Sparks Fly Over Scholar’s Azerbaijani Ties At Columbia University Event

My back-and-forth with Brenda Shaffer - a transcript and audio of which can be found here - generated more media coverage than it did answers on her ties to Azerbaijan's state-backed energy giant, SOCAR. RFE/RL wrote an article what remains one of the more bizarre conversations I've ever had:

Brenda Shaffer, a professor at Israel's University of Haifa, responded to a question about her failure to disclose her links to SOCAR by grilling her interlocutor -- journalist and Columbia graduate student Casey Michel -- about his cholesterol, love life, and finances.

“Part of the American way is a right to privacy,” Shaffer replied. “Like, if I asked you, Casey, 'OK, what’s your wife’s name? What school do you go to? Who funds your scholarship right now? Where do you work? How do you pay your meals? … What’s your cholesterol count?’ There’s nothing to be ashamed of in any of those answers.” ...

Michel replied that he had no problem with the content of her article and repeated that he was interested in a comment on Shaffer’s failure to disclose her affiliation with SOCAR, according to an audio recording of the exchange made available to RFE/RL.

“Like I said, I’m not going to ask you your cholesterol count,” Shaffer said. “I mean, who pays your scholarship, Casey? How do you pay your tuition?”

The moderator of the event then steered the discussion back to the SOCAR-led Southern Gas Corridor, which Azerbaijan is pushing as a key route to lessening Europe’s reliance on Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.