Sheherazad Jaafari, a 22 year-old aide to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, will be attending SIPA in the fall, according to the New York Times Media Decoder. Why is the Media Decoder, a blog that primarily covers, well, the media, interested in this story? Because Jaafari may have gotten a little help in getting through the admissions process, courtesy of interview queen (and friend to the Assads) Barbara Walters.
Jaafari, who had previously helped arrange Walters' infamous interview with President Assad, had struck up a friendship with Walters, referring to herself as the TV journalist's "adopted child" in emails obtained by The Telegraph in Britain. When she applied to SIPA, she wrote Walters for help:
I applied for Columbia and I hope to get accepted. If there is any way you think you can give my application a push I would really really appreciate it. You did mention that you know a professor there.
Walters, mistakenly believing that Jaafari had applied to Columbia's journalism school, then wrote to Columbia journalism professor Richard Wald on Jaafari's behalf (disclosure: Wald is the former chair of Spectator's Board of Trustees):
Hi there. This young woman, whose resume is attached, is the dtr of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. She helped arrange my interview with Assad. She is only 21 but had his ear and his confidence. I have recommended her as an intern to your son for Piers Morgan. She is applying to Columbia School of Journalism. She is brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages. Anything you can do to help? And how are you anyway?
Wald wrote back, telling Walters that Jaafari had applied to SIPA, but nonetheless promising to help:
The degree she is applying for is not in the Journalism school but in International Affairs. However, through the Admissions Office network, I will get them to give her special attention. I am sure they will take her.
All else goes well and after I get a haircut, I will be beautiful again.
Jaafari got into SIPA, and presumably Wald got his haircut, so all was right in the world of Barbara Walters' friends...or was it?
The Syrian Expatriates Organization, a group seeking to support "the activists on the ground to help cover the atrocities committed by the regime," has issued a press release urging Columbia to rescind Jaafari's offer of admission. The release reads, in part:
...SEO urges Columbia University to adhere to general ethical principles and rescind admission to Jaafari, who has been aiding the leader of a dictatorial regime that has killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians.
[Correction: an earlier version of this post said Wald was a current member of Spectator's board of trustees.] Check back for updates.