someone who understands Islam and Muslims, and thus will be able to smooth over the hostility between the Islamic world and the West — our first Muslim President.

Pulled out of context, that paragraph could reasonably lead a reader to conclude that Spencer believes Obama is a Muslim and that that might be politically useful to him. But. It’s clear from the rest of the article that Robert Spencer does not believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, only that some on the left and within Islamic groups like CAIR might see political reasons to present him as one to the rest of the world. He would therefore be the first “Muslim president” in the sense that Bill Clinton was the first “black president.” Which is also, by the way, a lot of hooey. On his own blog after the Bacon article first appeared, Spencer had this to say.

Was I saying in this that Obama would, if elected, be our first Muslim President in a literal sense? Clearly not. I was saying he could be our first Muslim President the way Bill Clinton was our first black President. The whole first part of the column is about his not being a Muslim, and what the implications of that were in light of revelations in a Los Angeles Times piece that I linked at the beginning of the column.

But in the original Post article by Mr. Bacon, here’s how Spencer’s paragraph was used.

Human Events, another conservative magazine, published on its Web site a package of articles called “Barack Obama Exposed.” One of them was titled “The First Muslim President?”

Robert Spencer, a conservative activist, wrote in Human Events that “given Obama’s politics, it will not be hard to present him internationally as someone who understands Islam and Muslims, and thus will be able to smooth over the hostility between the Islamic world and the West — our first Muslim President.”

Conservative talk-show hosts have occasionally repeated the rumor, with Michael Savage noting Obama’s “background” in a “Muslim madrassa in Indonesia” in June, and Rush Limbaugh saying in September that he occasionally got “confused” between Obama and Osama bin Laden. Others repeatedly use the senator’s middle name, Hussein.

Used that way, Bacon makes the paragraph give readers the impression that Spencer believes that Obama may be a crypto-Muslim even though the paragraph came from an article that asserts the opposite. Thereby, he’s attaching the rumor to conservative activists and to Spencer in particular. But Bacon has flipped the original meaning of the paragraph so that it means the opposite of what Spencer’s original article intended. Bacon also mischaracterizes Rush Limbaugh’s “confusion” on the matter, which is a schtick that references Sen. Ted Kennedy’s actual confusion on one occasion, when he mistakenly called Obama “Osama.” Visual aid number two.

But with all the new writing on this story from the Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, these errors remain uncorrected. She takes on the critics from the left who argued that the Bacon story didn’t include enough information about the rumor’s debunking, which is a fair criticism of the story. She dishes a little criticism back to them while mostly taking their views to heart. But she ignores the criticism from the right, that Bacon misused a quote from Robert Spencer’s article. Instead of correcting that error as well as Bacon’s mischaracterization of Rush Limbaugh’s “confusion,” we get this howler.

Bacon’s story said that the rumors “echoed on Internet message boards and chain e-mails” and that talk-show hosts “occasionally” repeated the rumors. The story also brought up a discredited Jan. 16 story in Insight magazine, which is owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and owner of the Washington Times. The Insight story said that Obama had gone to a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, as a child. CNN, ABC-TV and the Associated Press went to the school and reported that it was not a religious school but a public school. Bacon’s story should have noted that information, which was also reported at the time by Post media writer Howard Kurtz. The Insight story was criticized in a Jan. 28 Post editorial.

What, exactly, does Rev. Moon have with anything in this saga? It’s clear to me from that paragraph that Howell is attempting to dismiss critics on the right by attaching the only ones she mentions to the Moonies. Nice.