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Roger L. Simon

Why Is the L.A. Times Burying the Obama/Khalidi Tape?

April 21st, 2010 - 6:36 pm

Given the extraordinary sudden turnabout in US policy toward Israel under the Obama Administration, I have become obsessed by the repressed 2003 videotape of Rashid Khalidi and Barack Obama. That tape — or so we are told — is ensconced in a safe at the Los Angeles Times building. In the current situation, its release by the paper is more important and newsworthy than ever.

The Khalidi tape could be of tremendous significance in revealing the provenance of Obama’s views on the Middle East and the degree to which the public was misled on those views during the presidential campaign.

I am writing to solicit the help and ideas of PJ Media readers for seeking the release of the tape to the public. But first a little background, if your memories are as foggy as mine can be.

Rashid Khalidi — a Palestinian-American historian known for his strong pro-Palestinian opinions — is currently the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia and director of that university’s Middle East Institute. After Khalidi received this Columbia appointment in 2003, a farewell dinner party was held in his honor in Chicago. A videotape was made of that party where many good things were said about the Palestinian cause and many bad things about Israel. Then Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama was in attendance, as were, some say, William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

That tape, as Leon DeWinter reminded us, was given at some point by an unknown person to Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times. Wallsten then reported on some of its contents in a brief LAT article of April 10, 2008 titled “Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama.”

Perhaps because it was so attenuated, that article engendered a cry for the release of the full tape. What really happened at the party? What was said? How did Obama react? People wanted to know more details of the Middle East views of the presidential candidate. But the LAT was effectively mum and sequestered the tape in its safe.

In response to a charge of suppression of information by the McCain campaign, the paper’s editor Russ Stanton said:

“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. The Times keeps its promises to sources.”

Was this an oral promise made by the paper or by the reporter? Or was there a written agreement, as would be more proper and normal in such circumstances? The Times has not told us, nor have they produced a written agreement of any sort, even without the source’s name. We don’t know either whether a transcription is proscribed.

They have told us almost nothing. We have to take this all on faith, just as we do this risible comment by the paper’s ‘readers’ representative’ Jamie Gold, quoted in the same article with Stanton:

“More than 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.”

Detailed? Brought the matter to light? I am tempted to use the tired Internet acronym ROFLOL. But let’s examine Wellsten’s original article instead. It begins:

It was a celebration of Palestinian culture — a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.

A special tribute came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

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.”

And? Well, that’s about it. Wellsten doesn’t tell us much more from the videotape or the party other than:

“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.”

That’s it. No word of the details of how Obama reacted or what he really said, other than the short quote above.

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