by Ben Armbruster
National Public Radio isn’t typically known for trafficking in right-wing talking points, but the radio news network more generally favored by Americans of progressive persuasion has been quietly garnering a reputation among Washington insiders for promoting opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known–and letting them air their talking points largely unchallenged.
The latest example came during Wednesday’s Morning Edition when host Rachel Martin interviewed Politico reporter Josh Meyer to discuss his most recent article, which paints an extremely unfavorable picture of President Obama and the work behind the scenes on the Iran deal.
As a bit of background, Meyer wrote a story last April purporting to expose a series of secret “Iran deal concessions” that supposedly amounted to a big “scandal.” But a closer look at that piece revealed thousands of words dedicated to uncovering the boring but sometimes complicated processes of government, and how national security decisions are made.
The thrust of that story centered on current and former Justice Department officials complaining–without proof–that their investigations into nefarious Iranian activities were thwarted by the Obama White House so they–allegedly–wouldn’t undermine the Iran deal negotiations.
The more recent story NPR highlighted this week follows a similar theme: the Obama White House supposedly quashed efforts by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to take down certain elements of the Iranian-backed terror group/Lebanese political party Hezbollah for political reasons, fearing that it would upset the Iranians and derail the nuclear talks.
Indeed, during the Morning Edition segment on Wednesday, Martin allowed Meyer to present this thesis without much pushback. She even provided a handy summary of it for NPR listeners.
“The takeaway from your piece,” Martin said, “seems to be that there were just more trade-offs involved in this deal than the public knew about”–the trade-off in this case being that Obama allegedly saved Hezbollah agents from American prosecution in order to preserve the Iran deal.
But a closer look into this story also reveals significant problems that cast doubt about its overall veracity, including the fact that this so-called Hezbollah “trade-off” is actually based on speculation and is unproven. And when the layers of Meyer’s newest report are peeled away, the story is, again, nothing more than a benign exposé on government policy processes.
To her credit, Martin does note that Meyer’s reporting actually acknowledges this, as it does relay comments from unnamed former Obama officials explaining that typically, one particular agency involved in national security decision-making–in this case, the DEA–is largely focused on its own goals and isn’t necessarily privy to the overall picture of what a particular White House wants to achieve or the strategy of how it will achieve it.
But that’s where NPR’s scrutiny ended.
In fact, since Politico published the story on Sunday, it has received widespread criticism, not only from former Obama officials, but also from other experts with inside knowledge of intelligence gathering and financial and drug crimes prosecution, who said the story has “many, many holes,” calling it “bullshit” and a “disgusting hit job.”
But beyond that, there are some other troubling aspects to Meyer’s piece that NPR (and even Meyer’s interview) could have addressed.
First, the report is largely based on two sources who are employed by the hawkish think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)–two Washington groups that were highly critical of Obama’s Middle East policy, vigorously opposed the Iran nuclear deal, and over the years have called for regime change and/or war with Iran.
Second, the Washington Free Beacon–a vehemently anti-Iran deal, right-wing website that regularly traffics in false claims and conspiracy theories (and also happens to share a major donor with FDD)–had already published this story back in June when one of Meyer’s sources levied these Hezbollah “trade-off” charges during public testimony on Capitol Hill. Why then did NPR and Politico portray this as an original story?
What’s perhaps most troubling is that the Obama administration, both before and after the Iran deal was reached, had actually cracked down pretty hard on Hezbollah, something an Obama spokesperson even pointed out to Meyer. His report even notes that the U.S. Embassy in Prague strongly condemned the Czech government’s decision in February of 2016 to release a Hezbollah operative on the DEA’s radar to Lebanon, and for its refusal to extradite him to the U.S.
This isn’t the first time NPR has hosted a fierce critic of the Iran deal without providing any context about their guests or challenging the falsehoods they tell about it. For example, FDD’s Mark Dubowitz makes regular appearances on NPR programs without any mention of his history of calling for war with Iran and his goal of regime change in Tehran.
Finally, this week’s Politico story and the Morning Edition segment on Wednesday also failed to acknowledge the elephant in the room (at least for Iran deal opponents): the fact that the JCPOA is currently working as it was intended, keeping America and its allies safe by blocking all pathways for Iran to build a nuclear weapon. In fact, the deal is more popular than ever, with experts, our allies, the American public, and even Donald Trump’s own national security team overwhelmingly in support.
Photo: Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and Global Progressive Hub. A version of this article originally appeared as a memo to reporters from Win Without War.