TEL AVIV – The New York Times’ nearly 10,000-word profile of President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is filled with insider details on White House policy and administration strategy.
Here are the seven most surprising tidbits, enumerated in no particular order.
1 – The White House expects “message discipline” from the media.
Writer David Samuels relates Rhodes’ “mild exasperation” when the news media dared to report just before Obama’s State of the Union the major news story that Iran seized 10 American sailors:
Now, from the flat screens, a challenge to that narrative arises: Iran has seized two small boats containing 10 American sailors. Rhodes found out about the Iranian action earlier that morning but was trying to keep it out of the news until after the president’s speech. “They can’t keep a secret for two hours,” Rhodes says, with a tone of mild exasperation at the break in message discipline.
2 – The Times describes Rhodes as “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy,” yet writer Samuels concedes it is “startling” that Rhodes is lacking “conventional real-world experience.”
He is, according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders I talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself…
His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.
Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his “mind meld” with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power.
3 – The Times describes Rhodes as an almost ventriloquist who shapes the news media.
Watching Rhodes work, I remember that he is still, chiefly, a writer, who is using a new set of tools — along with the traditional arts of narrative and spin — to create stories of great consequence on the biggest page imaginable. The narratives he frames, the voices of senior officials, the columnists and reporters whose work he skillfully shapes and ventriloquizes, and even the president’s own speeches and talking points, are the only dots of color in a much larger vision about who Americans are and where we are going that Rhodes and the president have been formulating together over the past seven years.
4 – The Obama administration utilized a narrative that was “often misleading or false” to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the public.
The Orwellian public relations strategy utilized so-called arms-control experts who were spoon fed tidbits that validated White House claims and those materials were in turn disseminated to “hundreds of often-clueless reporters,” the Times reported.
See my separate article here on the matter.
5 – Rhodes himself reveals some of the motivation for the Iran nuclear deal – that the agreement advances Obama’s general academic foreign policy philosophies.
Rhodes related: “We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, ‘AIPAC doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the Israeli government doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the gulf countries don’t like it.’ It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation. So all these threads that the president’s been spinning — and I mean that not in the press sense — for almost a decade, they kind of all converged around Iran.”
6 – The timing of the effort to declassify the contents of redacted sections of the government’s 9-11 report on the eve of Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month may not have been coincidental. The Times does not report anything specific on the matter, but it’s phraseology makes clear the peculiarities of the story and Rhodes’ relationship to his brother, CBS News President David Rhodes. CBS News helped to revive the 9-11 document effort.
Rhodes’s mother and father are not interested in talking about Rhodes. Neither is his older brother, David, who is president of CBS News, an organization that recently revived the effort to declassify the contents of the redacted 28 pages of the Sept. 11 report on the eve of Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, on which Rhodes, as usual, accompanied the president.The brothers are close, but they often go months without seeing each other.
7 – The use of social media to parrot Obama’s agenda.
This is something different from old-fashioned spin, which tended to be an art best practiced in person. In a world where experienced reporters competed for scoops and where carrying water for the White House was a cause for shame, no matter which party was in power, it was much harder to sustain a “narrative” over any serious period of time. Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.