Tuesday, July 3, 2012 — Syndicated political columnist Clarence Page, based at the Chicago Tribune, is under fire for giving a speech, having accepted a fee, at a event in France supporting an Iranian group that the U.S. State Department terms a terrorist organization. Page is the 2007 recipient of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. [Links updating this news summary can be found below.]
The news first was reported Monday, July 2, 2012, by ProPublica.org, an “independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” The Tribune confirmed in an article published late Monday that it’s looking into the matter.
The June 23 rally in Paris was to support the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian group that has been lobbying Washington to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, ProPublica reported.
“Before a huge crowd waving portraits of MEK leaders Maryam and Massoud Rajavi as well as Iranian flags, Page called for the MEK to be removed from the official terrorist organization list,” according to the report.
Page told ProPublica he would return the $20,000 speaking fee and would reimburse the travel costs, which had been paid by a group called the Organizing Committee for Convention for Democracy in Iran. ProPublica said Page’s appearance at the event was set up by the agency Speakers Worldwide.
“I thought they were simply a group of Iranian exiles who were opposed to the regime in Tehran,” Page said. “I later found out they can be construed as a MEK front group, and I don’t think it’s worth it to my reputation to be perceived as a paid spokesman for any political cause.”
Also attending the June 23 Paris event, according to ProPublica, were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and former Bush administration official John Bolton. The Tribune added that former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also spoke.
The MEK opposes the current regime in Iran and says it has renounced violence.
Page’s columns are syndicated by Tribune Media Services. He is a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.
The Tribune’s own report said that Page, who is based in Washington, explained the situation to the Tribune’s editorial page editor, Bruce Dold, afterward.
“Beyond the ramifications of a controversial political association, accepting the engagement was a breach of the Tribune’s code of editorial principles,” the newspaper reported. “Although some paid speaking engagements are allowed, all editorial employees need approval before accepting them, Dold said.”
Page said in the Tribune article that he hasn’t sought approval for any paid speaking engagement in the past three years. “He has accepted about seven compensated speaking engagements in the past 18 months. The most he has ever received as a speaker’s fee was about $7,000. Most are also far less controversial — journalism panels, colleges and an upcoming American Bar Association event.”
“We are reviewing all of the circumstances and considering further action,” Gerould Kern, senior vice president and editor of the Tribune, said in his newspaper.
“‘For years I got approval upfront. I just let things lapse, and I am sorry about it,’ Page said. ‘If I had been more diligent, this kind of situation would not have happened.'”
The Page speech issue also has been reported/aggregated at JimRomenesko.com.
(This columnists.com report will be updated as warranted.)
On July 5, 2012, Clarence Page tells Richard Prince’s blog at the Maynard Institute, “My Job Is Safe for Now.”
On July 8, 2012, Clarence Page writes about this in his own column, “My Side of the Scandal.”