More on Benghazi

May 23rd, 2013 · No Comments · Fact Check, Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

As a follow-up to my “Benghazi, Benghazi!” post:

After a week of wire stories related to last year’s attack on the U.S. outpost in Libya, the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday (May 22) carried an Associated Press report that the FBI “has identified a number of individuals that it believes have information or may have been involved, and is considering options to bring those responsible to justice.”

The story, headlined “Benghazi suspects ID’d, no arrests” in the Journal, said five men have been identified (photos of three of the five were released by the FBI earlier this month) and that the U.S.:

. . .has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists. . . .The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. . .

(As an aside: It would be nice if these reports would include a single sentence explaining why the FBI and not the CIA is doing the investigating. More on the CIA later.)

The AP story quotes “an official” as the source of its information, which is typical. What’s interesting is that the Journal put this story inside on A6, just above an AP story reporting that the pope had “liberated” a man from demons, rather than on A1, where the paper had prominently played the May 18 story about the State Department’s Benghazi-related emails.

This is not to say Wednesday’s story merited Page One. But the difference in placement of the two stories gives the impression actual revelations in the Benghazi investigation are less important than political maneuvering, the latter of which is dutifully recapped in this week’s story about the five suspects, including the line that “Republican lawmakers continue to call for the Obama administration to provide more information about the Sept. 11 attack,” and referring back to the White House release of 99 pages of emails.

Meanwhile, a media backstory has developed claiming that the Benghazi email stories gained tremendous momentum in part because of ABC News’ May 10 “exclusive” that has since been questioned, a story based on an unnamed source’s “copies” of White House emails. ABC has been criticized, in part, because it claimed its reporter had seen the actual emails.

After issuing a “clarification” response on May 14, ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl tweeted twice on May 19 about his “exclusive”. The first tweet said:

In case you missed it, I sincerely regret the error I made describing an email from (White House official) Ben Rhodes.

In the second, he went even further, saying:

I should have stated, as I did elsewhere, the reporting was based on a summary provided by a source. I apologize for the mistake.

The wash of information available about these emails is almost too esoteric to digest and summarize, but the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” does a good job of it, explaining that:

The talking points became an issue because they were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice on the Sunday public affairs shows the week after the attack. Republicans, however, were not permitted to have copies of e-mails, but could only take notes on them.

The broad outlines of the mail exchanges were first disclosed in an April 23 report by House Republicans. The report quoted from and summarized various e-mails, but without the names of the senders attached (and) . . .the report was highly critical.

“The Administration’s talking points were developed in an interagency process that focused more on protecting the reputation and credibility of the State Department than on explaining to the American people the facts surrounding the fatal attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel in Libya,” the report asserted.

The main difference between Karl’s Republican-copied email and the actual email, Fact Checker says, is that the actual email made no specific reference to the State Department, but rather referred to all agencies involved. FactChecker did add, however, that the email came at the tail end of a stream of emails that did refer to the State Department. FactChecker also noted that:

While the White House has tried to highlight ABC’s error on the Rhodes e-mail, it is worth noting that it did not play a prominent role in much of the news coverage. (The one exception is Fox News.)

Most people don’t have the time or opportunity to read the actual emails and decide for themselves how to interpret the contents.

What we’re left with, then, beyond the obvious fact that emails flew among department officials in the hours immediately after the attack, is the impression and implication that the Democratic Obama administration– and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a possible 2014 Democratic presidential candidate – should be shamed and blamed for the deaths of the four Americans killed during that attack.

Beyond the fact that it is part of the State Department’s job to hold inter-office discussions to decide how much information to reveal to the public– considering the then-nascent and still-ongoing investigation into the attack and its sensitive international implications — we are left with the idea that the State Department was callous in even discussing wording.

The media brouhaha over Jonathan Karl is worth mentioning because Washington media pundits are saying this story took on greater proportions – all the way, it could be argued, to the Journal’s A1 play of the AP story – because of Karl’s “exclusive”. In what to this writer is a bizarre twist, Karl himself was characterized last July by the long-time media criticism group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) as “a right-wing mole.”

So, to sum up again, House Republicans who voted against additional security for the outpost in Benghazi have succeeded in diverting media attention away from security questions and the actual investigation of the attack – and away from any GOP blame – to inciting full on, front-page allegations of “talking points” changes by the Democratic administration.

As a footnote: The New York Times May 22 editorial, “The CIA’s Part in Benghazi,”opined on the emails from a different angle, saying:

. . .we now know that the C.I.A., and not the State Department or the White House, originated the talking points that Republicans (wrongly) insisted were proof of a scandal. (The CIA) was more central to the American presence in Benghazi than the State Department, and more responsible for security there.

. . . To a degree, the wrangling occurred because the C.I.A. annex was a classified operation. In fact, the C.I.A. was the main American presence on the ground in Benghazi, had relationships with local groups and was supposed to have the best fix on what was going on. There are serious questions as to why the agency did not have a better handle on security and didn’t do a better job of vetting the local militia that was hired for protection.

 

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