The Corner

Release the Redacted Transcript!

I posted some thoughts on the media’s Palin/Obama paper-trail hypocrisy last Friday. Around the same time, Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft highlighted the continued refusal of the LA Times to release the unseen but nonetheless famous video tape in which Obama toasted Rashid Khalidi at a testimonial dinner likely also addressed by Bill Ayers (h/t Glenn Reynolds). Will we ever get to see that tape, and if so, how best to shake it loose?

I doubt the LA Times will ever release the actual video tape, but I do think there’s a scenario in which a transcript might be produced. Getting there would require assistance from some or all of the GOP candidates for president. Yet I’m less than certain that the prize is worth the effort. Still, this issue is at least worth gaming out, if only because media embarrassment over the Palin emails creates an opening.

If some or all of the Republican candidates for president were to call on the LA Times to release a transcript of the video, the subsequent national debate just might force the paper to act. Although the Times was suspiciously slow to specify that it was withholding the tape because of an agreement with a source, the paper did eventually claim to have given such a promise. In 2008, conservatives like Andy McCarthy here at NRO and even mainstream press fixture Howard Kurtz wondered aloud why a source concerned about release of the tape would have handed it over to be reported on in the first place. Nonetheless, having claimed to be protecting a source, I cannot believe the LA Times will ever release the tape.

Yet the Times has never, to my knowledge, said that their source had forbidden anything other than release of the tape itself. Presumably, the Times was–and still is–free to report in print on the contents of the tape. During campaign 2008, Andy McCarthy called for a transcript, in lieu of the tape itself. At least one paper, Georgia’s Augusta Chronicle, made the same request.

I see no legitimate reason for the Times to withhold a transcript. Ben Smith pointed out during the 2008 controversy that it’s actually quite common for news outlets to provide detailed transcripts of documents they describe to only a limited extent in their stories. If part of the transcript has to be redacted in order to protect the source, then let two observers like, say, Ben Smith and Bernard Goldberg, view the tape under a strict promise of secrecy, to confirm that the transcript is accurate and that the redaction was purely to protect the source.

So long as the Times is pressed to release the full video, it can stand on journalistic principle. But I suspect a more modest call for the release of a transcript would put the paper in the position of having no good reason to refuse. “Release the redacted transcript!” may not have the ring of “Release the tape!” but it might be more effective.

Both John McCain and Sarah Palin made release of the Khalidi tape a significant issue during the final week of the 2008 presidential campaign. Given President Obama’s recent doubling down on his controversial Middle East negotiating strategy, the video is more relevant than ever. Calling for transcripts of the tape could be a feather in the cap of a prospective Republican nominee, this time for a cause more worthy than the one backed earlier by Donald Trump.

Yet the Trump fiasco should give any presidential candidate pause. Having put in a good deal of time tracing down Obama’s paper trail, I know what many others have just now learned from that other fiasco–the Palin email feeding frenzy. Mysterious documents you just “know” are going to be important–or scandalous–often turn out to be neither. Why risk political capital on what could easily turn out to be a dry hole?

As far as I’m concerned, what we already know about Obama’s connections with Khalidi and other Palestinian allies is more than enough to explain where the president is coming from on this issue. And don’t even get me started on Ayers, or Obama’s many other radical pals. The problem isn’t so much what we don’t know about Obama as the media’s refusal to cover what we already do know.

In any case, as far as I can tell, the only likely scenario for getting at the Obama-Khalidi video is a public call for transcripts by a Republican presidential candidate. In theory, conservative bloggers ought to be able to make the same case and get a fair response. Realistically, however, it will take a national Republican to force the LA Times to respond, and again, it’s far from clear that the prize is worth the risk. Are we even certain that the paper still has the tape? (Roger Simon says it’s locked in a safe.)

Don’t get me wrong. Given the fact that Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi were close friends, there is a very real prospect of finding some fascinating material on that tape. We don’t know for certain that Ayers and Dohrn were at the dinner, but they did sign a commemorative booklet associated with the event. Given their closeness to the Khalidis, it’s hard to imagine Ayers and Dohrn missing the affair unless they were out of the country at the time. And there is every chance as well that Obama’s own tribute to Khalidi–which was quoted only very briefly by the LA Times, and with an ellipsis–would also be of great interest. A transcript would hide the expression on Obama’s face as the various guests spoke harshly against Israel, but it’s always been unlikely that the camera would have had Obama in view during those presentations.

Still, despite the very real prospect of a transcript providing us with a fascinating window into Obama’s radical past, “good possibility” is not the same as “certainty.” Given that, I’m not sure I’d recommend that a candidate I was advising take up this issue. Should the LA Times release a transcript anyway? Sure. But don’t hold your breath.


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