Undercovered media story of the week: Fox News correspondent James Rosen revealed that video of him asking a tough question of a State Department spokesperson disappeared from the agency’s video archive. Poof! Where the exchange once existed, a flash of white light replaced it.
At issue was Iran. Let’s turn back the clock. In February 2013, Rosen pressed then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on whether the United States was carrying on “secret, bilateral” discussions with Iranian leaders. No, Nuland said. Time passed.
In December 2013, after information surfaced indicating that the Iran-United States talks had stretched back for some time, Rosen pressed then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about the matter:
QUESTION: Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?
MS. PSAKI: James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that. Obviously, we have made clear and laid out a number of details in recent weeks about discussions and about a bilateral channel that fed into the P5+1 negotiations, and we’ve answered questions on it, we’ve confirmed details. We’re happy to continue to do that, but clearly, this was an important component leading up to the agreement that was reached a week ago.
Reasonable people can interpret that exchange in a number of ways, one of them being that Psaki, from the State Department podium, endorsed lying.
History took over from there. Through significant diplomatic and political exertion, the Obama administration secured approval of the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It entered into force in January. Completion of the deal, however, didn’t end criticism of the deal. Last weekend’s New York Times Magazine featured a profile by David Samuels of Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication — a story that accused the administration of misleading the public about the deal’s timeline. Samuels rapped President Obama for the following offense:
The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before [President Hassan] Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The actual timeline for the negotiation of the deal, Samuels said, betrays the administration’s argument that the whole thing started in 2013, when moderates in Iran led by Rouhani surged to prominence.
The hubbub stirred by Samuels’s story prompted Rosen & Co. to revisit that exchange in the State Department briefing room about candor and secret diplomacy. “I said to my producer, ‘I want you to get these two briefings — one where they lied to me, and one later on when I confronted them about it,” Rosen said yesterday on Fox News’s afternoon program “The Five.” The producer went back to Rosen and told him that the State Department had “edited out” the clash with Psaki. “We couldn’t believe it,” Rosen said.
Not only had the exchange disappeared from the video on the State Department’s site, but a parallel disappearing act was also apparent on the video on the State Department’s YouTube channel, Rosen reported.
The State Department’s defense? Check this out:
The – this is a daily press briefing from 2013. The transcript of that daily press briefing and video was always available – transcript was on state.gov; the video was available on other sites. There was a glitch in the State Department video. When Fox flagged it for us, we actually replaced it with a video from DVIDS, which is the military repository where a lot of news media gets its video. The whole video was there, and we also annotated it on our YouTube channel.
That explanation comes from State Department press office director Elizabeth Trudeau, speaking at Tuesday’s briefing under questioning from legendary AP diplomatic reporter Matt Lee. She confirmed that the State Department was looking into the matter, but really threw shade on the notion that this disappearance was something other than an innocent mishap: “Genuinely we think it was a glitch,” Trudeau said.
Good thing Lee knows a story when it disappears on him and the rest of the world. He pressed Trudeau again about the matter yesterday, with this question:
QUESTION: Yesterday you intimated that there would be some kind of looking at or review – you didn’t want to use the word “investigation,” but – into what happened with this video – the video of the briefing in question. Has that – have you determined – have you been able to figure out what exactly —
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, we’re still looking into it. We continue to take a look at our process at that time and also making sure that something like that obviously never happens again. I would reiterate video is – was always available. It’s back up now on state.gov. We annotated it on our YouTube channel, so it’s been resolved, but we do take it seriously and we’re looking.
Another day, another cross-examination: In Thursday’s briefing, Lee was back at it with Trudeau:
QUESTION: I need to ask you one more time: Have you all gotten to the bottom of the glitch in the video of the – of the briefing?
MS TRUDEAU: So we continue to take a look at it. We take this seriously. What we’re doing is not only reviewing what happened in the past but also ensuring that we can guarantee that transparency going forward, so we’re in discussions now. I don’t have a final readout to give you guys.
QUESTION: And has – in the course of the review or whatever you want to call it, however you want to describe it, has – have there been any other similar instances?
MS TRUDEAU: We have not located any similar incidents.
QUESTION: But have people looked?
MS TRUDEAU: So people are continuing to review it. It’s a big archive, yeah.
QUESTION: Right, no kidding. I know.
Bolding inserted to highlight the highly selective nature of this “glitch.”
The Erik Wemple Blog pledges to keep reporting on this incident, because there’s no downside here. Either this is the most fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime, surgical, white-flashing, history-expunging glitch, or it’s the most Mickey Mouse, ineffective government conspiracy of all time.