Ben Rhodes Isn't a Master Manipulator, the Media Wants to be Manipulated

The mediasphere is boiling after the New York Times ran a piece on Ben Rhodes, Obama's foreign policy guru, a failed writer who openly boasted about manipulating the media. It was full of quotes like this...

Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. 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. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”..

...

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.”

...

For much of the past five weeks, Rhodes has been channeling the president’s consciousness into what was imagined as an optimistic, forward-looking final State of the Union. 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.

Price turns to his computer and begins tapping away at the administration’s well-cultivated network of officials, talking heads, columnists and newspaper reporters, web jockeys and outside advocates who can tweet at critics and tweak their stories backed up by quotations from “senior White House officials” and “spokespeople.” I watch the message bounce from Rhodes’s brain to Price’s keyboard to the three big briefing podiums — the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon — and across the Twitterverse, where it springs to life in dozens of insta-stories, which over the next five hours don formal dress for mainstream outlets.

...

The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”

“I can name them,” I said, ticking off a few names of prominent Washington reporters and columnists who often tweet in sync with White House messaging.

Price laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but — ”

“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.

“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”

The media is predictably outraged. Most of the outrage is directed at David Samuels, the author of the New York Times piece, rather than Ben Rhodes, the guy who was boasting how dumb the media is.

Specific reporters who were namechecked are even more outraged. Laura Rozen retweeted messages of support from Iran propagandists.

Rozen is super furious about a quote from the Rhodes aide who was responsible for running @TheIranDeal twitter feed. "Laura Rozen was my RSS feed," said Tanya Somanader. "She would just find everything and retweet it." Rozen, who says she's never met Somanader, nonetheless claims to know the White House staffer's mind and says Samuels is misreading her statement. "Samuels misunderstands or mischaracterizes what staffer-who I don't know-saying. she said she followed my Twitter feed. he reverses it," tweeted Rozen. Over the weekend, scores of journalists joined Rozen's bizarre hermeneutic exercise in an effort to defend her.

"Laura Rozen (@lrozen ) has been the best & most informative feed on #IranTalks. You rock Laura! Keep going," tweeted Abbas Aslani, "the General Director of World and FP at Tasnim News Agency," a news organization affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

"@abasinfo the writer who slandered me seemingly has contempt for both the negotiations with Iran, the journos who cover them, & who tweet," responded Rozen, sharing thoughts about journalism with a journalist from a propaganda wing of an institution that imprisons, tortures, and murders journalists.

In a particularly pathetic turn, Jeffrey Goldberg claimed that David Samuels has a grudge against him and attacked his wife.

But the real truth of the media is that Ben Rhodes is not some genius media Svengali. He's completely interchangeable. The profile serves his interest by making him sound like a genius manipulator. Which should earn him a nice corporate gig.

Ben Rhodes though is incompetent and sloppy. The Samuels Times profile is proof of that.

What genius manipulator would have brought in a somewhat independent writer to profile him while boasting openly about how dumb reporters are? Like his boss, Ben Rhodes is arrogant and incompetent. And it never mattered.

The media wasn't manipulated by some narrative genius. It would have pushed the Iran deal even if the White House media effort for it had been headed up by a talking chicken. It's hard to sell crack to the average person. It's really easy to sell crack to crackheads. If you're a crackhead, the crack sells itself. Ditto for the media and a left-wing narrative.

Taking out Iran's nuclear program would have been a tough sell. Letting Iran go nuclear? About as easy a sell as it gets.

The outcome here would have been the same if

1. Ben Rhodes had never been born

2. The Iran Deal involved nothing except positive thoughts

3. Obama gave all his speeches defending the Iran deal in Mandarin

In short it didn't matter. The outcome was predetermined. Any Obama policy wins automatic media support. Especially if it aligns with their left-wing politics. Doubly so if it's opposed by Republicans.

The selling of the Iran deal was a circus in which we all pretended that there was an actual debate instead of a backroom arrangement for Obama to back Iran and Republicans to back Boeing.

Ben Rhodes is a hack with family connections who is bad at his job as Obama is at his. But it doesn't matter. If your politics are right, or rather left, the media will follow.

The media is right to be offended by the Samuels piece which implies that Ben Rhodes brilliantly manipulated the media, rather than that the media willingly let him do it. It was consensual all along.

Share