Hillary's Middle East crisis

The New York Daily News breaks a big story about controversial Arab donations to Clinton that everyone -- including the Daily News -- later gets wrong.

By Eric Boehlert

Published November 3, 2000 1:09AM (EST)

No doubt Hillary Clinton's election camp expected the conservative New York Post to do everything it could to throw her off stride in the final days of New York Senate race. And it has. But the New York Daily News?

In an odd twist, it's the Democratic-friendly News that has thrown a wrench into the race with some inflammatory stories about questionable Clinton donations from the American Muslim Alliance. It could be one reason why polls show the race tightening, as her opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio, pounced on the disclosure, calling the donations "blood money" and insisting the episode calls into question Clinton's commitment to Israel.

Adding to the confusion, though, is the fact that the Daily News seems to be having a hard time keeping the facts straight.

The Daily News first broke the story on Oct. 25 when it reported that the American Muslim Alliance sponsored a June fundraiser in Boston that netted Clinton $50,000.

The problem? According to the story's opening paragraph, the group's "leader backs the Palestinians' right to use 'armed force' against Israel." Although readers are not told, that language is lifted from a 1976 United Nations General Assembly resolution regarding self-determination. As a whole though, the group supports the Palestinian cause through peaceful means and opposes terrorism. Regardless, in New York politics, where Jewish support is crucial for Democratic candidates, the story was sure to cause trouble.

Clinton quickly announced she was returning the $50,000, with her spokesman explaining that the campaign thought a Boston businessman, Shahid Ahmed Khan, had hosted the fundraiser, not the American Muslim Alliance. (A rep for the group told the Daily News it had taken over sponsorship of the event "about one week" before it took place.)

The other piece of the Oct. 25 story was that a separate $1,000 donation had been made to Clinton by Abudrahman Alamoudi, a vocal supporter of the Middle East terrorist group Hamas. That donation was also returned by Clinton. (Another $1,000 donation by Alamoudi was also returned -- by the George W. Bush campaign.)

With Republicans taking the lead, the $50,000 donation from the American Muslim Alliance, which opposes terrorism, and the $1,000 donation from Alamoudi, who supports terrorism, morphed into one. The state GOP began running phone calls to voters telling them Clinton had accepted money from a group that "openly brags about its support for a Mideast terrorism group, the same kind of terrorism that killed our sailors" on the USS Cole.

As the New York Observer pointed out, Daily News columnist Michael Kramer soon made the same mistake, writing on Sunday: "Hillary's in trouble with the Jews -- again. This time it's because she accepted $50,000 from a group of American Muslims sympathetic to Hamas, the anti-Israel terrorist organization." Asked about the inconsistency, Kramer told Salon, "If you say I got it wrong, then I got it wrong."

Then came the Daily News' lukewarm and muddled endorsement of Clinton for Senate on Wednesday. Written by acting editorial page editor Brian Kates, the editorial notes, "As The News revealed, she accepted $50,000 from members of an American Muslim group sympathetic to anti-Israel terrorists." Yet in that same paper's news pages, Daily News reporters pointed out that Lazio had gone on national television and "mischaracterized the First Lady's links to the controversial Muslim groups" when he insisted "she took $50,000 from the American Muslim Council, 'from people who support terrorism.'" As Daily News reporters pointed out, "the American Muslim Alliance ... and its leader say they oppose terrorism." (Kates could not be reached to discuss the discrepancy.)

Appearing last week on MSNBC, Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman criticized Clinton's handling of the story, stressing, "This is not something that was done deliberately to try and embarrass her. It is not something that she can blame the press on."

She can, though, when the Daily News can't get the story right.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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