Politics & Policy

The Los Angeles Times‘s Strange Notion of Journalistic Ethics

Give us the tape … or at least a transcript of Obama's radical shindig.

Journalistic ethics?

When it comes to insulting our collective intelligence, the Obamedia soundtrack of the ongoing campaign breaks new ground on a daily, indeed an hourly, basis. Still, the Los Angeles Times takes the cake.

Change you can believe in is a short hop from fairy tales you can be sold. In that spirit, the Times tells us, we’d really, really love to release the videotape we’re holding of that 2003 Khalidi shindig — the one where Barack Obama joined a motley collection of Israel-bashers, including the former terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, to sing the praises of Rashid Khalidi — former mouthpiece for PLO master-terrorist Yasser Arafat. But alas, our hands are tied by journalistic ethics.

Of course the ever ethical Times would never try to skew election coverage in favor of a candidate it has recently endorsed (after blowing kisses at him for two years). Nor would the newspaper give its readers anything but a complete, accurate, and truthful account of an event like the Khalidi Bash that it deemed worthy enough to cover. You can take that to the bank. But, gosh-darn, it turns out that a “source” the Times won’t name supposedly provided reporter Peter Wallsten with the videotape on the solemn promise that the paper would never let it see the light of day … except to report on it as the Times saw fit.

If you believe that one, I’ve got a tax cut for you.

Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment. Let’s pretend that there is really some sentient being out there who actually leaks a videotape to a reporter wanting and expecting the event depicted to be given news coverage but somehow not wanting or expecting the tape itself to be published. And let’s further pretend that this phantom source who doesn’t want to tape disclosed nevertheless gives the tape to the newspaper rather than keeping control over it himself.

Let’s say we buy that this highly unlikely scenario actually happened. That would still not prevent the Los Angeles Times from putting out a transcript of the Khalidi testimonials and other speechifying.

We know, for example, that Barack Obama spoke for several minutes. Yet the Times has provided us with only the most cursory summary — to be more precise, not a summary but an account. A summary is a synopsis that fairly reflects what was said. Reporter Wallsten, to the contrary, fleetingly tells us only that “Obama adopted a different tone [from rabid anti-Israel speakers] in his comments and called for finding common ground.”

How so? We’re not told. Here’s the entirety of the Times description of Obama’s remarks:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. . . . It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

How very enlightening. What were the topics of the dinner-table talk? What blind spots and biases was Obama referring to? Did anything in his speech provide clues? We have no idea: the Times doesn’t tell us.

Moreover, we also know that several speakers that night sang paeans to Khalidi — who regards the establishment of a Jewish state in “Palestine” as the Nakba (i.e., “The Catastrophe”) and justifies terrorist attacks against Israeli military and government targets. The Times concedes the party was a forum “where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed.” Yet, again, we are given only two blurbs:

[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.”

You know there was a lot more where that came from, spouted by several other speakers whom the Times story fails to name. Why not put out a transcript of what was said and by whom? And if the Times has information about what was in the commemorative book that was prepared for the occasion of Khalidi’s triumphant departure to assume the Edward Said chair at Columbia University, why not put that out too?

Even if you accept for argument’s sake the bunk about honoring the “source’s” supposed wishes, the newspaper wouldn’t need to release the tape in order to give us a more comprehensive account of what happened that evening. So it’s not that the Times is simply withholding the tape. The Times is trying to suppress the story. Not the story as Wallsten spun it back in April. The full story.

The full story couldn’t be more relevant. Barack Obama says he is a staunch supporter of Israel. The importance of the Khalidi festivities isn’t simply that Obama lavished praise on a man who was an Arafat apologist — although that is troubling in itself. What also matters is that many speakers (no doubt including Obama’s good friend Khalidi himself) said extremely provocative things about Israel and American policy.

While that went on, Obama apparently sat there in tacit acceptance, if not approval. He didn’t get up to leave. He wasn’t roused to a defense of his country. He didn’t deliver a spirited condemnation of Islamic terror. He just sat there. And when it came his turn to speak, he spoke … glowingly … about Khalidi. He was clearly comfortable around the agitators and, equally crucial, they were clearly comfortable spewing their bile in front of him — confident that they were certainly not giving offense.

Why would the Times think it’s not newsworthy to tell us in detail what Obama sat through and chose not to refute? He says he supports Israel, but shouldn’t we get a peek at what he actually does when Israel is under attack. After all, he wants to be in charge and soon the attacks may be more than just verbal.

All of that could be made known by the publication of a transcript, without breaching any purported promise to the purported source.

But, the Times sputters, we’ve already done that news story back in April. The material facts have already been publicized thanks to our crack reporting.


Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were at the party. Given the controversy over their extensive relationship with Obama — sitting on boards together, doling out millions of dollars together, lauding each other’s writings, joint appearances at conferences, Obama’s introduction to Chicago politics in the Ayers/Dohrn home, etc. — didn’t the Times think their attendance together at a party for Khalidi was worth reporting?

Given that Obama now preposterously claims he and Ayers barely know each other, didn’t the Times think it was worth mentioning that guest-of-honor Khalidi, a very close friend of Obama, just happens also to be a very close friend of Ayers?


The party was sponsored by the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) — an organization founded by Khalidi and his wife (who also worked for the PLO’s press agency) and lavishly funded by Obama and Ayers when they sat together on the board of the Woods Fund. Did the Times think that was newsworthy?

Again, apparently not. Wallsten’s article does not mention the AAAN’s role in the party. He describes the AAAN “a social service group” which is headed by Khalidi’s wife and was given a $40,000 grant by the Woods Fund when Obama sat on the board. In fact, AAAN is an activist Palestinian organization that regards Israel as illegitimate and supports driver’s licenses and welfare benefits for illegal aliens. Further, it was founded by both Khalidi and his wife, it actually received almost twice as much Woods Fund support as the Times said (i.e., $75,000, not $40,000), and, at the time of those grants, one of Obama’s partners on the board was Bill Ayers.

Besides Obama and Khalidi (about whose speeches the Times tells us precious little), who else spoke at the party? What was said? What was written in the commemorative book prepared for the occasion? The Times doesn’t tell us.

In fact, though the Times’s story runs 2000 words, very little of it is about the party the Times now contends it covered adequately. Most of it is dedicated to probing what Wallsten frames as the alluring mystery of Barack Obama’s position on the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. Is he really a strong Israel supporter? Do anti-Israeli Palestinians really have good reason to regard him as a friend? Would he shift away from the strong U.S. alliance with Israel to a more “even-handed” approach—as one Chicago Palestinian-rights activist claims to have heard Obama say he favored (Obama denies it)?

We don’t know. The Times raises these and other questions, acknowledges that they are vexing, but then withholds from us critical information by which we might draw our own informed conclusions.

The mainstream press, of course, is urging Congress to enact a “shield law,” protecting reporters from government subpoenas. To a former prosecutor, that’s worth noting. You see, in matters of great public importance, prosecutors have ethical obligations, too. One of them says that if you provide an incomplete or misleading version of an event to the public’s courts, and you have information in your file that would clarify the situation, you are duty-bound to disclose that information. That way, the factfinder is equipped to make an intelligent, informed decision about what the truth is.

By contrast, the mainstream media want the right to mislead you, to provide you with a woefully incomplete record, but to deprive you of clarifying information even when it is readily at their disposal. You just have to take their word for what happened, and never you mind the details.

Are you comfortable taking the Obamedia’s word for it? Or do you think you ought to have a look at what Los Angeles Times has unilaterally decided not to show you?

The time for a newspaper to start worrying about journalistic ethics is when it publishes the story, not six months later when, in the stretch run of a crucial election, it gets called on an obviously incomplete report. Ethics, furthermore, are about fair and honest treatment. If the videotape at issue involved John McCain rubbing elbows with radicals or the CIA trying to protect national defense secrets, the Times would publish it and revel in the inevitable Pulitzer for its “courage” in doing so.

Let’s see the tape … or at least a transcript.

National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy chairs the FDD’s Center for Law & Counterterrorism and is the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books 2008).


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