The Conversation

How the White House Reined In Criticism of President Obama at Think Progress

When bloggers at Think Progress became too critical of President Obama's Afghanistan war policy their bosses at the Center for American Progress heard about it from the White House. Shortly thereafter, Think Progress writers were "berated" by supervisors for "creating daylight" between CAP and the White House.

Zaid Jilani worked as a blogger at Think Progress from 2009 until January 2012. In a blog post at his Tumblr site, Jilani explains how a story critical of the President's Afghan withdrawal plan led to a White House backlash:

The post was one of the most successful things I had ever written to that point. It was featured by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and the Congressional Progressive Caucus used it in their briefings to criticize Obama’s plan. I felt great — like I was actually doing the right thing about Afghanistan for once at an institution that had remained quiet or supportive of Obama’s policy there, which in my view was accomplishing little but more bloodshed.

But then phone calls from the White House started pouring in, berating my bosses for being critical of Obama on this policy. Obama’s advisor Ben Rhodes — speaking of a staffer who follows policy set by others for his career path — even made a post on the White House blog more or less attacking my chart by fudging the numbers and including both the Iraq and Afghan troop levels in a single chart to make it seem as if the surge never happened (the marvels of things you can do in Excel!). 

Soon afterwards all of us ThinkProgress national security bloggers were called into a meeting with CAP senior staff and basically berated for opposing the Afghan war and creating daylight between us and Obama...

But what that meeting with CAP senior staff showed me was that they viewed being closer to Obama and aligning with his policy as more important than demonstrating progressive principle, if that meant breaking with Obama.

Jilani goes on to say that he left CAP not long after this incident partly because of "that institution’s fealty to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee." What he does not say is that a tweet in which he used the term "Israel-firsters" made international news in 2012 after it was criticized by another CAP blogger as "anti-Semitic." His last post for Think Progress appears to have been less than a week later.

The broader in which Jilani relays his experience at Think Progress is recent criticism of Russian propaganda outlet RT, a station I have criticized as propaganda since 2010. Jilani argues that many news outlets sometimes feel constrained to play follow the leader and then offers the example above to make his case. I doubt the White House will appreciate the implied comparison between President Putin and President Obama, though it should be said he is not the first to make a comparison between the White House and Russian state media.


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