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CNN apologizes for Obama gaffe in Bin Laden graphic

Michael Roston
Published: Tuesday January 2, 2007
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Update: Senator Obama's office called RAW STORY to comment on the incident and CNN's apology, which can be found at this link or at the end of this story.

A Monday night broadcast of CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer confused America's "number one enemy" with one of America's most popular senators, RAW STORY has learned. CNN apologized for the error, which came after a series of incidents in recent months in which Illinois Democrat Senator Barack Obama was subtly or directly linked with militant Islamic personalities who have been hostile to the United States.

During the Jan. 1 broadcast of Wolf Blitzer's nightly news program, a pre-commercial preview of the show's next segment included a story on the hunt for Al Qaeda's leadership. Over a photo of Osama Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Blitzer stated, according to the transcript, "Plus, a new year, but the same mission. Will 2007 bring any new changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden?"

But instead of asking "Where's Osama?" the graphic over the two Islamists read "Where's Obama?" referencing the surname of popular Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

A later segment of the show, which took up the topic of the 2008 presidential election, did discuss Senator Obama's political prospects if he chooses to run for president.

Blitzer apologized during this morning's coverage of the Gerald Ford funeral.

"I just want to make a correction, an apology, Soledad, for what we did yesterday. In 'The Situation Room,' we had a bad graphic," Blitzer said in a transcript delivered to RAW STORY by CNN's public relations staff. "We were doing a piece on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in this new year 2007. Unfortunately, instead of saying "where is Osama," it said "where is Obama." I'm going to be calling Senator Barack Obama to make a personal apology."

A CNN employee also told RAW STORY an additional apology was offered by Soledad O'Brien earlier in the morning.

Bloggers rapidly highlighted the faulty graphic last night. At Daily Kos, a diary started by one user included comments from hundreds of users debating whether or not the graphic was constructed deliberately. While some noted the proximity of the program to New Year's Eve might have resulted in sleepy graphic artists at the cable network, others insisted that the 'B' and 'S' keys are far from one another on the keyboard, making a mere typographical error unlikely. Instead, they saw an anti-Obama bias in the news media as the source of the CNN graphic.

A variety of incidents over the course of recent months have created a perception that pundits and news organizations are attempting to link the popular freshman senator and possible presidential candidate with militant Islam.

Initially, a variety of news organizations and pundits began pointing out that Obama's middle name was "Hussein," given to him by his father who was born and raised a Muslim. In early November, Chris Matthews on MSNBC suggested that the "Hussein" moniker will "be interesting down the road." Republican pundits and strategists then began referring to Obama's middle name more pointedly. On an MSNBC broadcast, GOP strategist Ed Rogers said Obama's full name with a deliberately heavy emphasis on his middle name, and radio show host Rush Limbaugh later called him "Barack Hussein Odumbo." (A list of these and other Obama-related incidents are available at Media Matters for America.)

On a Dec. 11 broadcast of Blitzer's show, other moves suggested an effort to sustain a meme on Obama's Islamic links. First, a commentary by Jeff Greenfield asked "Is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does?" and answered, "Why, yes. It is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." He thereupon described Obama as a "sartorial timebomb." Greenfield later insisted that his remarks were merely a joke.

On the same broadcast, CNN correspondent Jeanne Moos made the Osama-Obama link. She noted, "Someone could confuse Obama with Osama. Only one little consonant differentiates the two names. And as if that similarity weren't enough, how about sharing the name of a former dictator?"

Following on these incidents, a conservative pundit went as far as to suggest that Obama might be a kind of Muslim Manchurian Candidate. An article by syndicated columnist Debbie Schlussel on December 18th asked "is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father's heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?"

In a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times (quoted in this Slate article), Obama's staff was quoted as remarking that "You can't solve Iraq with a campaign about people's middle names." The Slate article also tried to hold out the possibility that Obama could make his full name a component of his unique multicultural identity that could help him in his political campaign.

In an interview with RAW STORY, Senator Obama's Press Secretary Tommy Vietor said he thought there was "no malicious intent" behind the graphic. "Wolf Blitzer is a good person and journalist. Someone made a mistake in a graphic, and that's as far as it goes," he said.

Vietor said the senator and Blitzer had not yet managed to connect on the phone, but that there was a message in his voicemail before 8 AM this morning expressing Blitzer's intent to apologize in person.

Senator Obama's Press Secretary also added "We really appreciate the people in the blogosphere who brought this to our attention, and act as our eyes and ears."

(Crooks and Liars has a video clip of Blitzer's apology.)

Note: RAW STORY owes its gratitude to reader Jon Bee who alerted us to the erroneous graphic early on Monday evening.