The New York Times this weekend gave a master class in what it means to “bury the lede.”
The paper of record published a report Sunday alleging Iran is quietly controlled by its Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The report, which is based on leaked audiotapes of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appears to confirm what many already suspected of the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism.
More shocking than the allegation the Revolutionary Guard secretly controls Iran, however, is the one that appears near the very bottom of the New York Times’s report, buried a full 22 paragraphs down in a 26-paragraph story.
The detail reads: “Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed [Zarif] that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said.”
That’s all the New York Times report says. There is no follow-up. There is no additional context given. The New York Times article doesn’t even include a comment from Kerry or any member of the Biden administration. The story simply drops a shocking allegation in the reader's lap and moves on to its conclusion.
If true, emphasis on the word “if,” Kerry singing to the Iranians would represent a major blow to U.S. foreign policy and U.S.-Israel relations. It would be one of the biggest political scandals in at least the last 20 years, a former U.S. secretary of state divulging an ally nation’s secrets to a state sponsor of terrorism.
Yet, for some reason, the New York Times, the newspaper that hyped endless Trump “bombshells” that landed with loud, splattering “thuds,” didn’t think it necessary to include the Kerry allegation higher up in its coverage of the leaked audiotapes. The paper didn’t think it worth making Zarif’s allegation the central focus of the story. It didn’t even get a comment from the Biden administration regarding claims its U.S. special presidential envoy for climate has been spilling secrets to the Iranians.
There’s a possibility Zarif is lying. That may be one reason why the New York Times didn’t think it necessary to make the Kerry detail the focus of its report. Then again, Zarif's comments were recorded during a private discussion. In other words, it appears to be a candid comment, one Zarif believed only a select few would ever hear.
Also, Kerry was caught a few years ago going behind the Trump White House’s back to engage Iran directly in a campaign of shadow diplomacy. This act of recklessness alone suggests there may be some truth to what Zarif says. It's astonishing the most powerful and influential newspaper in the country didn’t think it necessary to focus its attention on allegations a former U.S. secretary of state divulged secrets to a country where the so-called Revolutionary Guard is “calling the shots.”
The White House, for its part, declined Monday to comment on whether there is any truth to the claim Kerry has been dishing secrets to Iranian officials.
“We are not going to comment on leaked tapes,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
That’s not an answer. That’s a mealy-mouthed dodge (and it’s not even consistent with the behavior of Biden administration officials). Also, it’s inconsistent with what Kerry himself said later when he denied “unequivocally” that he had discussed Israeli military operations with Iran’s foreign minister as secretary of State.
“I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false,” he said Monday evening. “This never happened - either when I was Secretary of State or since.”
Perhaps the Biden White House should huddle to decide on a consistent response.
The New York Times did an admirable job breaking the news of the Zarif audiotapes. It can top that accomplishment by investigating this Kerry business.