The Washington Post's Middle East correspondent, Anthony Shadid, did not receive an award from the Arab American Institute, as originally planned. He did, however, appear on the program of AAI's gala April 25 fund-raiser as a featured speaker.
Washington Post policy, according to Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., "is not to accept awards from advocacy groups of any kind ...." Appearances and talks before such groups are permitted "so long as the speaker is not involved in fund-raising ...."
Nevertheless, Shadid's appearance at AAI's annual "Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity" awards dinner - tickets $200 per person, $2,500 for a table of 10, corporate "underwriting sponsorships" up to $50,000 - "is permissible." As of April 18, Shadid and U.S. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) And Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) were receiving equal billing as "special guest speakers" on the AAI Web site (www.aaiusa.org).
The Arab American Institute, is, among other things, an advocacy organization. In the past year it has, for example:
* Used its annual "Congressional Scorecard" to positively rate senators who did not cosponsor legislation calling for new restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority;;
* Criticized as "unbalanced" a congressional resolution recommending "full support" for Israel's war against Hezbollah because it omitted recommending support for the Lebanese government.; and
* Negatively rated sponsors of bills opposed to the acquisition by Dubai Ports World of a British firm that operates six American ports.
A February 28 posting on AAI's Web site listed Shadid, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for his Iraqi coverage, as slated to receive a "special recognition" award and to speak at the fund-raiser. On March 23, CAMERA wrote to Downie, noting that the institute is an advocacy organization and that some of the policies it promotes relate directly to issues Mr. Shadid covers as a reporter. CAMERA questioned whether receiving an award from the organization suggests agreement between AAI and Mr. Shadid.
Further, CAMERA asked if AAI's planned award to the correspondent, and the institute's promoting his appearance at the event, "imply personal, and perhaps Washington Post corporate, endorsements of donations to the institute? CAMERA noted that it seemed unlikely that "a Post political reporter, for example, would agree to receive, or be permitted to accept an award from a political party, or speak at a political fund raiser."
Downie responded by e-mail in the morning on March 26 that
Anthony Shadid was offered this recognition, but he has declined it. We do not accept awards from advocacy groups of any kind, even though they are often offered to our journalists without their prior knowledge, in which cases they are still declined.
That afternoon, CAMERA asked if Shadid's declining the award also meant that he would "not be a speaker at the AAI event, which seems to be an organizational fund-raiser, even without receiving an award or other recognition?"
I understand he will be speaking. We make Washington Post journalists available to speak at scores, if not hundreds, of community and other group meetings each year, to explain our journalism and answer questions. So long as the speaker is not involved in fund-raising, the appearance is permissible.
The following day, March 27, CAMERA pointed out that AAI's Web site continued to feature Shadid under "Also Honoring" as a "special guest" who would receive "special recognition." CAMERA's e-mail also noted that the institute was featuring Mr. Shadid's participation at this fund-raiser, apparently in the hope and expectation that it will make the event more successful–something that evidently contradicts the Post's "not involved in fund-raising" guideline.
Downie did not reply to this e-mail. However, in response to an April 5 follow-up telephone call by CAMERA, he told an assistant to relay that the matter was closed.
In a March 7, 2004 article headlined "A Note to Our Readers: The Guidelines We Use to Report the News," Downie wrote that "a succession of well-publicized missteps by the news media in recent years ... has understandably shaken public trust in the media." While focusing mainly on the use of anonymous sources, the Post's executive editor asserted that internal guidelines "reflect our commitment to honest dealings with readers and news sources."
If so, attention should be paid to conflicts of interest and appearance of such conflicts. Anthony Shadid, speaking without compensation, to an AAI - or an American Israel Public Affairs Committee - function, updating the latest news from his beat, is one thing. Shadid addressing an AAI fund-raiser, whether receiving an award or not, is something else, something that looks like a conflict of interest according to the Post's own rules.
(Leonard Downie's e-mail's are quoted with his permission.)