The correction never makes up for the “error”

Apart from the news that their deadline has been extended through Friday (at which point it will…be extended again, I would imagine), there’s not a whole lot to say about the Iran talks at the moment. But there is always something to say about how the “no deal” folks are covering the talks, because they always find some new and creative ways to do it. And when I say “creative,” I mean “creative with the truth,” because that’s how these folks have been rolling lately. Inevitably the “creative” part of the story gets corrected somehow, but as in most things the correction never quite makes up for the initial error.

Take this recent case that was highlighted by Media Matters. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes spoke with Jeffrey Goldberg at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and now you’ve either just scored a BINGO! on your natsec wonk card or you’ve checked off the final couple of boxes on my “if you ever see me write this phrase, please take my computer away from me” list. Anyway, Rhodes said that the Obama administration thinks (hopes) that a nuclear deal would lead to political change inside Iran (“we believe that a world in which there is a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iranian behavior than a world in which there is no deal”). But he also made the inarguable, if somewhat hollow, point that any Iran deal has to stand on its own merit for the duration of the deal, or in other words that it can’t be so weak that it depends on such political change for its terms to be effective.

Nobody could possibly dispute this logic, since the Islamic Republic probably ain’t going anywhere in the next decade despite our best hopes. Well, almost nobody could object; enter Very Serious National Security Wonks like the Brookings Institution’s Mike Doran, who will object to anything that anybody from this administration has to say about Iran short of an announcement that the airstrikes have commenced. On Twitter, always the place for high-minded discourse, Doran ignored what Rhodes said about how the deal can’t rely on Iran changing, then did a little artful paraphrase of the rest of his comments:

The paraphrase is a tried and true Twitter joke format, and yes Doran could have made it clearer that he was paraphrasing Rhodes, but that would have been an extraordinarily dumb thing for Rhodes to have actually said. If you were, say, a journalist interested in writing about Rhodes’s interview with Goldberg, instead of relying on a single tweet about that interview, you could, you know, watch the video of the thing yourself to see if those words actually came out of Rhodes’s mouth. These guys were speaking to each other at the Aspen Ideas Festival, not in a parking garage under the Hoover Building, so the whole thing was available on YouTube. As it turns out, actually, Doran linked to the freaking YouTube video in his tweet.

Now enter the “journalists” at, specifically editor Joel Pollak, who elected not to watch the video but to just cite Doran’s tweet as though Rhodes had spoken those exact words: Continue reading

Making the news up as we go along

Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief Gerald F. Seib, twittering about an important piece on one of their blogs today:

Wow. Not going well? That sounds ominous. I’ve seen Robert Einhorn, one of the former advisors in question, speak about the talks recently, and he actually sounded cautiously optimistic about how things were going. Well, let’s see what the blog post says:

Two former top advisors to the Obama administration on Iran are calling for the White House and Congress to increase the threat of using military force against Tehran if talks aimed at curbing its nuclear program fail – or the country’s Islamist government is caught cheating on the terms of an agreement.

This hawkish stance taken by Robert Einhorn and Dennis Ross – both strong proponents of President Barack Obama‘s diplomacy with Iran – underscores the skittishness in Washington and Europe about the prospects for the negotiations losing momentum.

American and Iranian diplomats continue to stake starkly different positions on the end state for Tehran’s nuclear program. The U.S. wants a dismantling of much of Iran’s facilities, while President Hasan Rouhani’s government maintains it will keep them.

Well, Einhorn did recently issue a report where he said that Congress should give the president prior authorization to use force if Iran is caught reneging on its obligations, and Dennis Ross, the other advisor in question, did agree with him, but have either of them actually said they think talks aren’t going well? If you guessed “no,” you’re eligible for our grand prize, a one year subscription to the Wall Street Journal and the secret decoder ring you need to figure out if what they’re telling you is actually true.

As far as I can tell, the “talks aren’t going well” part of Seib’s tweet is completely imagined, and even the actual post’s less provocative tone (Einhorn “underscores the skittishness” here rather than coming right out and saying the talks aren’t going well) is the writer’s interpretation of Einhorn’s report being passed off as authoritative. But I feel very strongly that Seib’s made up extrapolation of the blog’s invented interpretation is going to be treated as received wisdom on the right for a day or so.

If you want to know what Einhorn is actually saying, and not what some WSJ blogger imagines he might be thinking, try instead this Laura Rozen piece from Al-Monitor:

“I think both parties really do have a strong incentive to get it done in six months,” Einhorn said. “I don’t think either party has an incentive to extend it.”

However, he said, while “both sides genuinely want to reach agreement and want to create the perception that agreement is possible…[to] generate momentum, the reality is the substantive positions” are still far apart.

Sounds pretty, I don’t know, cautiously optimistic, for a guy who’s so skittish about the talks collapsing. But I don’t have one of those WSJ decoder rings, so how would I know?