Middle East studies in the News
Ethics, Irony and the Rashid Khalidi Tape
by Eric Zorn
The Los Angeles Times made a deal with a source: If you give us a videotape of a certain event, we promise not to air or disseminate that video, but to use it only as source material for a story we're writing.
The event was "a 2003 banquet where then-state Sen. Barack Obama spoke of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian scholar and activist," as the Times writes.
The Times first reported on the videotape in an April 2008 story about Obama's ties with Palestinians and Jews as he navigated the politics of Chicago. The report included a detailed description of the tape, but the newspaper did not make the video public.
Backers of John McCain are in an indignant rage about the Times "supression" of the tape and McCain himself has been demanding the Times release it.
The Times points out that no one would know about the dinner or the tape if they hadn't reported a detailed account of it six months ago. And that the "confidential source" that provided the tape "did so on the condition that we not release it."
Here's the kicker from editor Russ Stanton:
"The Times keeps its promises to sources."
Now, if anyone can find an example of the Times breaking a promise to a source, then I'll listen to the whining and bleating that their actions here are somehow motivated by partisanship. Or if you can explain why this situation mirrors the sort of life-and-death situation in which news organizations do and should break promises to sources, I might change my mind.
The Times' account doesn't explain why the source demanded the tape not be aired. Perhaps the angle from which the video was shot would have identified him in some way to those who were in attendance, and he didn't want to reveal his cooperation with the media.
Or perhaps he worried that if some partisan hacks got ahold of the raw video they'd cherrypick quotes from it, throw ominous music behind grainy images and use it to inflame rather than enlighten.
As the Times reports, "some speakers [at the banquet] expressed anger at Israel and at U.S. foreign policy."
Perhaps the source realized how easy it would be to cut the video to obscure or even hide altogether the end of that sentence, "Obama, in his comments, called for finding common ground."
Perhaps the source knew that the mendacious peddlers of smear and fear who've been attacking Obama care nothing for context and look to maximize the innuendo content in any incident or scrap of information they can find.
Perhaps the source didn't want to feed the anti-Arab bigotry so visible just beneath the surface of the GOP campaign.
Perhaps the source just wanted the Times to help write an accurate story and didn't want to abet the inevitable character assassination of Obama (and Khalidi) that would follow the release of his video.
But even if the source hadn't put any conditions on the use of his video, I'd like to think the Los Angeles Times would have declined on principle to turn over its source material to ill-motivated political hacks.
The first irony here is that these repellent truth-twisters are accusing the newspaper of being unethical when, in fact, keeping one's promises is a hallmark of ethical behavior.
The second irony, as we read in the Tribune's Swamp, is that:
During the 1990s, while McCain served as chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the group distributed several grants to the Palestinian research center co-founded by Khalidi... [including a 1998] $448,873 grant to Khalidi's Center for Palestine Research and Studies.
And the final irony is that Rashid Khalidi, who now chairs the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia University in New York isn't the terrorist kook in the feverish ragings of the McCain/Palin camp:
Here are a few excerpts from Scott Horton's article on him in Harpers:
Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi's formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush's: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority—calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles.....Khalidi [was never] a spokesman for the PLO, though that was reported in an erroneous column by the New York Times's Tom Friedman in 1982..... The McCain–Khalidi connections are more substantial than the phony Obama–Khalidi connections.
In the 1970s, when Khalidi taught at a university in Beirut, he often spoke to reporters on behalf of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. In the early 1990s, he advised the Palestinian delegation during peace negotiations. Khalidi now occupies a prestigious professorship of Arab studies at Columbia. He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a "war crime" and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi's opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.
One more irony: This same bunch that's howling about openness and disclosure and the public's right to know prior to an election is the some bunch that still won't produce Sarah Palin for a simple, ordinary news conference. Hypocrites? You betcha.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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