- Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Video of an eight-minute exchange between a reporter and former State Department spokeswoman at a 2013 briefing on the Iran nuclear deal mysteriously disappeared following the briefing, and it “wasn’t a glitch,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
When first questioned in early May about the deleted footage – which showed Fox News reporter James Rosen asking then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki whether secret talks had occurred between the US and Iran prior to 2013 – press-office director Elizabeth Trudeau said it was a glitch, and that no one had intentionally edited the video.
The back-and-forth was potentially embarrassing for the State Department: Psaki had essentially admitted to Rosen that nuclear talks had taken place as early as 2011.
“There are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress,” she told Rosen. “This is a good example of that.”
Rosen had gone back to look for that exchange in light of a recent New York Times Magazine profile on President Barack Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who claimed that the Iran talks began in earnest in 2013. But he found that that portion had been removed, with a white flash taking its place.
“There was a deliberate request [to delete the footage] – this wasn’t a technical glitch,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday. He said he did not know who had made the request, and Psaki – now the White House communications director – denied any involvement.
“I had no knowledge of nor would I have approved of any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject while at the State Department,” Psaki said in a statement. “I believe deeply in providing the press as much information on important issues as possible.”
An unedited written transcript of the 2013 press conference has always been publicly available in the State Department’s archives, The Washington Post reported.
But the Obama administration has been doing damage control ever since Rhodes, a former speechwriter for Obama and now considered his “foreign-policy guru,” gave a surprisingly blunt and honest interview to The New York Times Magazine about how the administration has sought to shape its foreign policy and sell it to the general public.
The interview received widespread attention for Rhodes’ willingness to share details about the meticulous foreign-policy narrative he has helped Obama construct – and, most controversially, how he claimed to have created an “echo chamber” of experts and commentators to shape the public’s perception of the Iran deal.
- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Part of the public-relations push was convincing skeptics that Obama did not begin to negotiate the deal until after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, pushed by the White House as a “moderate,” took office in 2013.
Because Rosen’s exchange with Psaki suggests that the White House began the talks earlier – and, consequently, negotiated with Iranian hardliners – news that it was intentionally deleted has been perceived as part of the messaging Rhodes described in his interview.
In a statement, Kirby said “this happened three years ago” and that “the recipient of the call doesn’t remember anything other than the caller, the individual who called this technician, was passing on a request from someone else within the public affairs bureau.”
He noted that while there are no rules prohibiting the State Department from deleting footage from press-briefing videos, he will “make sure we have the right rules in place” to prevent it from happening again in the future.