NY Times Magazine Attacks The Obama Administration With Fact-Free Allegations

David Samuels Falsely Attacks President Obama And Ben Rhodes, Fails To Disclose Conflict Of Interest

New York Times Magazine profile of the Obama administration’s push to cement the Iran nuclear deal baselessly claimed that President Obama and a top White House aide, Ben Rhodes, “largely manufactured” a narrative about the deal and “actively” misled the public to win support, despite reports to the contrary. The author, David Samuels, also failed to disclose his past criticism of the Iran deal and advocacy for bombing Iran.

NY Times Magazine Publishes Critical Profile Of Obama Administration’s Push For Iran Deal

David Samuels: Obama And Top Aide Ben Rhodes Led “Innovative Campaign” Of Manipulating Reporters And Pushing Slanted Narratives. The New York Times Magazine’s David Samuels published an in-depth profile of Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, detailing Rhodes’ role in crafting the messaging for -- and leading the campaign to promote -- the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Samuels wrote that Rhodes “is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives” who “skillfully shapes and ventriloquizes” reporters’ work. [The New York Times Magazine5/5/16]

NY Times Magazine Falsely Suggests Obama And Rhode's Distorted The Timeline Of Negotiations To Sell The Deal To The Public 

Samuels: Obama And Rhodes “Largely Manufactured” The Role Iranian President Rouhani’s Election Played In Progressing Negotiations. Samuels claimed Obama and Rhodes “largely manufactured” the idea that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's new government would make negotiating Iran’s nuclear programs easier compared to the previous Iranian administration in order to sell the deal to the public. Samuels alleged that Obama and Rhodes misled the public because they focused on bilateral talks that had resumed after Rouhani’s election, and “actively” omitted the reality that “the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012,” because, as Samuels claimed, “The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration": 

Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal is likely to be a model for how future administrations explain foreign policy to Congress and the public. The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.


In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. [The New York Times Magazine, 5/5/16]

But Reports Show That Negotiations Prior To Rouhani’s Election Were Not Progressing. Though the Obama administration had opened up back-channel communication with the Iranian government in 2011 and began formal talks to pursue Iran’s disarmament in 2013, “‘not much progress was made because the Iran leadership was not really interested,’” according to a former senior government official who spoke to Al-Monitor during the 2013 talks, as reported by U.S. News & World Report. The talks before Rouhani’s election “‘helped provide some basis [for understanding],’” U.S. News quoted the official as saying, but, the official continued, “‘It was clear that while there could be more intensive and candid discussions bilaterally, the real progress wasn't going to be possible’" before the June 2013 Iranian elections. Indeed, “Progress was rapid after Rouhani came into office.” From U.S. News & World Report:

“It was a useful engagement, but not much progress was made because the Iran leadership was not really interested,” a former senior US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor last year of the March 2013 meeting in Oman. “It helped provide some basis [for understanding] … It was clear that while there could be more intensive and candid discussions bilaterally, the real progress wasn't going to be possible” before the June 2013 Iranian elections.

The Oman channel was about seeing if the United States and Iran could reach an understanding on the enrichment issue to advance a nuclear accord, Philip Gordon, the former top Obama White House Middle East official, said.

“I think the basic question in Oman was to explore whether, if the US and others accepted some limited and highly constrained and monitored degree of Iranian enrichment, Iran would address our other concerns to ensure paths to a weapon [are] blocked,” Gordon told Al-Monitor Aug. 10. “And in the end, that's how it turned out.”

Progress was rapid after Rouhani came into office and put Zarif in charge of the nuclear negotiating team. Zarif in turn tapped Iranian Deputy Foreign Ministers Abbas Araghchi and Majid Ravanchi to pursue the bilateral negotiations with the United States. [US News & World Report8/12/15]

Politico Magazine: Negotiations Between Iran And The U.S. Prior To Rouhani’s Election Were “Widely Reported.” Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation that backed the Iran detail, wrote in Politico Magazine that Samuels’ thesis that “Obama was ‘actively misleading’ the public about Iran … falls apart under scrutiny” because “Most of the talks the United States held with Iran under the previous, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were widely reported.” Indeed, an abundance of reports were published before Rouhani’s election showing that Obama sent two letters to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressing interest in pursuing a nuclear deal; U.S. officials met with Iranian officials in 2011 to explore the possibility of off-the-record talks; that a preliminary meeting between Iran and the U.S. was held in 2012; and that a three-day-long meeting between U.S. and Iranian officials was held in March 2013, before Rouhani’s election. [Politico Magazine, 5/9/16Wall Street Journal, 11/7/13Los Angeles Times11/24/13; Al-Monitor, 8/11/15; Al-Monitor, 11/23/13]

NY Times Magazine Claims Rhodes And Obama Administration Used Questionable Experts To Support The Deal

Samuels: “Legions” Of “Freshly Minted Experts Cheerleading For The Deal” Popped Up “At Think Tanks And On Social Media.” Samuels claimed that “In the spring of [2015], legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters” reporting on the deal. He also alleged that there was an “onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal,” but never named any such experts:

Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” [The New York Times Magazine5/5/16]

But Hundreds Of Foreign Policy And National Security Experts, Government Officials, And Faith Leaders Publicly Supported The Deal. Cirincione wrote in Politico Magazine: “During the summer of 2015 alone, when the Iran debate was at its peak, 78 nuclear nonproliferation experts, 60 national security experts, five former ambassadors to Israel, 29 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, 36 retired generals and admirals, over 100 former U.S. ambassadors, over 500 Iranian-Americans, 340 rabbis, 53 Christian leaders and 75 former members of Congress signed letters supporting the historic agreement.” He also wrote that Israeli chief of staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, “Dozens of Israeli military and intelligence leaders,” Arms Control Association director Daryl Kimball, and “131 members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans —” all voiced support for pursuing bilateral talks for disarmament and peace, some of them doing so as far back as 2007 -- a far cry from the “freshly minted experts” Samuels claims helped buoy the deal. [Politico Magazine5/9/16]

NY Times Magazine Didn’t Disclose Author's Opposition To Iran Deal And Support For Bombing Iran 

Samuels Did Not Disclose That He Argued In 2009 For Israel To Bomb Iran. In 2009, Samuels wrote in Slate that “an Israeli attack on Iran makes sense” because it “lines up quite well with Israel's rational interests as a superpower client.” Samuels argued that an “Israeli attack on Iran in the context of Israel's relationship with” the United States seems “likely” and “hardly apocalyptic to expect”:

An attack on Iran might be risky in dozens of ways, but it would certainly do wonders for restoring Israel's capacity for game-changing military action. The idea that Iran can meaningfully retaliate against Israel through conventional means is more myth than fact. Even without using nuclear weapons, Israel has the capacity to flatten the Iranian economy by bombing a few strategic oil refineries, making a meaningful Iranian counterstroke much less likely than it first appears.


Short of an Iranian-hostage-rescue-mission-type debacle in which a small Israeli tactical force crashes in the Iranian desert, or a presidential order from Obama to shoot down Israeli planes on their way to Natanz, any Israeli air raid on Iran is likely to succeed in destroying masses of delicate equipment that the Iranians have spent a decade building at enormous cost in time and treasure. It is hard to believe that Iran could quickly or easily replace what it lost. Whether it resulted in delaying Iran's march toward a nuclear bomb by two years, five years, or somewhere in between, the most important result of an Israeli bombing raid would be to puncture the myth of inevitability that has come to surround the Iranian nuclear project and that has fueled Iran's rise as a regional hegemon. [Slate, 4/9/09]

Samuels Did Not Disclose That He Participated In A 2015 Panel Criticizing The Iran Deal. Samuels was a panelist at an April 24, 2015, event at the Hudson Institute titled “What’s Wrong with the Proposed Nuclear Deal with Iran,” where he said he was “‘startled by the lack of attention and clarity’ in much of what had been reported on the Iran deal, and suggested cutbacks in the media business led to a situation in which the Obama administration’s claims weren’t being as thoroughly vetted as they would’ve been in the past,” according to the Huffington Post:

In recent days, critics of Samuels’ framing of events have seized on video of an April 2015 panel as evidence of his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

At the Hudson Institute event, Samuels described being “startled by the lack of attention and clarity” in much of what had been reported on the Iran deal, and suggested cutbacks in the media business led to a situation in which the Obama administration’s claims weren’t being as thoroughly vetted as they would’ve been in the past.

“What happens to a Democratic society when you decide to do away with the institutions of a free press? Because that is a decision, without knowing it, our country has made.” (sic) he said.

During the panel, Samuels described an apocalyptic scenario of “unchecked nuclear proliferation in a world where the United States has decided that it will no longer enforce the very, very basic structures we put in place after World War II in order to prevent the horror of a world in which many, many states, some of them led by people whose perceptions of reality depart from our own in very significant ways, are armed with weapons whose capacity to kill hundreds of thousands of people and to destroy if used in great numbers the basic functioning of not just individual societies but of large chunks of the global system that feeds and provides basic security to billions of human beings on the planet.”

“This is a terrifying, terrifying prospect,” he said. “And that’s what’s at stake in this deal. And the inability of people to recognize that that is what we are talking about is, in part, tied to the institutional collapse of the structures in which I’ve spent a good deal of my own life working.”

Samuels argued in Slate in 2009 that Israel should bomb Iran before it can develop a nuclear weapon. During the Hudson Institute panel, he said it was wrong to take the possibility of a military strike off the table during negotiations. [Hudson Institute, 4/24/15; Huffington Post, 5/9/16]