I Can’t Defend the L.A. Times’s Utter Failure to Release Any More Information About the Khalidi Tape
I have defended the L.A. Times on the Khalidi tape controversy, saying that if they made a promise to a source not to release the tape, they need to honor that promise.
The paper brought suspicion down on itself by failing initially to cite the promise to the source as the justification for refusing to release the tape. But I don’t believe they’re lying about it.
However, I’m at a loss as to why editors can’t take simple steps that (as far as we know) are not precluded by the promise to the source. They could:
- Prepare and release a transcript.
- Go back to the source and ask permission to release the tape now.
- View the tape again to see if Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were present (as has been rumored) — and if they were, publish a story setting forth the details of their interaction, if any, with Senator Obama.
- View the tape again to see whether Senator Obama is shown on tape during any of the more controversial statements — and if he was, describe his reaction.
Promises to withhold source material, while they may be necessary for a story, should be disfavored. If they’re given, editors should give them the narrowest possible reasonable interpretation.
Instead, editors seem determined to construe their promises more broadly than even their source contemplated. They haven’t said they promised not to release a transcript, for example. So why haven’t they?
They may be concerned about taking actions that could be construed as a waiver of privilege. But it shouldn’t violate privilege to release information they didn’t promise not to release. And phantom future arguments about possible waiver of privilege shouldn’t trump the need to disseminate information relevant to a presidential race just before an election.