The bulk of The New York Times’s coverage of Iran and the nuclear talks is handled by their chief Washington correspondent, David Sanger, who usually collaborates with either one of their foreign affairs reporters or a science reporter named William Broad. On Tuesday they published a piece warning in breathless tones that a new IAEA report shows that Iran has failed to meet its obligations under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action. That’s huge, if true. The only problem is, well, it’s not true. A host of arms control and nuclear talks experts weighed in on the Sanger/Broad piece and pretty conclusively deemed it a lot of fuss about nothing at all (a great example is this piece by Jeffrey Lewis, which sadly didn’t get published in time for me to use it in my piece for LobeLog).
Sanger and Broad interviewed one expert on the Iran negotiations, Richard Nephew, who used to be the lead sanctions expert on the Obama administrations and now works at Columbia University and the Brookings Institution. Unfortunately, they butchered what he told them to extract one phrase that could fit the alarmist narrative of their piece and then discarded the rest, which is, let’s say, not best journalistic practices. My new piece for LobeLog looks at the fallout from their reporting and includes, in a rare feat of actual Journalism coming from me, the results of my own (email) interview with Nephew:
I contacted Nephew by email to ask if he felt misrepresented by Sanger and Broad, and whether he had been in contact with them since the article’s publication. “I did reach out,” he told me, “and Mr. Broad said that they had to do the normal journalistic practice of shortening and tightening to tell a story with brevity and so forth. He was surprised I felt misrepresented. I acknowledged that journalists do need to be able to tell a concise story, but I noted that I did feel misrepresented and asked that they update the piece with my quote in full, as well as with the broader content that I articulated to them. [I’ve received] no response thus far.”
Additionally, Nephew pointed out that when he spoke to Sanger and Broad of “sanctions relief,” it was in reference to Iran’s incentives to reduce its enriched uranium stockpile in order to meet the terms of a comprehensive agreement, not in the context of addressing the current excess uranium issue that was at the crux of the Times piece. That distinction seems to have been lost in Sanger and Broad’s reporting.
There’s much more at LobeLog, including a link to Nephew’s own technical debunking of the Sanger/Broad piece (seriously, their own interviewee has rebutted their reporting in print — this seems like it might be a little embarrassing for the NYT). I also go into some detail about the now well-established pattern of sloppy, alarmist, and downright biased reporting on Iran that has been coming from Sanger and his co-writers for several years now. It’s a long piece, but I wanted to muster as strong a case as possible without completely overtaxing the readers’ patience (which I hope I managed to do on both counts). Please read and share.