(AP Video: Obama at the Western Wall)
The Blogosphere has gotten itself in a political tizzy over why and how Barack Obama's written prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem was pilfered and printed in an Israeli newspaper - Maariv.
Over the weekend, bloggers seized on erroneous reports in a competing Israeli paper that Obama's campaign gave reporters the OK to publish the note - even before the Democratic presidential candidate placed it in the wall.
The Jerusalem Post, not the most reliable of Israeli newspapers, apparently sparked the furor by quoting an anonymous Maariv spokesperson as saying that Obama gave the go-ahead to publish the note shortly after he wrote it in the King David Hotel.
In the article, which carries no byline and says it was written by "JPost.com Staff," the anonymous Maariv spokesperson even added a bizarre interpretation of religious law by stating that "since Obama is not a Jew, publishing the note does not constitute an infringement on his right to privacy."
The Jerusalem Post story generated much conservative teeth gnashing, renting of garments and suggestions that Obama was playing the media by deliberately manipulating the story for his own political benefit.
But Maariv editors are flatly denying that there were any such political machinations.
"The Obama camp did not give permission in advance to print the note," said one top editor who conferred Tuesday with other staff members when asked by Checkpoint Jerusalem about The Jerusalem Post story.
"We did not get permission, formal or informal, to print the note," said the Maariv editor, who asked to remain anonymous because of the touchy nature of the dispute. "This kind of snowballed and got out of hand."
On Tuesday, Maariv's top editor, Doron Galezer said, simply:
"We received the note and we saw there was nothing personal or intimate in it. Therefore we felt free to publish it."
Later Tuesday, a Maariv editor called back to read an official statement:
"Maariv received the note last Thursday and, after realizing it contained no personal or intimate content, decided to publish it. Contrary to the response attributed to Maariv in a few media outlets in Israel, Maariv never requested permission from the Obama campaign to publish the note, nor was granted permission afterwards."
Maariv's version of events is backed up by reporters covering Obama's campaign who traveled to Jerusalem with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
"Neither the note nor its words was released to the US media and, as of the flight home Saturday night, Obama and his aides were still saying they wouldn't confirm that the note published in the Israel papers was Obama's," said Margaret Talev, the McClatchy Newspapers reporter who is covering Obama and traveled with him during his stop here in Jerusalem.
Obama's campaign also categorically denied the story.
"No earthly person other than Barack saw whatever prayer he wrote," said Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs. "The idea that we leaked anything is ridiculous."
There was apparently a debate in the Maariv newsroom over whether or not to publish the note, which was grabbed by a Jewish religious student who gave it to Maariv and later apologized for taking Obama's prayer.
"It was kind of a prank," the student told Israel's Channel 2, his face obscured. "I hope he wasn't hurt."
UPDATE: BUSTED! CAUGHT ON FILM!!!!
Well, it didn't take too long for video of the prayer/note theft to make it onto the Internet... Below is footage said to be of the guy taking Obama's note (along with quite a few others, it appears) from the wall.