As a conservative fed up with how so-called “mainstream” reporters and national security experts have been in the tank for President Obama’s disastrous foreign policy but relentlessly attacked President George W. Bush’s, I’ve been experiencing a bit of schadenfreude as I watched some of these journalists and experts squirm after David Samuels’ New York Times profile of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
I also was very pleased that Samuels exposed the extreme partisanship of a liberal journalist who falsely accused me in 2005 of being the source in the Valerie Plame scandal.
Rhodes confirmed to Samuels what most Americans already believed: that the Obama administration misled them to sell the nuclear agreement with Iran. Rhodes also bragged to Samuels about how he manipulated the news media into publishing stories supporting the White House on its nuclear diplomacy with Iran by relying on “legions of arms control experts [who] began popping up at think tanks and on social media” and became “sources for hundreds of clue-less reporters.”
According to Rhodes, this crop of newly-minted experts cheer-led for the nuclear deal and “were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
Arms control expert Joe Cirincione, whose Ploughshares Fund was cited by Rhodes as one of these arms control groups, rushed out a Politico article on Monday in which he insisted he had not been misled by Rhodes about the Iran deal and defended the agreement by citing letters signed by Americans who support it.
Probably reflecting new talking points from Rhodes, Cirincione failed to mention that 840 U.S. rabbis, over 200 U.S. generals and admirals, and 56 leading US nuclear weapons, arms control and intelligence experts signed other letters opposing the Iran nuclear agreement. Cirincione also omitted that a majority of Congress voted against the Iran deal and that when Congress voted on it last September, the American people opposed the agreement by a 2-1 margin and 64% believed President Obama and Secretary Kerry had misled the public about the deal.
I agree with Cirincione’s claim that he wasn’t deceived by the Iran deal – given his background, I am confident Cirincione fully understood how weak this agreement would be but supported it anyway because he shares President Obama’s radical views on conceding a nuclear weapons capability to Iran as part of a strategy to improve Iranian behavior and U.S.-Iran relations.
Based on Iran’s ballistic missile tests, continued sponsorship of terrorism, intervention in Syria and Yemen, and its recent threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to U.S. shipping, it is obvious this strategy has been a dismal failure.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The Atlantic, also was named by Rhodes as one of the journalists he used to “retail the administration’s narrative” for a nuclear agreement with Iran. In a May 9 Atlantic rebuttal to the Samuels story, Goldberg disputed this and claimed he was “not been an overly enthusiastic advocate of the Iran deal.”
However, because of two massive articles Goldberg wrote based on lengthy interviews he did with President Obama in 2016 and Secretary Clinton in 2014, I find it hard to take his complaints about the Samuels piece seriously. This administration has a track record of rarely doing interviews with objective journalists. It is therefore no accident Goldberg snagged major interviews with both Obama and Clinton.
For me, Samuels’ biggest bombshell was when he singled out arms control expert and Al-Monitor journalist Laura Rozen as being such a reliable shill for the administration’s line on the Iran talks that an NSC official told him: “Laura Rozen was my RSS feed. She would just find everything and retweet it.”
In a May 10 Weekly Standard article on the Rhodes profile, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith noted that Rozen’s employer, Al-Monitor, “is a news organization owned by a Syrian-American businessman who supports Bashar al-Assad” and “is the only U.S.-based media organization that has a pro-Hezbollah correspondent reporting from the Hezbollah front lines in Syria.”
In response to the Rhodes profile, the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington, DC arms control think tank that was very critical of the Bush administration’s Iran policy, posted a tweet on May 7 saying that it tried to warn Rozen, ACA (the Arms Control Association), and the Ploughshares Fund that Obama administration officials were overselling the nuclear deal to them and they should be more critical.
However, like Cirincione, I believe Rozen deliberately published White House talking points on the Iran deal that she knew were false. For example, in July 2015, Rozen repeated the administration’s line putting much of the blame for Iran’s nuclear program on the Bush administration when she wrote:
Iran’s nuclear program had grown from fewer than 200 centrifuges in 2003 to thousands of centrifuges during the decade in which the international community demanded it entirely halt domestic uranium enrichment.
As someone who had been writing on nuclear issues for at least ten years, Rozen knew this was extremely misleading because most of the increases in Iran’s nuclear program took place after Barack Obama became president. Although Iran barely had enough enriched uranium to make even one nuclear weapon in January 2009, it had enough, according to President Obama, to make up to 10 weapons by July 2015. The number of Iran’s uranium centrifuges used to enrich uranium also soared from about 5,000 in January 2009 to 19,000 in November 2013.
I took special pleasure seeing Rozen singled out in Samuels’ article not just because I believe she knowingly promoted the Obama administration’s false case for the Iran deal but because of false and defamatory stories she wrote about Ambassador John Bolton and myself during the Bush administration.
Rozen wrote a series of stories smearing John Bolton when he was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. I was Bolton’s chief of staff when he held his previous job as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and was also attacked in Rozen’s pieces on the Bolton nomination.
It was clear at the time these false stories originated from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic members and staff and, just like Ben Rhodes would do in the Obama administration, these stories were fed to sycophantic journalists like Rozen who eagerly published them verbatim.
After Bolton was given a recess appointment as UN ambassador, Rozen in the fall of 2005 was one of several liberal journalists and bloggers who tried to drag me into the Valerie Plame scandal by falsely accusing me of being the source for Robert Novak’s July 14, 2003 Washington Post column which leaked Plame’s covert CIA employment. Several reputable journalists, including NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, were aware of this allegation but refused to put it on the air because they thought it was completely groundless. (I remain grateful to Mitchell for her professionalism in this matter.) We now know Novak’s source was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
In the aftermath of the Samuels profile of Rhodes, Laura Rozen had her media friends post tweets praising Rozen for her reliability and honesty as a journalist. Aaron David Miller, Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center who served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, said in a May 7 tweet: “Laura and I don’t agree on Iran deal. But she’s an incredibly hard working reporter. WH not Laura was arrogant/dishonest.”
Given her record of partisan journalism, shilling for Democrats and smearing conservatives, I take a different view. Maybe Mr. Miller will too after he reads this article.
Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy. He followed the Iranian nuclear issue for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee during his 25-year government career. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.