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The Rhodes Profile and the Nuclear Deal

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Fred Kaplan comments on the infamous Ben Rhodes profile:

It struck me as interesting in two ways: first, as a story of a senior staffer who has been hunkered down in a windowless West Wing office for too long; second, as the story of a freelance writer—David Samuels, the author of this piece—who has an ideological agenda to push and who hides it by hyping the importance of the man he’s profiling.

Once you realize that the profile’s author is a longtime, vocal opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran and a past advocate of bombing Iran, many of its weirder elements begin to make a bit more sense. The profile seems to have been a product of the meeting of a writer with a very large axe to grind against the nuclear deal with an Obama adviser so hung up on scoring points against administration critics that he failed to see that he was being used by one of those critics to undermine Obama in a very public way. The profile has since been seized on by inveterate opponents of the nuclear deal to claim vindication, but all that it shows is how tendentious and misleading the deal’s opponents continue to be a year after the agreement was reached. Samuels himself gave the game away by trying to smear specific reporters by name, and they have both responded vigorously to the willful misrepresentation of their work.

Many of Rhodes’ judgments of the foreign policy establishment and at least some journalists are mostly correct. Some have even been borne out by the overwrought reaction to the profile published over the weekend. When he displays contempt for “the Blob” (i.e., the foreign policy establishment), it is hard to fault him on the substance of what he’s saying. It may not be a smart or politic thing for someone in his position to say, but he isn’t wrong in many of the charges he lays against them.

Where Rhodes went wrong was in allowing himself–the supposed shaper of media narratives–to be set up by Samuels, whose presentation of Rhodes’ work in general and the nuclear deal in particular was bound to be unfair and misleading. Samuels flatters Rhodes by making him seem both more mysterious and important than he is, but then uses the opportunity to set off a bomb beneath the administration’s signature policy initiative of the second term to suit his own goals. It is an indictment of the administration’s arrogance or carelessness that they failed to do due diligence on the views of the person writing Rhodes’ profile, which they had to know could be used against them. Nothing could better demonstrate how ineffective Rhodes has been at shaping the way administration policy is perceived in the media than the fact that his own profile in a major paper has been used as a vehicle to attack administration policy. Rhodes fought the Blob, and the Blob won.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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