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July 14, 2017

Jake Tapper Rises to Defense of Failed Novelist Turned Echo Chamber Maestro Ben Rhodes

I repeatedly asked Jake Tapper to cover the Ben Rhodes Echo Chamber story. The first time I asked, he claimed, without having read it, that he didn't trust the writer. He didn't say why.

I responded to his objections about this distrusted-for-unknown-reasons New York Times feature writer (with all those levels of painstaking editorial fact-checking we always hear about) that Rhodes had already by then confirmed that he'd said the things the distrusted reporter had said he'd said.

Tapper then offered some other lame reason for denying the story was real and suggested I pass it on to Brian Stelter, a straight-shooter non-partisan if there ever was one. He also sniffed "I don't do media stories" (except those that hurt Fox or his ideological opponents, of course).

I did in fact tweet (openly, not in a DM) to Stelter about the story. You'll never guess what didn't happen next:

Stelter did not cover the story.

As anyone could have predicted -- including even Jake Tapper.

A while passed, and some then-current contretemps bubbled up making the Rhodes echo chamber story relevant once again. Once again I DM'd him to cover it, as it was now freshly re-relevant in the context of whatever the new story was.

Once again, he told me "I don't trust that source" or words to that effect, completely forgetting he'd already used the same vague justification for non-coverage, and that I had already responded by informing him Rhodes had confirmed the quotes.

I believe he then re-directed me to pass it to Brian Stelter, but I have to confess my memory is shaky on that point.

I find Jake Tapper's reluctance to say anything remotely negative about Ben Rhodes interesting.

I was even more interested to find him praising Ben Rhodes:

Here's short video of the defense, though we don't see the context. We must assume that Gorka put down Ben Rhodes as not having any advanced training in any political field, or for being a would-be novelist (or a very good post-modern novelist who used American Foreign Policy as his medium) which are... true.

Let's compare their educations. Per Wikipedia, Seb Gorka is a Ph.D. (in political science, which frankly I don't think of as much of a discipline, but still, a Ph.D. in the field he's working in) who has been a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. And he's world leaders:

He attended St Benedict's School in west London, and received a lower second-class honours (2:2) Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and theology from Heythrop College, of the University of London.[7][6][8][9] While at university, he joined the British Territorial Army, serving for three years in the 22 Intelligence Company of the Intelligence and Security Group (Volunteers), an interrogation unit with a NATO role specializing in Russian and other languages supporting 1 (BR) Corps until the latter was disbanded in 1992, at the end of the Cold War.[10][6][11][12]

In 1992, he moved to Hungary, where he worked for the Hungarian Ministry of Defence[13] while studying for a master's degree in international relations and diplomacy at the Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration, now known as the Corvinus University, which he completed in 1997. In 1997, he was a Partnership for Peace International research fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome.[14] Gorka was a Kokkalis Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University during the 1998–1999 academic year.[15][16]

After returning to Hungary, in 1998, Gorka served as an adviser to Viktor Orbán.[17] In 2002, he entered into the PhD in political science at Corvinus University, completing his dissertation in 2007.[2][18]


Gorka worked in the Hungarian Ministry of Defense during the prime ministership of József Antall.[20]

Here's Rhodes' education:

Rhodes then attended Rice University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 2000 with majors in English and political science. He then moved back to New York, attending New York University and graduating in 2002 with an MFA in creative writing.[5]

How did he go from being an MFA to Obama's foreign policy guru? From that article Jake Tapper won't report on because he "doesn't trust the writer" or whatever, it was all due to his short story "Goldfish."

His mother’s closest friend growing up ran the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which then published Foreign Policy. He sent her a letter and included what would wind up being his only piece of published fiction, a short story that appeared in The Beloit Fiction Journal. It was titled “The Goldfish Smiles, You Smile Back.” The story still haunts him, he says, because “it foreshadowed my entire life.”

Remember, his mom's best friend ran the Carnegie Endowment, which published Foreign Policy. Guess what journal Ben applied to work at?

So I wonder: How did he get from there to here?

The story that Rhodes published in The Beloit Fiction Journal is a good place to start....

The editor at Foreign Policy who read “Goldfish,” which Rhodes attached with his query letter, said that the young M.F.A. would be bored with fact-checking. Instead, he suggested that he apply for a job with Lee Hamilton, the onetime congressman from Indiana, who was looking for a speechwriter.

So the journal of the organization run by his mom's bestie declined to hire him, but set him up with another job.

“I was surprised,” Hamilton remembered. “What the hell does a guy who wanted to write fiction come to me for?”

I don't know, why would someone want to hire a Kennedy? Or Chelsea Clinton?


So he hired him on at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Though Rhodes never said a word in meetings, Hamilton says, he had a keen understanding of what was going on and a talent for putting the positions of distinguished participants down on paper.

He was a champion Guy Who Sits In the Back And Takes Notes.

“I immediately understood that it’s a very important quality for a staffer,” Hamilton explained,...

The notes go on and on. They have ideas with subsets of ideas and reactions to ideas indented beneath the original ideas. The handwriting is perfect.

No wonder he and Obama had a "mind-meld." With Obama's perfect trouser crease and Rhodes' perfect penmanship, it was a match made in Looking the Part heaven.

The representation of what happened in the meetings immaculate, like a mirror’s reflection after it has been scrubbed clean.

Like an ace stenographer, one could say.

From there, the connection machine kept moving him along:

Rhodes served as Hamilton’s staff member on the 9/11 Commission, where he met Denis McDonough, another Hamilton protégé, who had gone on to work for Tom Daschle in the Senate. Rhodes then became the chief note-taker for the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission that excoriated George Bush’s war in Iraq.

By the way, Ben Rhodes brother is of course David Rhodes, president of CBS News.

Now I'm not a credentialist, and I can't argue against the notion that Rhodes must be a quick study and must have impressed some people along the way. I can't imagine he's stupid.

But Jake Tapper jumped to Ben Rhodes' defense saying "I'm sure he'd put his graduate degree up against yours" to a Ph.D. in the field of political science, a guy who's worked in Hungary's Ministry of Defense and was a fellow at the JFK School of Government at Harvard.

Ben Rhodes has a BA and then an MFA in a completely unrelated field-- creative writing. (Or... is it an unrelated field, mmmm?)

I'm sorry, there's no comparison: A Ph.D. is straight-up a bigger accomplishment than a Master's.

This is like claiming a field goal is every bit as good as 10 points.

Plus -- Good Lord, Ben Rhodes' "graduate degree" isn't even in anything having to do with foreign policy, government, history, or any related field.

Except, of course, for dashing out Narratives with Heroes and Villains.

I'm sorry, but S***ers of C*** who are big believers in credentialism can't suddenly balk and put on the populist mantle when someone they want to protect has been easily out-credentialed.

For disclosure -- to protect myself against a charge of insinuation -- I should point out that Tapper has claimed he's never gotten a story from Ben Rhodes.

But he sure does seem protective of him. Maybe they're just sympatico.

Maybe Tapper just really fell in love with that "Goldfish" story. Maybe he too is "haunted" by it.

Update: A masters of fine arts takes 2-3 years -- longer than a usual master's -- because it's considered a "terminal" degree in creative fields. (That is, no Ph.D. after.)

Still, not really on the level of a Ph.D., which takes an average of 8 years to get. Gorka did about two years for his Masters, then was some kind of a fellow at the JFK School of Government, then spent another 5 years getting his Ph.D.

Oh -- in a field actually relevant to working in the position he wound up holding.

I wonder if Tapper would rise so vigorously to refute a liberals' charge that, say, Stephen Miller's education is supbar. (I have no idea what his education is. I'm just spitballing for some example.)

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posted by Ace at 05:00 PM

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