Michael Rubin’s Bogus Attack on Tehran Bureau, Right Web, and Us

and Ali Gharib

AEI scholar Michael Rubin recently took to the blog of the neoconservative flagship Commentary and attacked Tehran Bureau, an excellent resource on all things Iran, for linking to what he called “fake biographies of conservatives,” which, he suggested, warranted a Congressional investigation. His reference was to profiles on the website Right Web (RW), a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive DC think tank.

If Right Web sounds familiar to our readers, that’s because we often link to RW profiles. In fact, though he never mentioned it, the two Tehran Bureau articles with RW links Rubin mentioned were written by us (one by Ali on his own; the other co-authored). We’ve also both contributed to RW’s illuminating features section (that’s called disclosure, kids). Needless to say, we think RW is a useful website and a valuable resource.

Rubin, obviously, does not share our view. In his post, he wrote:

Someone at [PBS’s] Frontline website has been substituting fake biographies of conservatives written by an organization called Right Web for legitimate institutional biographies.

That someone, of course, is us. Rubin‘s feigned ignorance of our work is comical. He’s raised his objections of our coverage in person before at an AEI event, asserting to Ali that he was not an “Iran hawk,” and, while researching an article last November, Ali e-mailed Rubin with an interview request to which he replied:

Ali, the more you link to Right Web, the less you have credibility as a journalist.  I’ll pass.

Rubin appears to have been waging a private jihad against RW for some time. In his initial Commentary post, Rubin cited a 2009 correspondence with RW’s director, Michael Flynn (Rubin refers to him as the “editor”). The actual correspondence, which RW reprinted on its website, demonstrates that Rubin mischaracterized Flynn’s response to an inquiry. (The e-mails contained this lovely rebuttal to Rubin‘s objection to being called an ‘Iran hawk’: “In our humble opinion, suggesting assassinating a country’s leader is tantamount to attacking that country.”)

RW rightly called Rubin‘s attacks “smears” against the website. The profiles are all fully sourced and based on publicly available news clips. And they were hardly “substitut(ed)” for “legitimate institutional biographies.” In a letter to the editors of Commentary (which Flynn reproduced in an article on Right Web after Commentary failed to respond to his queries), Flynn wrote that RW profiles

do not attempt to be comprehensive, nor do they try to mislead readers into thinking that they are somehow “official” biographies. At the top of each profile we state, “Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.”

Again, that statement is at the top of every single RW profile.

A few days after Rubin‘s attack, Tehran Bureau appended an editor’s note to the two pieces Rubin mentioned. Part of the note read:

After reviewing the matter, we find that the biographies on the Right Web site are not at all fake or fabricated, and seem to be well-sourced.

Rubin, predictably, threw a hissy fit in a second Commentary post:

That the editors at PBS Frontline are unable to differentiate between assertions of opinion on hard-left blogs and fact-checked news sources suggests an unfortunate lack of judgment and professionalism and an organization undeserving of tax-payer subsidy.

By way of an example, Rubin attempts to deconstruct the RW page for the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a short-lived and controversial outfit in George W. Bush’s Defense Department that was widely criticized as a nexus of neoconservative ideologues who selectively spread intelligence to the White House and the press in order to build a case for war against Iraq.

Rubin attacks the integrity of Robert Dreyfuss, a veteran national-security reporter for the The Nation whose work is cited in the RW profile of OSP. Rubin, as he always does, dredged up Dreyfuss’ past work for controversial conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine. That bit is true, but Dreyfuss long, long ago disassociated himself from the LaRouchie scene, and has since distinguished himself as an excellent reporter on U.S. foreign policy.

Rubin goes on to attack a retired air force officer and whistle blower; impugns the credibility of legendary investigative reporter Sy Hersh (because of one admittedly bizarre speech); and cites a Pentagon Inspector General report that he claims exonerated OSP and officials involved therein. The IG report actually states that the OSP was not directly involved in the intel scandals that provoked the investigation, but rather had become a generic term to refer to the work of the Office of the then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, led by Douglas Feith, whose intel work the IG characterized as “inappropriate” and misleading. Rubin, of course, does not mention these rather important and relevant findings, which are, however, mentioned in Feith’s RW profile).

Rubin criticizes our piece in Tehran Bureau for asserting that Pentagon analyst Harold Rhode “worked in the” OSP, an assertion we actually never made. We wrote that he had been “involved with” OSP’s work, as has been widely reported and as one would expect given his very close and long-standing ties with Richard Perle who helped Feith get his job. (Feith’s son, David, currently an assistant editorial features editor at — surprise! — the Wall Street Journal, helped Perle and David Frum research their 2003 neo-conservative classic, An End to Evil when he was still in high school, according to the book’s acknowledgments.

Does it sound like Rubin is doing more than looking out for the integrity of news sources that receive federal assistance? It should: He’s actually defending his career. What Rubin omits, and as his actual institutional biography and RW page demonstrate, is that he in fact worked in the Defense Department at the time. He was closely associated with other ideological neoconservatives involved with OSP who have been blamed for misleading Americans on the Iraqi threat (WMD’s and Al Qaeda ties) and worked as a political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority. The latter was the U.S. occupation government in the early days of Iraq, at the time when the U.S. mismanaged the situation there and missed — or selectively didn’t report to the U.S. public — the rising signs of the deadly impending sectarian violence and eventual civil war. With a track record like that, perhaps one can’t blame Rubin for highly selective disclosure (‘Heckuva job, Rubin‘).

Lastly, Rubin takes a shot at RW director Michael Flynn’s CV:

Let’s hope that the editors of PBS Frontline never fact-check the editor of Right Web’s claim that he has published in the Washington Post because neither LEXIS-NEXIS nor WashingtonPost.com seem to have any record of any such article.

That’s funny: We’re not even ‘scholars’ at any institution (let alone under the tutelage of Danielle Pletka), and yet, through cunning research skills, we were able to quickly search the Post‘s website and turned up an abstract of Flynn’s 2005 article. (If Rubin wants to read the whole thing without paying, he can find a copy here — or get a new research assistant.)

Not only did Michael Rubin’s government service coincide with the run-up to and botched execution of the Iraq occupation, and not only does his research acumen leave something to be desired, but he’s also proven himself a less than stellar military analyst. When he was still vigorously boosting Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, Rubin was a early, vociferous and persistent critic of Gen. David Petraeus’s attempts to co-opt the Sunni insurgency. What Rubin denounced as “appeasement” — as opposed to the now-discredited “deBaathification” pushed by Chalabi and his neoconservative allies at Rubin’s and Perle’s American Enterprise Institute — turns out to have salvaged the war. Over his opposition, the Petraeus-led table-turning made the general a hero among Rubin’s ideological comrades.

His attacks on Tehran Bureau, Right Web and us are only the latest chapters of a less-than-sparkling career in punditry for Michael Rubin. Despite calling for a Congressional investigation into PBS’s linking to Right Web profiles and an end to PBS’s federal funding, Rubin fails to show how any of the profiles are “fake” or “conspiracy-riddled.”

Rubin’s blog posts attacking our articles and RW are indicative of the sensitivity that he must feel, along, we would imagine, with many of his colleagues, over RW’s well-sourced and factual descriptions of neoconservatives’ (including Rubin’s) and other militarists’ careers in both the public and private sectors.

Michael Rubin‘s own career suggests misjudgment after misjudgment. And yet, he’s calling for a Congressional investigation into a news outlet based on their sources. If Rubin were to better explain and own up to some of his dubious contributions to U.S. foreign policy over the last decade — as outlined in his RW profile — instead of sweeping them under the rug, his criticisms might hold more weight.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. RE: “Michael Rubin’s Bogus Attack On Tehran Bureau, Right Web, And Us” ~ Eli Clifton

    MY COMMENT: Michael Rubin’s tactics brought to mind a recent (04/06/11) column by Justin Raimondo.

    RAIMONDO EXCEPTS (with my emphasis):…If the insufferable Sarkozy isn’t enough to make you vow never to eat French fries again, then the man behind Sarkozy’s grandstanding, Bernard Henri-Lévy, the French “public intellectual” and renowned phony, will push you over the edge into outright Francophobia…

    A favorite neocon strategy: hyperbole. The opposition is not merely wrong, it is “grotesque.” These are not victims of error, but purveyors of “unutterable bad faith.” All for asking why it’s taking so long! BHL isn’t quite himself, it seems, unless he’s in a state of High Moral Dudgeon

    …to BHL, the “literary” intellectual, who references Proust instead of anything related to the reality of Libya, this is inadmissible because it ruins the narrative, the tall tale he’s telling himself and his audience about the demonic despot versus the virtuous rebels.

    His third argument is just another neocon ploy: the old “straw man” strategem. BHL tells us that some people are criticizing the rebels for their “amateurism,” and then goes on for a good paragraph using this “criticism” to valorize them and make the case for arming and training them. “Indigent bastards!, they say. Good for nothings! Short hitters!” Who is the author of such slanderous epithets? Perhaps he means Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who, when asked, didn’t put very much store in the rebels’ military prowess – but so what? …

    Emitting clouds of obfuscatory rhetoric like a squid under attack, BHL resorts to the familiar abuse of his opponents: they aren’t just “perverse,” they are “profoundly perverse.” Those ingrates “have a lot of nerve” to even ask questions about just who the UN and the NATO powers are throwing their weight behind. Because, after all, “the members of the Council are well-known.” To whom are they well-known, exactly? Well, it turns out, “to set this supposed mystery to rest one must take the trouble to go to Benghazi”! …

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2011/04/05/french-fraud-behind-libya-war-drive/

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