Wall Street Journal sat on knowledge of O’Bagy’s link to Islamists

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

Contrary to claims from its editorial pages editor, a Wall Street Journal editor knew of Elizabeth O’Bagy’s connections to the pro-rebel Syrian Emergency Task Force and took at least three days to publish a clarification.

“We were not aware of Elizabeth O’Bagy’s academic claims or credential when we published her Aug. 31 op-ed, and the op-ed made no reference to them,” editorial pages editor Paul Gigot told Politico in a statement on Sept. 11.

“We also were not aware of her affiliation with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and we published a clarification when we learned of it,” Gigot wrote. “We are investigating the contents of her op-ed to the best of our ability, but to date we have seen no evidence to suggest any information in the piece was false.”

In fact, in an email exchange with The Daily Caller on Sept. 3, Bari Weiss, the page’s associate opinion editor, wrote that the Journal was “aware” of O’Bagy’s affiliations.

On Sept. 2 at 9:15 p.m., this reporter sent Weiss and a colleague an article on the Syrian Emergency Task Force’s pro-Islamist ties with the subject line: “Thought you should see this.”

Weiss did not respond, and this reporter followed up the next day with a message saying I was writing a story about the Syrian Emergency Task Force and O’Bagy’s ties to it.

“I’m asking why she wasn’t identified as working with the Syrian Emergency Task Force,” this reporter asked on Sept. 3 at 4:24 p.m.

“Charles: I am aware. That’s not a secret, and despite your best efforts to find conspiracy around every corner, there is none here,” Weiss responded at 4:29 p.m.

“So why wasn’t it disclosed?” this reporter asked at 4:5o. Weiss did not respond.

Weiss did respond to a subsequent email on Sept. 12 at 10:00 a.m., a week after The Daily Caller revealed O’Bagy’s ties to the pro-rebel group and nine days after Weiss had been made aware of it. (RELATED: Woman informing Kerry, McCain’s opinions on Syria also an advocate for Syrian rebels)

“You are misinterpreting my earlier email. I was not aware of O’Bagy’s affiliation with SETF when we published her op-ed,” Weiss wrote. “Our email exchange was on Sept. 3, four days after the op-ed ran. I was saying I became aware of it after publication.”

Presuming this is true, that still means the Journal only responded to the problem after multiple days, not “when we learned of it,” as Gigot said.

The paper published a “clarification” on O’Bagy’s op-ed on Sept. 6, 2013, the day after TheDC’s first story ran, and three days after Weiss was made aware. Weiss did not reply to a subsequent email I sent saying that I found it “hard to believe” that it took the Journal multiple days before deciding to issue a clarification.

The op-ed initially ran on Aug. 29, 2013.

Other media that had been relying on O’Bagy’s research gave various responses to the news of her ties to the pro-rebel group. Fox News, which had O’Bagy on several times, featured a segment about Syria where it issued a “housekeeping” correction.

NPR and The Washington Post continued to rely on O’Bagy as an expert and did not disclose her ties to the pro-rebel Syrian Emergency Task Force. However, as O’Bagy’s link to the group began to attract more negative attention, her supporters began to drift away. (RELATED: Who funds Syrian rebel advocate O’Bagy and the Syrian Emergency Task Force? You do)

O’Bagy was fired Wednesday by the neoconservative think tank Institute for the Study of War, ostensibly for misrepresenting her academic credentials. (RELATED: Think tank knew about O’Bagy’s Ph.D. question long before firing her)

Kim Kagan, the institute’s founder, insisted that O’Bagy’s termination was not related to her affiliation with the SETF. “I had no problem with her affiliation, I approved it,” Kagan told BuzzFeed.

But when this reporter called the Institute for the Study of War last week, a press person said that the group was not aware of O’Bagy’s dual affiliation. The Institute for the Study of War has still not returned request for comment about whether it has a conflict of interest policy.

When TheDC interviewed O’Bagy last week, she said she had pitched the Journal’s opinion page desk about the story. The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed desk typically does not take pitches, but full articles.

Although O’Bagy’s connection to the Syrian Emergency Task Force has raised conflict-of-interest concerns, the group itself has troubling extremist leanings. SETF’s executive director, Mouaz Moustafa, denounced the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt and was formerly Director of the Libyan Council of North America.

SETF’s board members include Dr. Jihad Qaddour, who is also a trustee of a Muslim Brotherhood front group called the Muslim American Society. Another board member, Bassam Estwani was the imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, which was Al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki’s former mosque and a front for Hamas, according to the Treasury Department. Board member Zaher Sahoul is chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Chicago, an organization with terrorist links which is involved in organizing a boycott of Israel.

Full disclosure: I was both a Robert L. Bartley Fellow and News Corp’s Eric Breindel fellow at the Wall Street Journal in summer 2011.

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