White House aide Ben Rhodes does damage control after ridiculing press

Getty Images

Ben Rhodes, the White House aide who led the public push for the Iran nuclear agreement, is defending his handling of the campaign after he was quoted in a New York Times Magazine profile claiming he created an “echo chamber” to sell the deal.

Rhodes was forced to do damage control late Sunday night after he ridiculed members of the Washington press corps as naive and candidly recounted how his operation convinced them to accept a favorable “narrative” about the negotiations with Tehran.

“We believed deeply in the case that we were making: about the effectiveness of the deal, about the value of diplomacy, and about the stakes involved,” he wrote in a post on Medium.

“It wasn’t ‘spin,’ it’s what we believed and continue to believe,” he added, “and the hallmark of the entire campaign was to push out facts.”

The profile, published last Thursday, raised new questions about whether the White House misled the public about the Iran deal, a cornerstone of President Obama’s foreign policy record.

It also cast Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and one of Obama’s closest aides, in an unfavorable light.

The aide, who is 38, dismissed the D.C. press corps as a group of puppets who lack the expertise necessary to cover major foreign policy debates.

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes told the magazine. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo.”

He said the average reporter the White House talks to “is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

The piece suggested that Rhodes and his team took advantage of the new media landscape to push the president’s message.

One major example magazine writer David Samuels cites is the White House’s claim that negotiations with Iran began in 2013, when they started well before then.

“We never made any secret of our interest in pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran,” Rhodes wrote, adding that Obama “campaigned on that position” during his 2008 campaign.

“We pursued several diplomatic efforts with Iran during the president’s first term, and the fact that there were discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012 is something that we confirmed publicly,” he wrote. “However, we did not have any serious prospect of reaching a nuclear deal until after the election of Hasan Rouhani in 2013.”

Rhodes sought to mend ties with the press, writing that media outlets he worked with “vetted that deal as extensively as any other foreign policy initiative of the presidency.”

“There was no shortage of good reporting and analysis — positive, negative, and mixed — about the Iran deal,” he added. “A review of the press from that period will find plenty of tough journalism and scrutiny.”

The piece casts Rhodes as a key player in the completion of the deal, which Congress needed to approve. But he insisted that top U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, deserve the credit.

“Lost in all of this discussion of how we communicated about the deal is the heroic work done by the team of diplomats and experts who designed and negotiated the deal over a period of years,” he wrote.

“My job was to support them, and I believe they demonstrated what diplomacy can accomplish on even the most difficult issues.”

Tags Ernest Moniz John Kerry
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video