Inventing new newsroom standardsOctober 29, 2008 9:18 AM EDT ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
The McCain camp is demanding the Los Angeles Times release a video that shows Barack Obama attending a going away party in 2003 for former University of Chicago professor and Obama friend, the semi-controversial Palestinian, Rashid Khalidi.
The issue of the video has suddenly become an all-consuming one online among right-wing bloggers who see it as a game-changer. (i.e. It would show Obama's allegiance with nasty people.)
The Times wrote about the video in April but now the campaign's insists the Times make the video public. That the newspaper is "intentionally suppressing" information.
The request strikes us as odd. Since when do politicians have the right to order news organizations to do anything? It would be one if McCain were sitting on a senate committee and decided to subpoena news executives. But last time we checked candidates can't demand newsrooms "release" anything.
As the Times spokesman told Politico, the newspaper isn't' suppressing the Khalidi story. After all, it was the Times that first reported the story. How can you be hiding a story that you broke?
Still, Politico's Ben Smith was puzzled by the Times' refusal:
L.A. Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan wouldn't discuss the decision not to release the tape in detail.
"When we reported on the tape six months ago, that was our full report," she said, and asked, "Does Politico release unpublished information?"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.
Really? So if next week a politician or a reader demands that Smith release his notes from a story he reported, he would oblige? Or if they demand that he release emails he received from sources, or voice mail messages, or early drafts of a story? All of that "unpublished information" would be released in the name of transparency?
That strikes us as absurd. Since when did the process of reporting a story--since when did journalism--become a completely open process in which journalists had to "release" whatever unpublished materials politicians demanded.
UPDATE: A Times editor Russ Stanton issued this statement:
"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."
Ben Smith agrees that logic is hard to argue with.