Some of the pieces of that New York Times profile of Ben Rhodes are still falling into place. You may recall that one of the groups mentioned in that story as being helpful to the creation of a White House “echo chamber” was the Ploughshares Fund. Friday the Associated Press revealed the Ploughshares Fund made a $100,000 donation to National Public Radio last year for coverage of the Iran deal. The Associated Press reports:
A group the White House recently identified as a key surrogate in selling the Iran nuclear deal gave National Public Radio $100,000 last year to help it report on the pact and related issues, according to the group’s annual report. It also funded reporters and partnerships with other news outlets…
The Ploughshares grant to NPR supported “national security reporting that emphasizes the themes of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and budgets, Iran’s nuclear program, international nuclear security topics and U.S. policy toward nuclear security,” according to Ploughshares’ 2015 annual report, recently published online.
[…]”It’s a valued partnership, without any conditions from Ploughshares on our specific reporting, beyond the broad issues of national and nuclear security, nuclear policy, and nonproliferation,” NPR said in an emailed statement. “As with all support received, we have a rigorous editorial firewall process in place to ensure our coverage is independent and is not influenced by funders or special interests.”
There are no conditions on the money and yet, guess who NPR turned to when reporting on the Iran deal? If you guessed Ploughshares’ president, Joseph Cirincione, you are correct. He appeared on the network twice as the deal was being reached last March. The first story was titled “Nuclear Experts Remain Optimistic About Iranian Negotiations.” Cirincione speaks not about nuclear weapons but about U.S. partisan politics:
KELEMEN: Kimball says some in Congress want a legitimate oversight role to ensure that the deal is strict enough and sanctions aren’t eased to quickly. Some just want to be spoilers, and that worries Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which works to reduce nuclear weapons.
JOE CIRINCIONE: President Obama’s political opponents try to block everything he does. But I think the center of the American security establishment is solidly behind the deal as it’s been outlined.
KELEMEN: And he thinks it’s close.
CIRINCIONE: It looks like all sides have agreed to buy the house, and we’re just negotiating the closing costs.
For some reason, NPR forgot to inform listeners that Cirincione was the head of a group that was funding the very report to which they were listening. The story now has an update at the bottom which reads as follows:
Oops! The second time Cirincione appeared on the network was about a week later. He was the sole guest on a segment of Morning Edition titled “Negotiations Over Iran’s Nuclear Program Come Down To The Wire.” Once again, Cirincione was not asked about details of the nuclear deal but spoke about geopolitics and our distrust for Iran. Here’s a sample:
INSKEEP: So now we have the United States on the edge of reaching this nuclear deal with Iran and the question is, can the United States, to some extent, trust Iran, given this great gulf of distrust? What’s the answer to that, if you favor an agreement?
CIRINCIONE: This is not about trust. This is about reaching an agreement. It was Henry Kissinger who said that some people see negotiations as weakness. I see them, he said, as a tool for establishing our moral and psychological edge. It’s a device for gaining strategic advantage. That’s the way you have to look at these talks. What do we get out of it? These talks are not going to solve all the problems we have with Iran. They are not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. But they may solve the most dangerous. This negotiation could stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and that is good enough.
At least NPR managed to include a disclaimer at the end of this story:
INSKEEP: He’s president of the Ploughshares Fund. And just a note of full disclosure here, the Ploughshares Fund is a supporter of NPR’s coverage of nonproliferation and national security.
Note that both of the NPR disclaimers, the one done last year and the one added last night, are more generic than the information in the Ploughshares Fund annual report (see above). Ploughshares has put out a response to the AP story which reads in part:
It is common practice for foundations to fund media coverage of under-reported stories and perspectives. For some, this might be global health, poverty or the impact of conflict on civilians. For Ploughshares Fund, this means bringing much-needed attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons. Our support of independent media such as NPR and PRI does not influence the editorial content of their coverage in any way, nor would we want it to.
Again, Cirincione appeared on NPR twice without so much as a dissenting voice in sight. Finally, I’ll mention once again that I had my own confrontation with Josheph Cirincione during this debate when I pointed out a claim he had made in print was wrong and misleading. He agreed I had a point, i.e. he was wrong on the facts, but never corrected his story. In my experience, this part of the White House echo-chamber wasn’t as concerned with getting its facts right as it was with supporting the White House deal with Iran.