When Ben Rhodes gave an interview to The New York Times recently, he probably didn’t expect his statements on the nuclear deal in particular to make waves in the media.
In a profile piece published this month, Rhodes – introduced by the Times as the “Boy Wonder of the Obama White House” – described how, during the nuclear talks with Iran, he had made efforts to keep bad news relating to Iran (such as the capture of the US boats and sailors earlier this year) out of the headlines. But that wasn’t all: he admitted to using the White House’s connections in the press and “across the Twitterverse” in order to create a “digital news microclimate” more favourably inclined to Iran and its regime, even if the policymakers at the helm (including Rhodes himself) were not exactly “betting” on Iranian leaders such as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif being real reformers. The piece credited Roy with orchestrating the “innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal,” which entailed – among other things – driving opponents of the deal “crazy” and creating an “echo chamber” of experts to feed the media information (“spin,” say some).
Soon enough, a media furor erupted over Rhodes’s candid comments on Iran, which elicited widespread shock – with many outlets blasting the “foreign policy guru” and “skilled storyteller” for what they interpreted as “manipulating” the news with the intention of “lying” to, “tricking” and “deceiving” the “gullible public” regarding the deal and the so-called “new political reality” in Iran (while at the same time, some argued, “betraying” embattled Syria).
More in-depth op-eds were not long in coming. Some commentators, such as The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, blasted the “chummy” style of the NYT piece, while others focused in great depth on the wider implications of Rhodes’s new revelations about the nuclear talks.
Iran News Update, for example, focused its analysis on the revelation that the most “meaningful” part of the talks had taken place in 2012 – before the “moderate” Rouhani (who, as Rhodes hinted, is no more “moderate” than any other regime insider, as we and other critics have stated in the past) was even elected. This, wrote INU, would indicate that Rouhani and his so-called “moderation” were not the driving force behind the talks. Rather, it was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who apparently called (and calls) the shots.