Obama's fixer and the New York Times' 'beat sweetener'
Ben Rhodes, the master of fiction who was Obama's fixer in the talking points cover-up, has a friend at the New York Times, it appears. Mark Landler wrote a glowing profile of Rhodes on March 16 that caught the attention of Jack Shafer, who covers media for Reuters, lambasting the piece.
A beat sweetener, as press-watchers know, is an over-the-top slab of journalistic flattery of a potential source calculated to earn a reporter access or continued access. They're most frequently composed on the White House beat when a new administration arrives in Washington and every Executive Office job turns over, but they can appear any time a reporter is prepared to demean himself by toadying up to a source in exchange for material.
As a beat sweetener, the Rhodes piece excels on so many levels that I'll bet the subject's parents have framed and hung the clipping over the family mantel. Landler portrays Rhodes as a young fella with "old man" wisdom; as possessing a "soft voice" that delivers "strong opinions"; as one whose "influence extends beyond what either his title or speechwriting duties suggest"; and as someone who "cares" to the point of "anguish" but is "very realistic."
The information content of these testimonials, made by both Landler and his sources, is just about zero. We learn that he "channels Mr. Obama on foreign policy," as if a 35-year-old deputy who writes speeches for the president would have his boss on a leash. His unnamed friends and colleagues attest that he's "deeply frustrated by a policy [in Syria] that is not working," as if anyone could be anything but frustrated by a policy that isn't working. Indeed, in the article's next sentence, we learn from anonymous "administration officials" that Rhodes "is not alone in his frustration over Syria."
The entire piece should be read because it is so good, and because we can expect pushback as attention begins to be focused on people like Rhodes, Victoria Nuland, and a few others. Their friends (and relatives) in the media should be identified, and when they go over the line, they should be called out.