That Profile of Ben Rhodes? You Need to Read It Very Carefully.


I honestly don’t care much about Ben Rhodes, but reaction to David Samuels’ profile of him is getting out of hand:

Everyone is circling the wagons around Laura Rozen, and that’s fine. She’s a very good reporter. But once again, let’s take a look at what the Times profile actually says. It’s about the campaign to sell the Iran nuclear deal:

The person whom Kreikemeier credits with running the digital side of the campaign was Tanya Somanader, 31, the director of digital response for the White House Office of Digital Strategy, who became known in the war room and on Twitter as @TheIranDeal. Early on, Rhodes asked her to create a rapid-response account that fact-checked everything related to the Iran deal.

….For those in need of more traditional-seeming forms of validation, handpicked Beltway insiders like Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor helped retail the administration’s narrative. “Laura Rozen was my RSS feed,” Somanader offered. “She would just find everything and retweet it.”

A few points:

  • This quote comes from Somanader, not Rhodes.
  • An RSS feed is something you read. Somanader seems to be saying only that she relied on Rozen to keep her up to speed on who was saying what in the Twitterverse.
  • The idea that Rozen was a “handpicked Beltway insider” comes solely from Samuels’ framing of the quote, not from what Somanader actually said.

It’s common in profiles for authors to intersperse their own impressions with actual quotes. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in this profile, Samuels goes overboard. It’s possible that every quote is well framed, but he’d have to produce far more context to demonstrate that. As it stands, he seems to be a little desperate to spin quotes to make points he wants to make.

This is why I said in my previous post that you have to read Samuels’ profile very carefully. Take a look at what people actually said vs. what Samuels says in his own voice. The quotes themselves are more anodyne than they seem.