Obama’s Ahmadinejad ‘Commitment’

The New York Times‘ Carol Giacomo promises (11/3/08) to “certainly be a lot more skeptical” in covering the arguments for war with Iran than she was when she covered the march to war with Iraq as a diplomatic correspondent for Reuters. That’s good to hear, but this passage in her column made me skeptical about how carefully she was going to cover the new debate:

Early in the primary campaign, Mr. Obama declared that as president he would sit down in his first year in office with–among others–Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (He has been reparsing that commitment ever since.)

Actually, Obama did not say he would meet with Ahmadinejad. He was asked in a July 23, 2007 Democratic primary debate whether he would be “willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries.” He replied, “I would,” adding that “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them–which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration–is ridiculous.”

Ahmadinejad was not mentioned either in the question or the answer. As Obama noted in his first debate with John McCain (9/26/08):

Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. He may not be the right person to talk to. But I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it’s going to keep America safe.

But the notion that Obama promised to meet with Ahmadinejad, and then waffled on this promise, has become a standard right-wing talking point–one that gets repeated by careless journalists.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.