Politics, diplomacy and warfare are not for the naïve. So we probably shouldn’t be upset to learn that the Obama administration manipulated the media to tell a narrative about the nuclear negotiations with Iran that was misleading and untrue. But we are upset. And we have a right to be.
The conduct of secret, sensitive diplomacy involving national security issues is nothing new. Indeed, in many cases absolute secrecy is necessary for any number of valid reasons. But secrecy is one thing. Intentionally lying to the public is another. And there is no excuse for the latter. Moreover, the contempt shown by Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, for the press and the electorate in his recent New York Times interview shows a level of chutzpah that is downright offensive.
Americans were told that the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, led to a breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations. Now we learn that wasn’t true. Rhodes disclosed to the Times that even before the Rouhani election, the United States was already dealing with Iran’s more hardline leadership and had reached a framework for a nuclear agreement.
Many Obama supporters and pro-Israel Democrats backed the Iran deal, despite their own misgivings and the vocal opposition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at least in part because they understood that there was a need to show support for Rouhani and Iranian moderates. Rhodes’ disclosure begs the question of whether those supporters might have listened more closely to their misgivings and other concerns had they known the truth.
Then there was the arrogance with which Rhodes described taking advantage of young reporters. “Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns,” he said. “That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.” His team therefore created what he called an “echo chamber,” in which so-called experts did nothing more than parrot the administration’s talking points in interviews.
There’s the sin of “managing” the press and the public. Then there’s the ignominy of bragging about it.
Just why did Rhodes decide to go public? Is the public better off knowing the truth now rather than later? Perhaps. But it sure isn’t a very good feeling to know that we have been misled on such a major issue. And it makes us a bit more suspicious about what we hear from the administration and read in the press.
Rhodes’ response to the fury following the Times article sounded like that of an unassuming team player, and was unrepentant. While telling it like it is may be fashionable this year, misleading the public and holding the people and the press in contempt is not.