Last night, in their report about the McCain campaign’s demand that the Los Angeles Times release a key videotape, Politico’s Ben Smith noted that his organization would have released it long ago. The LA Times spokesperson told Smith when he inquired about the tape that any news organization would have left the story after its reporting concluded, and insisted that they saw no extra news value in a tape that reportedly features Barack Obama praising former Yasser Arafat toady Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 going-away party. Smith responds by noting that Politico trusts its readers to make that determination:
The paper hasn’t explained its unwillingness to release the video, and Peter Wallsten, who found the tape and wrote about it, declined to discuss it with me last night. He forwarded an e-mail that the paper has sent readers who have complained as conservative blogs raise the issue.
“Over six months ago the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of the events shown on the videotape. The Times is not suppressing anything. Just the opposite — the L.A. Times brought the matter to light,” wrote the readers’ representative, Jamie Gold.
L.A. Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan wouldn’t discuss the decision not to release the tape in detail.
“When we reported on the tape six months ago, that was our full report,” she said, and asked, “Does Politico release unpublished information?”
The answer to that question is yes — Politico and most news outlets constantly make available videos and documents, after describing them in part, which is why the Times’ decision not to release the video is puzzling. My instinct, and many reporters’, is to share as much source material as possible.
This story begins early in Barack Obama’s political career. He had befriended Khalidi and had helped get Khalidi funding through the Woods Fund, with fellow board member and former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers. In 2003, Khalidi left Chicago to accept the Edward Said professorship at Columbia University, and Barack Obama attended his going-away party. The Los Angeles Times covered this story in April:
At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, “then you will never see a day of peace.”
One speaker likened “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been “blinded by ideology.”
Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground. But his presence at such events, as he worked to build a political base in Chicago, has led some Palestinian leaders to believe that he might deal differently with the Middle East than either of his opponents for the White House.
Now the LAT says it promised its source that it would not release the videotape of the event:
John McCain’s presidential campaign Tuesday accused the Los Angeles Times of “intentionally suppressing” a videotape it obtained of a 2003 banquet where then-state Sen. Barack Obama spoke of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian scholar and activist. …
“The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided to us by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it,” said the newspaper’s editor, Russ Stanton. “The Times keeps its promises to sources.”
That explanation raises more questions than it answers. If the Times promised to keep the videotape under wraps, then it must contain content other than their “detailed account of the events”. What exactly did the LA Times leave out of its reporting in April? If it left nothing out, then what good was the promise not to release the tape itself?
The McCain campaign has a point here. The LA Times should either release the videotape, or write a complete transcript of the contents and publish it immediately, with at least one independent source verifying its accuracy. The event has obvious news and electoral value, and given Obama’s extremely thin record of public leadership, the electorate needs as much information about Obama’s public work as possible. The reticence of the Times to publish source material in its possession indicates some intent to obfuscate or deceive.