At the end of September, I speculated that the long anticipated October Surprise might be a surprise announcement from Sen. McCain that he would only serve one term in office. Other bloggers obsessed over a non-existent “whitey” tape or about the possibility of a foreign policy move by the Bush administration or by one of our adversaries.
Today, the foundering McCain campaign may have played it’s final card.
In what may be one final attempt to break open this race, the McCain campaign is demanding that the LA Times release a video tape of a 2003 going-away party former University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi. The party was attended by then-Illinois state Senator Barack Obama. The LA Times reported on the party back in April, in the context of a larger story about the perception among some Palestinian groups that Barack Obama would be more sympathetic the Palestinian cause than Senators Clinton or McCain. After running the story, the LA Times did not release the tape of the party, where two other guests reportedly made unsettling comments about Middle Eastern politics:
At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, 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.”
Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground. But his presence at such events, as he worked to build a political base in Chicago, has led some Palestinian leaders to believe that he might deal differently with the Middle East than either of his opponents for the White House.
So far, the story is running largely in the conservative press–Fox News, the National Review, Newsmax, and others. The only mainstream journalist who’s covered the story is Ben Smith at Politico. Ben contacted the LA Times for a comment on his post and the spokesperson said that it was common for the media to not release such videos and asked, “Does Politico release unpublished information?”
The answer to that question is yes – Politico and most news outlets constantly make available videos and documents, after describing them in part, which is why the Times’ decision not to release the video is puzzling. My instinct, and many reporters’, is to share as much source material as possible.
Critics have suggested that the Times is witholding [sic] the video for political reasons, but there are other possibilities: competitive reasons, or simply out of tradition. In the mechanics of reporting, there’s another possibility as well. The video may have been given to the paper on the condition it not be released, or releasing it could compromise its source.
But the Times hasn’t explained the move, and the McCain campaign is turning up the heat on a story that, whether or not the tape is released, is a reminder that some of Obama’s Hyde Park friends stand well to the left of his stated positions.
There is no way to know why the LA Times hasn’t released the tape. I’m more suspicious of the McCain campaign’s timing of it’s protests–remember that the story was written in April–than I am of the LA Times holding back the tape. As Ben Smith noted, there may be legitimate reasons for their decision. I don’t think that this is the October Surprise that the GOP has been praying for, but be prepared for an onslaught of “Obama is a terrorist” and “the liberal media elite is protecting their favored candidate.” McCain has decided to end his campaign of smears and misinformation with one final desperate Hail Mary.
[Updated at 8:37pm by Psychodrew]
As it turns out, McCain has deeper ties to Rashid Khalidi than Barack Obama. From the Huffington Post:
During the 1990s, while he served as chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), McCain distributed several grants to the Palestinian research center co-founded by Khalidi, including one worth half a million dollars.
A 1998 tax filing for the McCain-led group shows a $448,873 grant to Khalidi’s Center for Palestine Research and Studies for work in the West Bank. (See grant number 5180, “West Bank: CPRS” on page 14 of this PDF.)
The relationship extends back as far as 1993, when John McCain joined IRI as chairman in January. Foreign Affairs noted in September of that year that IRI had helped fund several extensive studies in Palestine run by Khalidi’s group, including over 30 public opinion polls and a study of “sociopolitical attitudes.”
Thanks to Brit for finding this information!