NEW YORK — A Wall Street Journal op-ed cited this week by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has drawn scrutiny for not disclosing writer Elizabeth O’Bagy’s ties to a Syrian rebel advocacy group.
On Thursday, The Daily Caller examined O’Bagy’s role as political director for the Syria Emergency Task Force, a group that has lobbied the White House and Congress to support the rebels. O’Bagy told The Daily Caller that she is not a salaried employee, but serves as a paid contractor.
Journalist Laura Rozen questioned Friday why the Journal op-ed — which was published a week ago online and in Saturday’s print edition — did not identify O’Bagy’s affiliation with the group.
The Huffington Post contacted the Journal on Friday and was told the paper would not comment on op-ed’s lack of disclosure. But shortly thereafter, a clarification was added to the piece: “In addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O’Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.”
O’Bagy, a senior analyst for the Institute for the Study of War who has traveled extensively with rebel forces, wrote in the op-ed that “contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards.”
Both Kerry and McCain noted O’Bagy’s findings in addressing Congress’ concerns over whether the Syrian rebels can be trusted.
McCain read part of O’Bagy’s piece out loud during a Tuesday Senate hearing and asked Kerry if he agreed with the writer’s findings. Kerry said he mostly did. “The fundamentals of Syria are secular and will stay that way,” he told McCain. The following day, Kerry said it was a “very interesting article” and suggested members of Congress read it. (Reuters later challenged Kerry’s assertions about the opposition).
McCain and Kerry each mentioned O’Bagy’s role with the Institute for the Study of War, a non-partisan think tank, in citing the column, but not her connection to the Syria support group.
O’Bagy’s experience on the ground makes her an obvious choice for editors to look to during the Syria debate. However, it’s customary for news organization to disclose relevant affiliations when they publish op-eds, especially when writers have advocated on behalf of one side of a conflict.
When The Atlantic published an op-ed co-written by O’Bagy in June, “Why Arming the Rebels Isn’t Enough,” the magazine noted both her ties to the Institute for the Study of War and Syrian Emergency Task Force.