Sen. John McCain today compared the director of Columbia University's Middle East Institute to a "neo-Nazi" and called on the Los Angeles Times to release a video of a 2003 banquet at which Sen. Barack Obama talked about the professor, Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian American scholar and friend of Obama's from Chicago.
"What if there was a tape with John McCain with a neo-Nazi outfit being held by some media outlet?" McCain asked in an interview with a Cuban radio station Wednesday morning. "I think the treatment of the issue would be slightly different."
McCain added another potentially explosive charge Wednesday morning to a growing flap over the release of the tape provided to the LA Times by a source on condition they not publish it, alleging that former 60s radical William Ayers had been at the banquet -- something that has not been reported by the Times.
"We should know about their relationship," McCain said, referring to Ayers. "Including, apparently, information that is held by the Los Angeles Times concerning an event that Mr. Ayers attended with a PLO spokesman. The Los Angeles Times refuses to make that videotape public."
Khalidi has denied having been a spokesman for the PLO.
A spokeswoman for McCain said the senator based his allegation about Ayers on another newspaper article -- a New York Sun report in 2005 that Ayers had been at the same banquet.
The Sun article reported that Ayers had contributed to a commemorative testimonial book honoring Khalidi but did not specify whether that book was signed by dinner attendees or assembled beforehand. "A big farewell dinner was held in their honor by AAAN with a commemorative book filled with testimonials from their friends and political allies. These included the left wing anti-war group Not In My Name, the Electronic Intifada, and the ex-Weatherman domestic terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers," authors Sol Stern and Fred Siegel reported.
McCain has spent weeks trying to make Obama's relationship with Ayers an issue in the campaign, saying that Obama had not been truthful with the American people about how close the two are.
The Los Angeles Times wrote in April about the banquet as part of a broader story examining Obama's relationship with the Palestinian community in Chicago. The paper issued a statement yesterday saying their source asked them not to release the video.
"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 paper quoted Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times, saying. "The Times keeps its promises to sources."
Jamie Gold, the newspaper's readers' representative, said in a statement: "More than six months ago the Los Angeles Times published a detailed account of the events shown on the videotape. The Times is not suppressing anything. Just the opposite -- the L.A. Times brought the matter to light."
But the existence of the video has created a firestorm among conservative bloggers, who allege the newspaper is holding the video back because it contains embarrassing moments that would be damaging for Obama.
And on Tuesday, McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb called for the Times to release the tape.
"A major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi," Goldfarb said. "The election is one week away, and it's unfortunate that the press so obviously favors Barack Obama that this campaign must publicly request that the Los Angeles Times do its job -- make information public."
ABC News reported today that "McCain has his own connection to Khalidi," in that McCain has chaired the International Republican Institute since 1993, which in 1998 and 1999 funded the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, founded by the Palestinian scholar.
In the original story about the dinner, the Times wrote the following:
"It was a celebration of Palestinian culture -- a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.
"A special tribute came from Khalidi's friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi's wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.
"His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases... It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation -- a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world."