Earlier today, I asked Sen. Barack Obama if as a child he attended a madrassa -- an Islamic school. He said no.
Madrassas are conservative Islamic schools, many of which teach a virulent hatred of America.
"It wasn't an extremist school at all?" I asked.
"It was an ordinary public school," he replied. "The kids ran around in short pants and learned math and science and participated in the Boy Scouts. It was comparable to any school here in the United States," he explained.
How on earth did we get to this point? Where a United States senator is explaining that he went to a normal elementary school and not a terrorist recruiting center?
Well, let's back up to last week … when the conservative Insight magazine posted a story claiming that "researchers connected to Sen. Clinton" had determined that Obama, during his childhood, lived in Indonesia where he moved after his mother remarried, and "enrolled in a madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim."
Obama denied that the story was true, and Clinton denied that she was spreading the story.
But on "Fox & Friends" on Jan. 19, Fox News' Steve Doocy fueled the fire by insisting that Obama spent, "the first decade of his life raised by his Muslim father as a Muslim and was educated in a madrassa … financed by Saudis, they teach the religion that pretty much hates us. The big question: Was that on the curriculum back then?"
And from there, the story spread everywhere.
"There's now almost a predictable process here. People have learned how to get things covered, even when they shouldn't be covered" said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
"You either start with a revelation in the Drudge Report or Insight magazine, then that gets picked up by the New York Post or The Wall Street Journal and Fox News and by the blogs, and before long there's enough noise out there and enough buzz that comes from it that everybody from The New York Times to The Washington Post to the network news broadcasts decide they have to cover it. And it doesn't matter if it's true or not," Ornstein said.
ABC News sent a producer and a crew to Government Elementary School Number 4, where Obama attended school from ages six to eight. There, we found pretty much what you'd find at any school: boys and girls, basketball, computers, SpongeBob SquarePants.
"Here I learn about science, math, and English," said one sixth grader, Alyssa, who is 12 years old. "I am proud to go to this school because it is a prestigious school."
We saw some Muslim worship, but we also saw a class in Christianity, a painting of Jesus on the wall and a framed Lord's Prayer.
"We are a regular public elementary school," said the headmaster. "Children of all religions are welcome here."
"These rumors about our school being Islamic extremist school are completely incorrect," added the assistant headmaster.
Caught by Surprise
When the false reports about the school first appeared, the Obama campaign did not seem to know much about their candidate's years in Indonesia, and it wasn't until ABC and other media outlets including CNN went to the school that the charge was debunked.
Obama's team seemed unprepared for that attack, even though it wasn't entirely new to the senator.