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Anatomy Of A Smear: The Media Vs. Republican Senators On Iran Letter

The media are very upset about GOP Senators’ open letter to Iran explaining U.S. law. That’s fine, but they don’t get to make up stories out of whole cloth.


This week, a group of Republican senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas (pictured above, with a kitten, in Iraq) issued a very brief open letter to the leaders of Iran explaining the differences between mere executive agreements and international treaties ratified by the Senate. It’s a fairly basic letter that includes reminders about the Constitutional system under which we operate. I couldn’t begin to speculate why, but the media lost their collective minds over this letter. Along with other Democrats and progressive activists. You can read the breathless, outraged, totally-over-the-top headlines if you’d like to see this melt-down in action.

Now, that’s fine. That’s their business. To be completely honest, and not that you care, I’m not the biggest fan of such letters myself. I mean, they’re not as bad as Nancy Pelosi going to Syria to undermine Bush’s foreign policy, Jimmy Carter helping North Korea get nuclear weapons, Ted Kennedy secretly asking the Soviets to interfere in the 1984 election or any of the many other interjections we’ve seen, but I think it’s generally a good idea to yield to the president on foreign negotiations, even if it’s a really bad president who couldn’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag if the stakes involved, oh I don’t know, going ahead with Iran as a nuclear power.

But let’s look a little deeper at just one part of this media campaign against Republican senators. It comes from Tim Mak of the Daily Beast and it looks like he’s got an explosive story:

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Whoa. Check that out. Republicans now “admit” that the letter was “a dumb idea”! That’s huge. And “some Republicans who signed on” are now “realizing” it was a bad call? I can’t wait to read this story — taglined “HINDSIGHT” for extra flair — can you?

What are their names? Which of the senators are changing their minds and “admitting” and “realizing” that the media were right after all? Who are they?

Oh dear. That’s … weird. Very weird.

Hunh. Tim Mak’s story doesn’t even claim a single senator changed his mind. Not even close. Yikes.

Um. So it turns out that the only people quoted in the story against the letter are people who always opposed the letter. There’s also a quote from an unnamed, completely anonymous “Senate Republican aide” who doesn’t in any way say anything even remotely close to the claims made in the headline or anywhere else in the piece. Let’s look at the actual words of the unnamed guy who probably exists in real life even though we can’t verify that:

“Before the letter, the national conversation was about Netanyahu’s speech and how Obama’s negotiations with Iran are leading to a terrible deal that could ultimately harm U.S. national security. Now, the Obama administration and its Capitol Hill partisans are cynically trying to push the conversation away from policy, and towards a deeply political pie fight over presidential and congressional prerogatives,” said a Senate Republican aide whose boss signed the letter.

OK. So Obama and partisans are cynically trying to push the conversation away from policy and onto the senators with the help of a fully compliant media. OK. Fine. We all noticed that. And into a pie fight. OK. I mean, I guess you can infer or speculate — maybe, if you’re feeling really imaginative and all — that this guy, this anonymous, low-level staff guy — maybe thinks that the letter helped the political opponents continue to be dishonest? But he doesn’t actually even say that much. What he sure as MOTHERFREAKING FREAK doesn’t say is that he’s a senator, that he thought it was a dumb idea to sign the letter, that he signed it and then realized it was a bad call or that he represents the “some” in the headline.

Other than this low-level staff aide who didn’t even say he thought the letter was a bad idea, much less a dumb one, we have two Republican Senators who always opposed the letter and then also a Democratic Senator who didn’t like the letter.

So, in other words, we have a story that in no way supports the headline. Not even close. Not even, like, at all.

I asked Tim and his editors a few questions about this on Twitter (a non-exhaustive collection can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) but they haven’t yet had a chance to respond.

In any case, the claims in this story are completely 100% unsubstantiated. Here’s how the Daily Beast set the false narrative advertised a story to 773,000 followers that was 100% completely unsubstantiated in any way:

I read the comments on the story and nobody read beyond the headline. Even people you might expect to be smarter about this didn’t seem to notice that the story was completely unsubstantiated:

Admittedly, Rozen was hunting down every editorial board in the country that looked askance at the letter to declare on that basis alone (we know how influential editorial boards are!) that “Republicans on defense nationwide over #Iran letter.”

But still.

Anyway, read the letter if you’d like. Find it to be four paragraphs of the most basic Constitution-splaining you’ll ever find or, you know, … treason (?) … but maybe don’t make up stories about magical senators “admitting” that the media were right after all and “realizing” something they never realized.

You’ll get the clicks but holy schmoley do you make your publication look untrustworthy.