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Group that helped sell Iran nuke deal also funded media


    Deputy National Security Adviser For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

WASHINGTON >> A group the White House recently identified as a key surrogate in selling the Iran nuclear deal gave National Public Radio $100,000 last year to help it report on the pact and related issues, according to the group’s annual report. It also funded reporters and partnerships with other news outlets.

The Ploughshares Fund’s mission is to “build a safe, secure world by developing and investing in initiatives to reduce and ultimately eliminate the world’s nuclear stockpiles,” one that dovetails with President Barack Obama’s arms control efforts. But its behind-the-scenes role advocating for the Iran agreement got more attention this month after a candid profile of Ben Rhodes, one of the president’s top foreign policy aides.

In The New York Times Magazine article, Rhodes explained how the administration worked with nongovernmental organizations, proliferation experts and even friendly reporters to build support for the seven-nation accord that curtailed Iran’s nuclear activity and softened international financial penalties on Tehran.

“We created an echo chamber,” said Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, adding that “outside groups like Ploughshares” helped carry out the administration’s message effectively.

The magazine piece revived Republican criticism of the Iran agreement as they suggested it was evidence of a White House spin machine misleading the American people. The administration accused opponents of trying to re-litigate the deal after failing to defeat it in congressional votes last year.

Outside groups of all stripes are increasingly giving money to news organizations for special projects or general news coverage. Most news organizations, including The Associated Press, have strict rules governing whom they can accept money from and how to protect journalistic independence.

Ploughshares’ backing is more unusual, given its prominent role in the rancorous, partisan debate over the Iran deal.

The Ploughshares grant to NPR supported “national security reporting that emphasizes the themes of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and budgets, Iran’s nuclear program, international nuclear security topics and U.S. policy toward nuclear security,” according to Ploughshares’ 2015 annual report, recently published online.

“It is common practice for foundations to fund media coverage of underreported stories,” Ploughshares spokeswoman Jennifer Abrahamson said. Funding “does not influence the editorial content of their coverage in any way, nor would we want it to.”

Ploughshares has funded NPR’s coverage of national security since 2005, the radio network said. Ploughshares reports show at least $700,000 in funding over that time. All grant descriptions since 2010 specifically mention Iran.

“It’s a valued partnership, without any conditions from Ploughshares on our specific reporting, beyond the broad issues of national and nuclear security, nuclear policy, and nonproliferation,” NPR said in an emailed statement. “As with all support received, we have a rigorous editorial firewall process in place to ensure our coverage is independent and is not influenced by funders or special interests.”

Republican lawmakers will have concerns nonetheless, especially as Congress supplies NPR with a small portion of its funding. Just this week, the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee tried to summon Rhodes to a hearing entitled “White House Narratives on the Iran Nuclear Deal,” but he refused.

Ploughshares’ links to media are “tremendously troubling,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, an Iran-deal critic.

Pompeo told the AP he repeatedly asked NPR to be interviewed last year as a counterweight to a Democratic supporter of the agreement, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who he said regularly appeared on the network. But NPR refused to put Pompeo on the air, he said. The network said it had no record of Pompeo’s requests, and listed several prominent Republicans who were featured speaking about the deal or economic sanctions on Iran.

Another who appeared on NPR is Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares’ president. He spoke about the negotiations on air at least twice last year. NPR identified Ploughshares as an NPR funder one of those times; the other time, it didn’t.

Ploughshares boasts of helping to secure the deal. While success was “driven by the fearless leadership of the Obama administration and supporters in Congress,” board chairwoman Mary Lloyd Estrin wrote in the annual report, “less known is the absolutely critical role that civil society played in tipping the scales towards this extraordinary policy victory.”

The 33-page document lists the groups that Ploughshares funded last year to advance its nonproliferation agenda.

The Arms Control Association got $282,500; the Brookings Institution, $225,000; and the Atlantic Council, $182,500. They received money for Iran-related analysis, briefings and media outreach, and non-Iran nuclear work.

Other groups, less directly defined by their independent nuclear expertise, also secured grants.

J-Street, the liberal Jewish political action group, received $576,500 to advocate for the deal. More than $281,000 went to the National Iranian American Council.

Princeton University got $70,000 to support former Iranian ambassador and nuclear spokesman Seyed Hossein Mousavian’s “analysis, publications and policymaker engagement on the range of elements involved with the negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Ploughshares has set its sights on other media organizations, too.

In a “Cultural Strategy Report” on its website, the group outlined a broader objective of “ensuring regular and accurate coverage of nuclear issues in reputable and strategic media outlets” such as The Guardian, Salon, the Huffington Post or Pro Publica.

Previous efforts failed to generate enough coverage, it noted. These included “funding of reporters at The Nation and Mother Jones and a partnership with The Center for Public Integrity to create a national security desk.” It suggested using “web videos, podcasts, photo-based stories” and other “attention-grabbing formats” for “creatively reframing the issue.”

The Center for Public Integrity’s CEO, Peter Bale, confirmed the grant.

“None of the funding received by Ploughshares was for coverage of the Iran deal,” said Bale, whose company received $70,000. “In general, we avoided that subject because the topic did not lend itself to the type of investigative reporting the Center does.”

Caitlin Graf, a spokeswoman at The Nation, said her outlet had no partnership with Ploughshares. She referred queries to The Nation Institute, a nonprofit associated with the magazine that seeks to strengthen the independent press and advance social justice. Taya Kitman, the institute’s director, said Ploughshares’ one-year grant supported reporting on U.S.-Iran policy, but strict editorial control was maintained.

Mother Jones’ media department didn’t respond to several messages seeking comment.

The AP has taken grants from nonpolitical groups and journalism foundations such as the Knight Foundation. As with all grants, “AP retains complete editorial control of the final news product, which must fully meet AP standards for independence and integrity,” Standards Editor Thomas Kent said.

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    • Why consider Hillary Clinton as the next POTUS? It’s just because of how things have sorted themselves out this election cycle. Sure she’s carrying lots of baggage (husband Bill being just one example). But the fact of the matter is Hillary is simply the strongest or at least the most well recognized female candidate the Democratic Party could field this time around. There has always been some resentment, maybe only a little or maybe a lot, held by an influential segment of her party that wished that she – a woman – instead of a black man, had won the White House back in 2008.

    • The Feds did not pay anyone to say anything. Ploughshares is a great foundation and has nothing to do with Obama though they agreed, as we all do if we have any IQ, with him. How do we benefit being an enemy of Iran? They have never attacked us in any way. We need to be working with them in Iraq and around the ME . And guess who wrote the NY Times article hon….look behind the curtain to see who manipulates the American media and Congress. It is not Iran.

      • Just about the most upside down, backwards, inside out post ever written–every statement of supposed fact and insinuation is 100% wrong.

        Iran: State sponsor of terror, murderer of hundreds of Americans, directly or indirectly, through the Beiruit barraks bombing, bombing in Saudi of USAF dormitory, hundreds of murders of US troops in the Iraq war. Fount of radical islam, perpetual hatred for western culture and presence in the ME, guarantor of another attempt at wiping the Jews off the face of the earth. The list goes on and on.

        Your post is ignorant, wrong, and disgustingly so.

  • Just another day in the administration of The Incompetent One. We threw Israel under the bus for a “deal” that gave Iran everything it wanted and needed, including having them “Self-report” their progress in curtailing their nuclear program. What did we get? A more dangerous Middle East. Meanwhile, they continue to poke us and the world in the eye and never stop their hate-filled rhetoric towards Israel and anyone who would dare get in the way of their murderous agenda. Only the Fool sitting in the White House and JK could consider this as some kind of successful negotiation that leaves the world a safer place. The childish naivete’ of these two is simply STUNNING. Make no mistake. This so-called “deal” will come back to haunt us. And those two set the wheels in motion for that to happen.

    • We threw Israel under the bus? Huh? They threw the USA under the bus long ago. Saudi Arabia and Israeli are just two horrible countries tied to the failed Bush administration that drove us to needless wars and endless loss and misery. The deal with Iran was the best deal we could get to stop nuclear proliferation. Israel is a deadly country armed to the teeth with nukes. We need to see the entire sewer of the Middle East disarm. Everybody!

  • So this reads like Obama and his administration paid off the media to support the Iran deal and to create public support for it. Now I get it.

  • How much more clear and present does he have to get?

    I don’t see a story on the EPA’s new edict to add MORE ethanol to our gas supply….past the percentage that WILL wreak your small engines.

  • I’m almost certain Ben Rhodes knows that the term “echo chamber” is mostly a derogatory one, that it implies a system of censorship is going on.

  • Yep, little Bary does what what wants when he wants, aided and abetted by compliant progressive media outlets including taxpayer funded NPR. This Iran “deal” will result in further de-stabilization of an already volatile middle east. But when the excrement hits the fan rest assured republicans will get the blame.

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