In the wake of the explosive Ben Rhodes profile, which has done substantial damage to the Obama administration’s credibility, it might be thought the author was some kind of conservative mole. After all, an intelligent man would have to know how damaging Rhodes’ admissions were going to be—and David Samuels, the “elite narrative journalist,” is certainly an intelligent man. Was he motivated by a secret right-wing agenda?
He certainly was not. Samuels’ political views are best captured by his political donations. According to Federal Election Commission filings, Samuels donated to $750 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2008. While he also contributed to re-election efforts by George W. Bush in 2003 and Barack Obama in 2012, these donations were to gain access to donor-only fundraisers he subsequently covered for Harper’s.
Nevertheless, Samuels supported Obama, he suggests in a round-table contribution, in the hope that he would “end America’s toxic enmeshment with the Middle East” that arose from Bush administration policies. These are not the words or actions of a right-wing mole, but of a recognizable centrist Democrat who believed in progressive policies to reform America’s relationship with the Muslim world.
However, the real motivating factor in his willingness to help Rhodes hang himself seems to be Samuels’ sorrow over the damage done to journalism as a profession.
The most punishing thing Rhodes said in his long-form confession to manipulating and subverting the press is that the journalists he encounters today “literally know nothing.” We need to look at the full quote to appreciate the importance of this to Samuels. Here is Rhodes:
All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing. (emphasis added)
Now let us look at another quote, this one from Samuels himself in an interview given in 2012.
I believe the catastrophe has already happened. The magazine world I entered almost 20 years ago was a rich, commercially-viable world. For a reasonably broad audience of people it was a fun way to spend two hours in the afternoon. That world is gone. The Washington Post hires 26-year-old bloggers to fill the pages that were filled by reporters who had bureaus in Nairobi that were paid for by their newspapers. That entire substructure has now been blown up.(emphasis added)
Rhodes’ insight is, in other words, almost verbatim the complaint Samuels was raising four years ago. Samuels described this shift, rightly, as a “catastrophe.” When he heard Rhodes say the same thing, it was an opportunity to force America to look at the harm done American journalism’s collapse.
In writing his piece on Rhodes, naturally Samuels knew the revelations would punish the administration. But that doesn’t seem to be his principal concern; he was loyal, first, to his profession.