The LA Times reported in April 2008 that Sen. Obama attended a farewell party in 2003 honoring Khalidi. According to the report, Obama gave a speech at the event and spoke warmly of Khalidi. Khalidi was active on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at a time when the PLO was a U.S.-designated terrorist group with a goal of destroying Israel.
Despite reporting on the event, the Times has refused to allow the public to see the videotape on which the report was based. "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," editor Russ Stanton said in a press release. "The Times keeps its promises to sources." Times staffers also refused to provide a transcript of the tape.
In addition to Obama's speech praising Khalidi, the tape allegedly provides evidence that William Ayers attended the event. Obama has faced criticism for his ties to Ayers, who along with others founded the Weather Underground, a group that carried out bombings and jailbreaks in the US in the 1960s and 70s.
The demands that the LA Times release the tape began circulating in conservative weblogs and quickly reached the McCain campaign. “A major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi," said McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb. The refusal to hand over the tape is evidence of a pro-Obama media bias, he said.
McCain criticized the Times in an interview on La Kalle radio, saying, "I guarantee you, if there was a tape with me and Sarah Palin and some neo-Nazi or one of those, you think that that tape wouldn't be made public?” Americans have the right to know about Obama's ties to the PLO and to Ayers, McCain said.
McCain's vice-presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, accused the Times of “kowtowing” – presumably to the Obama campaign. While Obama himself reportedly did not criticize America or Israel during the party, others at the event were critical of both countries, she said. “What we don't know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he now professes to support,” she told Fox News.
Obama's aides attempted to downplay his relationship with Khalidi, saying that Khalidi is not one of Obama's advisers and does not share his political views. Aides accused McCain of focusing on the issue in order to distract the public from financial issues. Obama has been consistent in his support of Israel, aides said.
Khalidi, now a professor in Columbia University in New York, refused to comment on the story or on his friendship with Obama.