Can You Call Barack Obama "Hussein"? Depends Who's Sayin' It

Reporter Michael Luo defended Barack Obama against an Ohio-based conservative talk radio host who had the audacity to utter Obama's middle name in Wednesday's "Host Disparages Obama, and McCain Quickly Apologizes." John McCain apologized to his fellow senator as well, though that didn't stop the Times from considering it newsworthy.

Senator John McCain apologized Tuesday after a conservative radio host who helped introduce him before a rally used Senator Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, three times, while disparaging him.

Bill Cunningham, who is host of "The Big Show with Bill Cunningham," a local program here that is also syndicated nationally, was one of several people who revved up the crowd before Mr. McCain's appearance at a theater here.

Mr. Cunningham lambasted the national news media, drawing cheers from the audience, as being soft in their coverage of Mr. Obama compared to the Republican presidential candidates, declaring they should "peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama."

He went on to say, "At one point, the media will quit taking sides in this thing and start covering Barack Hussein Obama."


Mr. Obama's middle name, which is Muslim in origin, comes from his late father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., a Kenyan. Mr. Cunningham, like some other conservative commentators, uses it frequently when referring to Mr. Obama, apparently to draw attention to his ancestry. Mr. Obama has been dogged by whispered rumors that he is a Muslim; he is a Christian.

So is the phrase "Barack Hussein Obama" forbidden in the Times, since it is apparently terribly offensive? Not exactly. Several of the paper's columnists (the print equivalent of talk show host Cunningham) have used it.

Maureen Dowd has used it twice, albeit in attempts at parallelism and a smoothly balanced sentence to contrast with someone else who traditionally goes by three names.

From September 5, 2007:

Barack Hussein Obama squinted into the New Hampshire sun to read a new speech on his teleprompter Monday and turned into William Jennings Bryan.

And December 13, 2006:

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama both straddle two worlds, trying to profit from both.

So did columnist Frank Rich, in a widely-read column from last Sunday:

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash.