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Should the Los Angeles Times Reveal the Khalidi Videotape?

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Fox News thinks it has discovered -- or invented -- the October surprise that will change the outcome of the election in John McCain's favor. It is a dud! They have been devoting hours of television time to publicizing John McCain's demand that the Los Angeles Times release a video purporting to show Barack Obama at an event with a rabidly anti-Israel Palestinian academic named Rashid Khalidi. I admit that I would myself like to see the video. But the LA Times obtained it from a source on the express condition that the video itself not be released. The LA Times did run a story disclosing the contents of the video, presumably with the permission of the source, but they have stated that "the Times keeps its promises to sources."

It is important to remember that without this promise of confidentiality stories like this one might not find their way into the public dialogue. This point illustrates the complexity of the relationship between a newspaper and its sources.

A simplistic view of freedom of speech would favor full and timely disclosure of all relevant information regardless of any promises made to a source. The more complex view of freedom of speech holds that unless newspapers keep their promises (and unless the law allows them to keep their promises) there will be less not more information available to the public. Reasonable people can and do disagree about whether the source privilege furthers or hinders the marketplace of ideas. Most experts agree that the First Amendment empowers newspapers to make decisions about this matter. The LA Times has made its decision, whether one agrees or disagrees with it.

The more important point is that the Obama campaign, to my knowledge, has played no role in the decision made by the Times. Indeed, I believe that Barack Obama would be better off if the videotape were released so that the public could actually see it rather than imagine the worse case scenario that Fox is now pushing. I hope we get to see the videotape before the election, but if we don't we should at least understand the considerations that have led the LA Times to make its decision.