NYT Failed to Disclose that Hawkish Think Tank Paid Op-ed Writer While at the National Security Council

The New York Times published an op-ed on Friday by a staffer from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies — a hawkish “think tank” that promotes war with Iran and regime change in Tehran — defending the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. The Times noted at the top of the page that the FDD staffer — Richard Goldberg — “served on President Trump’s National Security Council,” seemingly in an effort to justify the piece’s publication by promoting the author’s bona fides. However, the Times failed to disclose that Goldberg wasn’t an average, run-of-the-mill expert national security staffer, and that, in fact, FDD continued to pay Goldberg a salary while he was “lent,” as FDD’s CEO Mark Dubowitz described the arrangement, to Trump’s NSC. 

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Goldberg was stepping down from the NSC and that FDD financially supported his role there. FDD — whose positions on Iran and the Middle East have often been closely aligned with those of Israel’s Likud Party — disseminated false assertions about Saddam Hussein’s development of weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq War, and its mission statement includes a pledge to provide “education meant to enhance Israel’s image in North America,” raising questions about the propriety of the group providing payments to a NSC staffer. 

Two former Obama-era NSC officials criticized the practice, saying it lines up with numerous instances of corruption and conflict of interest within the Trump administration, and that NSC staffers are not there to promote the interests of hawkish think tanks with murky (possibly foreign) funding sources. 

Responsible Statecraft reported that FDD even spent more than $10,000 on airline tickets for Goldberg to travel to events abroad with U.S. delegations.

Goldberg’s Times op-ed was seemingly meant to promote an evermore aggressive posture towards Iran in the wake of Trump’s (illegal) assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month. 

But Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign — consistent with FDD’s decade-long advocacy of waging “economic warfare” against the Islamic Republic — has done nothing but subject the Iranian people to a life of misery and bolster hardliners in Tehran, all while isolating the United States from its European allies, and, obviously, bringing the U.S. closer to an all-out war with Iran than it has ever been.

Goldberg also took the opportunity to misleadingly paint Iran as the aggressor by lamenting troubling Iranian activities like downing an American drone, attacking ships in the Strait of Hormuz, and ramping up its nuclear program. But he conveniently omitted the fact that none of this was likely to have occurred had Trump not abandoned the 2015 nuclear agreement and flagrantly violated U.S. obligations to provide sanctions relief and encourage Tehran’s integration into the global economy.

FDD’s financial support of Goldberg during his work on Iran at the NSC clearly raises issues of possible conflicts of interest at the heart of the White House’s foreign policymaking apparatus, about which New York Times readers should have been informed. It marks yet another — albeit particularly striking — example of the failure of mainstream U.S. media to identify possible conflicts of interest among the sources, analysts, and op-ed writers whose foreign-policy views they help to propagate — which is an issue the Times itself has previously exposed.

 

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