By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Covering up for both candidates

Why would the Los Angeles Times accept a videotape of Barack Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi under the condition that the paper not actually show it to anyone? Are the editors in the business of reporting news, or do they like collecting stuff for their own personal amusement?

And why would the Times then turn around and report on John McCain’s criticisms without noting that McCain helped funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Khalidi?

I understand that everyone at the LA Times is spending most of their waking hours faxing out their résumés, but this is ridiculous. I guess this is the new definition of even-handed journalism: covering up for both candidates.

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  1. Dot Lane

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between an off the record conversation and providing a videotape with conditions that it not be shown. One presumably accepts and holds such things until a time when the source okays making it public. Or am I missing something?

  2. mike_b1

    Dan, you’re missing the *real* LA story: Joaquin Phoenix is *gasp* retiring! Joaquin Phoenix! Yes, Joaquin Phoenix!

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Dot: Why accept the video in the first place? I’d say “no,” and, if I thought it was newsworthy, try to obtain it through other means so that I could actually use it.Mike: I’m so out of it. Who’s Joaquin Phoenix?

  4. alkali

    I’d say “no,” and, if I thought it was newsworthy, try to obtain it through other means so that I could actually use it.Isn’t that too facile? Couldn’t the same be said in response with respect to any confidential source?

  5. Dot Lane

    I suppose one would accept it so that it doesn’t just disappear into the ether. On the other hand, with video it certainly would be easy enough to make a second tape, plant it with someone, then “discover” the second tape because the news over the first tape “jogged memories”. If you were given the opportunity to hold an audiotape of someone confessing to be Deep Throat under the conditions that you not play it, what would you do? Say thanks but no thanks? Would you ever say to a source “Sorry, but I don’t let people speak off the record?” I think you take it, hope the source changes their mind, and work to find another copy.

  6. Dot Lane

    On the other hand you get the whiny conservative bloggers in a lather, but they already think you’re in the tank anyway so there isn’t any harm in that. I think the demands of conservative bloggers that the LA Times release the tape regardless of the assurances given to the source speaks volumes as to the difference between a journalist and bottom feeding bloggers desperate for attention.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Dot: There have been times when I’ve refused to let someone talk with me off the record. I would hope that every journalist could say the same.I do understand the problem here — the LA Times was allowed to report on the video as long as it wasn’t actually aired.Still, it looks like the editors’ decision is now biting them in the butt.

  8. The Arranger

    Joaquin Phoenix recently starred in “Walk the Line,” a biopic of one of Bob Dylan’s press agents.Bob in Peabody

  9. O-FISH-L

    Dan, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth even more, so the analysis that the LAT is “covering up for both candidates” doesn’t hold.Newt Gingrich has it right. Offer $50,000 for a second copy of the tape and you’d be amazed what you might come up with. Personally, I think it’s worth millions. If this thing breaks over the weekend showing Obama with champagne glass raised in toast to the PLO man, with Bill Ayers by his side, Wow! Either way, the sad part is that Obama is such an unknown and has been so poorly vetted by the media that this information is just coming out now.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: You think what you think, and I rarely bother to challenge you. But this screams out. Let’s assume that Khalidi is as bad as you seem to think, although that’s by no means clear.Do you really believe it’s somehow worse for Obama to have said nice things about him than for McCain to have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to him? Maybe there’s a video of McCain handing him a bag of money and Khalidi stuffing it in his underwear.

  11. Dot Lane

    “Do you really believe it’s somehow worse for Obama to have said nice things about him than for McCain to have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to him?”Let’s have F. Scott Fitzgerald take this one: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

  12. O-FISH-L

    So now that Obama is caught on videotape with Khalidi AND the terrorist Ayers, the old maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words” goes out the window and we’re to believe that a printed story about McCain would be just as damaging? Dan, why did you have Steve Garfield in class again?

  13. Bill H.

    The Obama campaign might disagree, but in retrospect I think it’s too bad that they didn’t come out swinging early in the campaign by highlighting McCain’s association with any number of creeps who have crossed his path–and more–over his years in public life.And here is where the McCain that I once respected has taken a powder. The real John McCain–the one who existed before he had to pander to the extreme right–would have been the first to say that Obama’s tenuous associations to washed up former terrorists and well respected Middle Eastern scholars are irrelevant to this campaign. He sold that part of his character in order to get the support of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, etc. Some maverick!

  14. mike_b1

    O-fish, shouldn’t you be out trying to steal an election, versus agonizing over whether a paper you despise may or may not have in its possession a video that may or may not show Obama at a dinner with an Ivy League professor and Rhodes Scholar?

  15. Dot Lane

    The problem, Mike, is that conservatives are reduced to acting like a compulsive gambler trying to raise funds to make a balloon payment on a mortgage using nothing but dollar scratch tickets. I can hear them: “*This* is the videotape that would change the entire election if that damn liberal media would just release it!” At least this tape is apparently real, unlike the Michelle Obama interview with that fraud news agency which some conservative bloggers await the release of. In some ways the Dan Rather toppling was the worst thing that ever happened to conservative bloggers because they actually believe they have the skills to pull off something like that again.

  16. MeTheSheeple

    It’s interesting this story had so little traction in April. Regardless of the merits, or any lack therein, I find it both amusing and sad that an October surprise comes six months late.I don’t know enough to say who dropped the ball, whether the terms should have been acceptable, whether the McCain campaign lost track of this or were deliberately being quiet, or whether the sky turned bright pink this afternoon. It’s just … odd.

  17. jvwalt

    One of the most despicable aspects of the McCain campaign is its willingness to slime anyone whose sliming is politically expedient. Khalidi is, as Mike said, a respected scholar. He is not a terrorist, and when McCain (with absolutely no evidence) called him a neo-Nazi, he was pulling a page directly out of Joe McCarthy’s playbook. He has done the same with Bill Ayers, who is an education professor at the University of Illinois and a leading education reformer. McCain is dragging these men into the news in a completely irresponsible way, flinging around charges for which he has no evidence, only because he hopes he can get a little traction against Obama. What happened to John McCain, the principled maverick? Was he subsumed by overweening ambition, or was he never really there at all?

  18. mike_b1

    An even bigger question, jvwalt, is why Old Man McCain was so eager to cover up the files on the Vietnam MIA or POWs. Yep, the same man who wears his Navy heart on his sleeve chaired the committee that wrote the bill ("the McCain Bill," no less) that ensured no files would ever see the light of day in his, ours, or our children's lifetimes. talk and transparency? I sure can see how we we got it straight, all right: Straight up the #&$.

  19. Ani

    With Hillary Clinton’s reaction to Obama, I inferred that in her copy of the script Obama’s part was to be a walk-on, not leading man, but with McCain, why is he so irked that he has a viable opponent? What was he expecting? Or is it just that he doesn’t like Obama in particular?

  20. mike_b1

    It can’t help Old Man McCain’s ego to know he’ll go down in history not as an American hero but as the guy who couldn’t beat that black dude.

  21. Ani

    McCain could look on the bright side, Mike, that having people of color in leadership positions reflects a society more accepting of all people of color, including McCain’s youngest child (for whom I’m sure McCain wishes great things).

  22. David

    Dan,It’s interesting how journalists often don’t see the impressions their words can create (which often can be unfairly seen as bias). Not that I believe you are, but….Rashid Khalidi is not rightly called a “Palestinian activist”. He is a respected historian of the Middle East, who specializes in Palestinian history. He is an American, as American as you or me, born in NYC. He has been criticized for being an “activist”, but it’s not at all clear that he deserves it. I hate to lean on Marty Peretz, but here’s his take on Khalidi:”I assume that my Zionist credentials are not in dispute. And I have written more appreciative words about Khalidi than Obama ever uttered. In fact, I even invited Khalidi to speak for a Jewish organization with which I work. Moreover, the Israelis are trying to live cooperatively and in peace with Palestinians whose unrelenting positions make Khalidi almost appear like a Zionist.”

  23. Dan Kennedy

    David: Right you are. I was trying to be as neutral as I could, given that I knew nothing about him. “Activist” seemed reasonably safe.

  24. mike_b1

    “Activist” certainly has become a pejorative, it seems. Perhaps advocate or supporter would suffice.

  25. jvwalt

    Yeah, “activist” is almost as bad as “community organizer.” In the GOP, they like their citizens lazy and disorganized.

  26. Michael Pahre

    Back to the document non-release issue at hand:I think that comparing withholding the tape vs. interviewing a source off-the-record is a bit off-the-mark.A better comparison would be, say, an internal company memo (e.g., providing insight into the company’s executives’ approach to a problem, but not explicitly illegal activity) that you were offered by a source.If the condition of the offer was that you could write about the memo but not release it to the public, I don’t think you would think twice about accepting the offer. No biggy. It’s a private document about a private meeting.The audio-/video-tape issue seems similar, since this was a privately-made tape of a private event. I don’t think considering the offer from the L.A. Times’ source should have raised any alarm bells in their mind. They had the right to write about the content of the tape, just not to release the tape itself publicly. That’s all. Sounds pretty straightforward to me.

  27. O'Rion

    Speaking of “non-release issue(s)”Brian Williams spoke to the medical records promise –“ok fine”– of Palin. For the record I don’t think the public deserves the complete medical history of a candidate and if Palin didn’t turn it over I’d be down with that. But if she says yes she will, then I’d expect her to comply. Failure to do so would lead to reasonable concerns that something may be wrong, or perhaps embarrassing? I do think a candidate for an executive office should have cancer and heart screens. It’s a safe bet that Palin’s stuff whether in full or in part, isn’t going to make it on time. She’s been lying.

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