Donaldson: L.A. Times Should Protect Source on Obama Video

The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of his latest essay.

The McCain campaign is demanding that the Los Angeles Times release a videotape it possesses of Sen. Barack Obama attending (and speaking) at a dinner for Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American activist, many years ago when Obama was in the Illinois State Senate. Also at the dinner was the Weatherman co-founder William Ayers.

The Los Angeles Times is refusing to release the tape. Let's talk about it.

Last April, when the times obtained the tape it wrote a long story about the event. It quoted Khalidi and others who spoke as saying things that would surely upset many Jewish Americans, and while the story emphasized that Obama made no such similar statements, it quoted him as saying that his many talks with Khalidi 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 ... that is necessary ... [around] ... this entire world."

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The McCain camp says the tape should be shown to see precisely what everyone said and how Obama reacted to what was said.

The GOP campaign has a point. For instance, if a candidate should be talking informally with supporters and one of them tells an inappropriate joke -- did the candidate laugh heartily, or did the candidate grimace in disgust? It makes a difference.

So, why won't the Los Angeles Times release the tape? Because it says it obtained it on condition that it wouldn't. The Times points out that it was the news organization that brought the matter to public attention in the first place by doing a full story. And as far as its agreement not to release the tape, the paper says, "the Times keeps its promises to sources."

I think the Times is right. Of course, it might have been better if the paper had simply looked at the tape and written its story -- and not taken possession -- but that's water under the bridge, and in our business, the news business, if we don't keep our word to sources we'd be out of business in being able to bring the public information it needs and wants.

My guess is that if everyone saw the tape -- and it's just a guess -- it wouldn't change a single vote at this point. But this incident is another example of the difficult interplay among candidates, the news business and the public. There is almost never a right course that pleases all parties and sometimes, perhaps unfortunately, "fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder."

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from 1977-1989 and from January 1998 to August 1999, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show called "Politics Live."

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