Atop this post is the complete show, in chronological order, followed by individual segments spotlighting each presenter, and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, who MCed the show and introduced each speaker. First up was Roger L. Simon to to explain the concept of the Duranty Prize, followed by PJM’s Claudia Rosett and Ron Radosh, New Criterion publisher and PJM columnist Roger Kimball, and then finally Roger L. Simon, to present the “Rather Award” for lifetime achievement in journalist mendacity.
Also, if you’d like an audio-only podcast version, click here to play:
A downloadable version is also available by right clicking here. (28.1 MB file size, 61 minutes long.)
As for the individual segments, first up, is PJM CEO Emeritus Roger L. Simon, to explain the concept of the Duranty Prize:
“Why a Walter Duranty Prize?” Speech by Roger L. Simon.
Or, as my ancestors said every year, why is this night different from all other nights? On other nights we celebrate journalistic excellence… as in the Pulitzer Prize… but on this night we celebrate a man who lied about Stalin and won the Pulitzer.
Well, we don’t really celebrate him. We refer to him. We use him as our emblem of something that is all around us — journalistic mendacity so awful, so meretricious, so despicably self-regarding that it is indeed in the tradition of Walter Duranty who — basically for his own self-aggrandizement, he wasn’t even a communist — white-washed Stalin’s mass starvation of upwards of a million Ukrainians, not to mention numerous other atrocities of the Soviet Union from the Gulag to the Purge Trials, for nearly twenty years as Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, while using, as an excuse for totalitarian evil, his oft-quoted phrase “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”
So we’re back again, a few months late, but we’re back, for our annual celebration of journalistic mendacity known as the Duranty Prize — and our new award for lifetime achievement called The Rather, of which more later. I think any award of the nature of the Duranty should be judged by its past recipients, don’t you — whether they were really and truly deserving of their honor? That’s how we judge the Nobel Peace Prize, after all …. Don’t we?
Anyway, looking back briefly at last year’s Duranty honorees, we find as runner-up Bob Simon for his 60 Minutes segment “Christians of the Holy Land.” That mini-documentary blamed the Israelis and their infamous security wall, not the Muslim terrorists who engendered its construction, for the plight of Christians in the West Bank. During last year’s ceremony Roger Kimball called this 60 Minutes segment “a textbook case of employing the trappings and authority of objective reporting in order to further the ends of ideology.”
Was Roger correct? And how! Just weeks ago a video surfaced on YouTube from an exceptionally brave young Palestinian Christian woman named Christy Anastas. Christy is living under political asylum in Britain now, an asylum she obtained in a record three days because she is under constant death threat from West Bank Islamists. Ms. Anastas, evidently, appeared with her family in Bob Simon’s segment when she was still in Bethlehem, but she wasn’t particularly pleased by the way it was edited. In an eloquent speech at Upsala University that I commend to all of you, she contradicts literally everything Simon put forth on 60 Minutes about who is responsible for the Christian flight. Of course, she may be biased. Her uncle was blinded for life after being shot in the head at point blank range, not by an IDF soldier, of course, but by an Islamic terrorist — a curious omission, among many, from the 60 Minutes segment.
I should have known better but I was so outraged when I saw Ms. Anastas’ video that, on behalf of PJ Media, I called and emailed the executive producer of 60 Minutes Jeff Fager for a comment or reaction. You may be astonished to hear that I have received, thus far, no reply.
As for our grand prize winner last year — the Duranty itself – as many of you will recall that was awarded to Joan Juliet Buck and editor Anna Wintour for their charming Vogue magazine “at home” with the trendy Assads: “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert.” Where is Asma anyway these days? It seems she’s disappeared from view, for some reason. No more shopping trips to Mayfair apparently.
A hundred and fifty thousand corpses later, it’s astounding that anyone could have ever written such cynical fawning tripe, even for a fashion publication. But that’s why we have the Duranty Prize — to make people stop and think before they do something as horrible as that…. or at least to call attention to it when they do. Duranty’s photo, it is always worth noting, still adorns the wall of the New York Times along with its other Pulitzer winners. Some things never change.
And now on to this year’s prizes. James….
Video and transcript of the presentation by PJ Media’s Ron Radosh, preceded by James Taranto’s introduction, follows on the next page.
The first “Award” presented went to The New Republic’s Israel-bashing John B. Judis, and was presented by PJM’s Ron Radosh. here’s the transcript of Ron speech:
The third runner-up this year for the Walter Duranty Award is my newest ex-friend, John B. Judis. Hired by The New Republic decades ago by Marty Peretz to cover American politics, in the past few years Judis has turned out to be TNR’s man to go to for analysis concerning Israel and the Middle East.
In agreeing to publish Judis on this topic, the magazine’s once proud pro-Israel tradition has disappeared. In its place is continuing analysis of the Middle East by Judis. I agree with what Leon Wieseltier, TNR’s literary editor, has written in a now well-known e-mail to me, calling Judis’ knowledge of Jewish history and Zionism “shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise, and sometimes risibly inaccurate,” making him a “tourist in this subject.” Of course, this is an understatement, to which I give my hearty agreement.
What gave Judis the claim to expertise is his recent book: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. The book received universally bad reviews, even from reviewers who know Zionism and Israel and who agree with Judis’ current-day positions, such as Bernard Wasserstein in The National Interest. The most popular defender of Judis is the rabid anti-Israel site Mondoweiss, which tells us something about the quarters in which Judis’ support now lies. He shares their backing along with another author, the vicious self-hating Jew Max Blumenthal.
In everything Judis now writes when covering the Middle East, Judis writes from the assumption that Zionism and a Jewish state was illegitimate from the start, that it should never in the first place have been created, and that Jews in the period of the 1920s to the 1940s should have put their fate into living as a minority in an Arab state. As he so eloquently puts it, Zionism’s very goal was to “screw the Arabs,” and not to build a homeland for Europe’s beleaguered remnant of the Jewish population at the end of World War II. Hence, what the Zionists did was to create a “settler-colonialist movement” whose aim was to “conquer and not merely live in Palestine.”
All of these assessments were presented in Judis’ TNR essay this past January 15, essentially a summary of his argument that he presented in greater depth in his book. But in the article, he skips to the present, arguing that since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, “a Muslim holy site,” and then created the “occupation of the West Bank,” the result was the growth of “Islamic nationalism in the Middle East in the 1970s” as well as “the rise of international terrorist groups.”
Absent in his article is any indication that Israel won these areas by defeating Arab forces that attacked them, or any discussion at all of radical Islamic ideology, which to Judis evidently does not exist. Instead, the entire blame for tension and war in the Middle East is the fault of one nation alone — Israel. After all, he writes, in his 1996 fatwa Osama bin Laden talked about the “Zionist-Crusader alliance.” The implication is clear: Osama might not have waged jihad against the United States if Israel had not done such an evil deed as to win a war fought against its enemies.
Thus, he concludes that it is “American’s continued support for Israel,” revealed in both military aid and a “tilt to Israel in negotiations with the Palestinians,” that has “fueled anti-Americanism.” So in essence, Judis seems unaware that since the Obama administration took office, American policy has — especially now under John Kerry’s actions as secretary of State — actually tilted against Israel, asking it to make concessions while shying away from any commensurate actions it might have pressured the Palestinian Authority to take.
Judis suggests that tilting away from Israel would have the salutary effect of reducing international terrorism, removing “an important source of unrest” and thus allowing “the United States to act as an honest broker rather than as a partisan in the region.” If only there was instead of Israel “a federated or binational Palestine,” Judis writes, showing his realistic favoring of a would-be solution that no parties in the region desire.
Judis proves true to form when writing other columns on Iran, Israel, and the Middle East. Not surprisingly, what he liked about Obama’s State of the Union speech in October 2013 was the president’s threat to veto any legislation from Congress that would set up a new sanctions bill against Iran. After all, he is certain that such a bill would derail negotiations with Iran, preventing the administration from having “a chance to score a breakthrough in negotiations” with the mullahs. Of course, the villain AIPAC is behind it, gaining the support of 43 Republicans and 16 Democrats, an example of bi-partisanship that this time Judis bemoans. Defeating sanctions, he assures us, is in both America’s and Israel’s interest — a rare moment in which Judis pretends to be concerned with Israel’s existence. To achieve this, he writes to oppose “malignant interference from Congress.” Leave it all to the executive and the imperial presidency.
I somehow don’t recall Judis making this argument during the Vietnam War.
In another column on October l, Judis condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for saying in his UN speech something “shockingly bad,” when he argued that Hassan Rouhani was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And Netanyahu also dared to say that Iran had “fanatic” leaders who voted to “wipe Israel off the map.” Judis then proceeded to inform readers how many sincere times Iran made overtures to the U.S. that were rejected. And, he added, Rouhani even tweeted to wish Jews a happy Rosh Hoshanah. I don’t recall an addendum when Iran denied having done so — but Judis had already made his point, showing his eternal trust in Iran’s leaders and distrust of those who govern Israel. Finally, he condemned Israel’s prime minister for making conditions for negotiations “that the Palestinians are not ready to accept.” How dare Netanyahu defend his country’s interests against those who threaten to send it into the sea? I wait for Judis to write a column urging the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state. Why do I think that is never coming?
The question is why anyone would take Judis’ writings on these issues seriously. He believes, as he makes clear in his book, that Israel was created by Zionists who, conspiring with the British, decided to “screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs.” His analysis is to be matched only by that of the late Helen Thomas, the one journalist with whom Judis bares comparison.
Finally, Judis was not wise enough to take his own advice given at the end of his book. He did not offer policy solutions, he wrote, because he said he was “not thoroughly acquainted with the current actors.” At the time he wrote that, however, he was not one bit shy of attacking Netanyahu, especially for insisting that Palestinians should recognize a Jewish state.
Having chastised Israel for getting the UN in 1947 to accept partition and creation of two states, Judis finally wrote last April 14 in praise of John Kerry and the Obama administration for blaming Israel for the breakdown in talks, and arguing that the best hope is for letting Palestinians take the issue to the UN. It was only the Israelis, of course, who were responsible for the end of the peace process. So Judis offers the solution: “supporting Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to bring the United Nations and other international organizations into the negotiations.”
So we offer this Duranty Award to John B. Judis, who proves time and time again that his concept of journalism is to simply condemn Israel and to back the Palestinians, whose propaganda and word he accepts at face value.
Video and transcript of the presentation by PJ Media’s Claudia Rosett, preceded by James Taranto’s introduction, follows on the next page.
Next up, is PJM’s Claudia Rosett to present the First Runner-Up Award to CNN’s Candy Crowley. Here’s a transcript of Claudia’s speech:
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
It is one of life’s verities — as the “narratives” of the fourth estate rarely fail to remind us — that journalists tend to regard themselves as the guardians and escorts of civic progress and virtue. Thus freighted with a higher mission than most, they are naturally tempted to insert themselves right into the middle of the nation’s political debates. The more consequential, the better. That may go some distance toward explaining the mess we are in these days.
But for all the power of the pen, the keyboard, the microphone, and the TV cameras, it’s not often that a journalist has the opportunity to influence an American presidential election with the mere utterance of a single untruth.
Such a moment did, however, present itself to our first runner-up. And when it came, she did not flinch.
The selection committee of the Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity is pleased to bestow the award of first runner-up on CNN’s chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, for her extraordinary performance during the 2012 presidential race as moderator of the second debate between the Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama, and the Republican contender, Governor Mitt Romney.
The moment of truth — or, more precisely, untruth — arose out of a question about Benghazi, Libya, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack which had taken place there just over a month earlier. Questions were swirling around the administration’s attempts that September to blame what was clearly a terrorist attack on a spontaneous mob enraged by a “hateful video.”
In the debate, Mr. Obama claimed that in his remarks the morning after the attack he had called it “an act of terror” (which he had not). Mr. Romney, catching the president in a lie, challenged this revision of history.
And at that fraught moment, Ms. Crowley inserted herself directly into the debate, putting her thumb on the scale for Mr. Obama. The result was to throw the exchange in favor of the incumbent, and to sweep Benghazi, as an issue, out of the race.
What effect this had at the polls that November, we will never know. We do, however, wonder.
But let us provide more context. That September, in what appeared at that stage to be a hotly contested presidential race, Mr. Obama was running on foreign policy platform that included claims about the tide of war receding and al-Qaeda being on the run. On Sept. 11, heavily armed al Qaeda-linked terrorists delivered a nightmare contradiction to that narrative, attacking an American diplomatic compound and a nearby annex in Benghazi. In the attack, four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were murdered. It was the first time in 33 years that a serving American ambassador had been killed. On the 11th anniversary of the 2001 attacks on our nation, it was a terrorist attack, with links to al-Qaeda.
That same evening, Sept. 11, in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement implying that the attacks had been sparked by what came to be known as “the video.” She said: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
The next morning, before hitting the campaign trail to Las Vegas, Mr. Obama delivered his first public remarks on the attacks. Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, he echoed Ms. Clinton’s allusion to “the video.” He said: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
Mr. Obama did not call the horror in Benghazi a terrorist attack. In an artfully fudged bit of phrasing, the closest he came to the truth was to generalize, saying: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” Fair enough. But sidestepping the carnage of the hour with an abstraction, coupled with the allusion to “the video” — that was a rather different message than if he had squarely informed the American public that Wednesday morning that four Americans had just died in a terrorist attack.
Instead, four days later, UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday TV talk shows, blaming the Benghazi attack on a spontaneous mob infuriated by the “hateful video.”
Fast-forward to the Oct. 16 presidential debate. By that time, in the face of emerging details, the administration had been forced to concede that the Benghazi attack was an act of terror. The video narrative was looking less like a campaign-saving maneuver, and more like a campaign-damaging cover-up.
And in the debate — apparently trying to cover up the cover-up — Mr. Obama claimed that the day after the attack, speaking from the White House Rose Garden, he had called it “an act of terror.” Mr. Romney challenged this revision of history, saying “I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called it an act of terror.”
Mr. Obama replied: “Get the transcript.”
What he got instead was Candy Crowley. Shedding her role as moderator, she jumped in on Mr. Obama’s behalf with her own reply to Mr. Romney’s point — and it was an important point — that Mr. Obama on Sept. 12, contrary to his own account on Oct. 16, had not called the Benghazi attack an act of terror.
I will quote the exchange in full, because this was our prize-winner’s big moment:
“It — it — it — he did in fact, sir,” said Candy. With the verve of a bodyguard, she threw herself – verbally, at least — in the path of any further accusations against Mr. Obama: “So let me — let me call it an act of terror.”
Mr. Obama did not pass up this opportunity. “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”, he asked.
She obliged, saying to Mr. Romney (this was the utterance that clinched her this evening’s prize): “He — he did call it an act of terror.”
With that, Ms. Crowley transformed the two-man presidential debate into a three-ring circus. Mr. Romney was now debating not only the incumbent, but the moderator, who was repeating, at Mr. Obama’s request, Mr. Obama’s untruth.
Further muddying the scene, Ms. Crowley then threw in the somewhat incoherent statement: “It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out,” Apparently this was supposed to be a sop to Mr. Romney, because she then conceded that whatever she meant by this gibberish, “You are right about that.”
At that point in the debate, being right no longer mattered. Mr. Romney tried to recover the point, but Ms. Crowley was by then in a big hurry to move on. The exchange devolved into cross-talk in which the final words went to Mr. Obama, who was also in a hurry to move right along, because, as he said, referring to the audience, “I just want to make sure that all of these wonderful folks are going to have a chance to get some of their questions answered.”
Shortly after the debate, Ms. Crowley — a freshly minted celebrity of that campaign season — made her own rounds on the TV talk shows. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Mr. Romney was “right in the main,” but “picked the wrong word.” She told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that “I was trying to sort of — you know, bring some clarity to the conversation.”
She appeared on The View, where she explained that she’d been “trying to move the conversation along” and “they got stuck on this word.” She compared the Romney-Obama disagreement to President Clinton’s disquisition on what “the definition of ‘is’ is,” and excused her own intervention as: “It did not come to me as, I’m going to fact check this. It came to me as, could we get past this? The point is, this is a semantic thing.”
Actually, it was not just a semantic thing, nor was it a matter of what the meaning of “is” is. The words at issue were “an act of terror.” The act of terror in question was one in which four Americans died, two of them choking on the smoke of a diesel-fueled conflagration and two hit by mortars. And the context of this “semantic thing” — in which it was the prerogative of the candidates, not the moderator, to pick the words — was a nationally televised debate in the race for the job of president of the United States.
Whatever Ms. Crowley meant to achieve, she did manage to get the election season debate past those awkward Benghazi issues. That was the end of Benghazi as a major element in the race, though it appears there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
I must mention that in considering Ms. Crowley for a Duranty award, the selection committee did discuss whether an award could be given for achievements that took place not in 2013, but in 2012. However, Ms. Crowley took up the Benghazi “semantic thing” again last year, in May, 2013, on CNN’s State of the Union show, which she anchors.
She did not apologize for misleading the nation and derailing a presidential campaign debate by running interference for Mr. Obama. Actually, she appeared to have dropped her own starring role in that debate right down the Memory Hole. Speaking to one of President Obama’s senior advisors, Dan Pfeiffer, about the Susan Rice “video” talking points and Mr. Obama’s strange equivocations, semantic haze and video allusions in the weeks just after Benghazi, Ms. Crowley asked: “So why wouldn’t the president just say, yeah, it was a terrorist attack?”
A good question, seven months late.
Was it, perhaps, because his campaign narrative at that stage — like Ms. Crowley’s interjection into the debate — trumped any interest in the truth?
What we do know: There was Candy Crowley, in 2013, asking why the president at a critical moment did not say the words which at another critical moment she had insisted he did say.
In this philosophy of the universe, it’s always a question of what the meaning of “is” is. Or, as Ms. Crowley explained during her appearance on The View: “People are going to look at this thing through the prism that they look at this through, and I get that.”
So do we. Having judged that Candy Crowley — with her efforts to bring clarity to the 2012 presidential campaign, and then to disavow any responsibility for the results — has satisfied in every particular the requirements of the selection committee, we are pleased to congratulate her as first runner-up for the 2014 Walter Duranty Award for Journalistic Mendacity.
Video and transcript of the presentation by Roger Kimball of the New Criterion, preceded by James Taranto’s introduction, follows on the next page.
Presenting the 2014 Duranty Award Winner was Roger Kimball of the New Criterion, which co-sponsored the Duranty Awards, who is also a PJM columnist. The 2014 Duranty Award Winner was David M. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times for his article “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi.”
“O what a tangled web we weave/ when first we practice to deceive.”
The best authorities tell me that Sir Walter Scott did not in fact have the administration of Barack Obama in mind when he wrote those lines. Nor, I suppose, did the later wit who completed Scott’s lines with the observation: “But when we practice quite a while/ how vastly we improve our style.” Still, I am struck by the uncanny pertinence of that ditty to what was, for a few nanoseconds, described by some as “the most transparent administration in history.”
We award the Duranty Prizes for conspicuous achievement in the field of journalistic mendacity. Were we to broaden the Prizes to include political mendacity, the Obama administration would afford an embarrassment, not of riches, exactly, but certainly a plethora of tempting candidates for one or more Duranty awards. Remember: if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period; remember, too, that there is not a “smidgeon of corruption” in the IRS — just ask Lois Lerner, if you can get her to ditch taking the Fifth Amendment for a moment; and remember that massacre in Benghazi and those riots in Cairo on September 11, 2012 — September 11, mind you — they of course were sparked by a sophomoric internet video about a notorious medieval anti-Semite and pedophile. Those riots and that massacre had absolutely nothing to do with any failure of Obama’s policies with respect to the Islamic world: how could they? Obama himself has “decimated” al-Qaeda — he told us himself, just as he had told us as far back as 2007 that “Muslim hostility” toward the U.S. “would cease” the day — the very day! — he was inaugurated. Al-Qaeda was “on the run.” I am only surprised that he didn’t add: “Period.” Of course, the families of the victims of the shooting at Fort Hood, the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and the massacre at Benghazi might have something to say about that contention — but dude, that was all ages ago.
Well, there is a lot more I could say about the most transparent administration in history. And as it happens, this year’s First Prize winner of the Walter Duranty Award for Journalistic Mendacity has earned his laurel crown for aiding and abetting one critical — and indeed, ongoing — episode of the Obama administration’s fraud and dissimulation practiced against the American people. I mean the many centrifuges of spin, lies, stonewalling, and cover-ups that have emanated from the administration about Benghazi since the White House was first informed that Someone Had Blundered on September 11, 2012, even as former Navy SEALs Ty Woods and Glen Doherty were still fighting for their lives in that CIA annex in Libya.
It was partly to shore up the Obama administration’s narrative about Benghazi, and partly to pave the way for the possible return of “What-Difference-Does-it-Make” Hillary Clinton, that the New York Times published David M. Kirkpatrick’s extraordinary saga “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi” on December 28, 2013.
You know from the citations my fellow judges have supplied for the runners-up that this was a year rich in journalistic mendacity. But we all felt that David Kirkpatrick was the clear winner, and indeed a worthy successor to the eponymous inspiration for this Prize, Walter Duranty, who telegraphed back to the Times’ readers in 1933 the grateful news that: “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” Modern estimates put the death toll of Stalin’s deliberately engineered terror famine somewhere north of 7,000,000. Duranty was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reporting from the Soviet Union, which I think provides a good sense of exactly what that honor is worth. For its part, the New York Times has resisted repeated calls to revoke Duranty’s award, perhaps feeling that once started down that slippery slope they would not know where to end.
One of the most impressive things about “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi” is its detail. The long piece is divided into six chapters, from “Warning Signs” through “Bedlam” and “Aftermath.” It is accompanied by dramatic photographs, maps, and schematic drawings. The internet version boasts various animated graphics. The essay practically screams: “Please consider me for a Pultizer!”
I doubt that will happen, partly because the ink was not yet dry on the fish-wrap before its central contentions were authoritatively disputed, and partly because the abundance of detail is little more than an insubstantial smokescreen.
Let’s start with the story’s major contentions. “Months of investigation by the New York Times,” David Kirkpatrick writes near the beginning of his piece, “centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up [here comes contention number 1] no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. … And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, [and here is contention number 2] it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”
Unfortunately for David Kirkpatrick, his story hadn’t even been packed up for the weekend recycling before a House Intelligence Committee report concluded, pace the Times, that the Benghazi attack was “an al-Qaeda-led event.”
The culprit was “not a video,” Rep. Mike Rogers observed. “That whole part was debunked time and time again.” It was not a “spontaneous uprising,” as was put about by the Obama administration at the time, and was, with certain qualifications, reprised by David Kirkpatrick, rather it was a “pre-planned, organized terrorist event,” orchestrated by al-Qaeda.
There has emerged, since that House Intelligence Committee report, a steady trickle of corroborating detail as group after group has wrested via Freedom of Information suits more and more facts about Benghazi from the most transparent administration in history. For example, not only do we know that the murderous terrorist attack that left four Americans dead was orchestrated by al-Qaeda offshoots, but we also know that the Obama administration knew, because Pentagon intelligence officers have told us so.
The drip-drip-drip of revelations about Benghazi suddenly turned into a cataract last week after Judicial Watch managed, via one of its many FOIA suits against the administration, to disgorge what has been called the “smoking-gun” “prep-call” email sent by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, to help prepare Susan Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the UN, on her whirlwind tour of the television shows a few days after the massacre in Benghazi to explain, or rather utterly misrepresent, what happened. Among the talking points Ben Rhodes supplied for the guidance of Susan Rice was the advice to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The time, remember, was September 2012, just a few scant weeks before the presidential election. It was not a moment when the Obama administration wanted the issue of executive competence bruited about.
The poet Delmore Schwartz once observed that even paranoids have enemies. Delmore would have like the wheels-with-wheels story about Benghazi. He would, for example, have savored the detail that Ben Rhodes is the brother of David Rhodes, head of news at CBS, which has maintained an almost autistic lack of curiosity about Benghazi and which cut loose their one inquisitive investigative reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, when she exhibited troubling signs of wanting to do her job and by actually finding out what happened there.
Let me end with a few observations about the smokescreen aspect of David Kirkpatrick’s essay. Many months of exhaustive investigation, and what does the Times produce? Not only is it dead wrong in its major contentions, but consider the questions it doesn’t answer, or even raise.
We learn that Ambassador Chris Stevens and the heads of some local militias got together and snacked on “Twinkie-like” cakes September 9. But how about these interesting questions: How did Chris Stevens actually die? Why has there been no autopsy published? Why did the U.S. military not try to intervene? There were assets in Italy little more than an hour away. There was a “stand-down” order issued to Ty Woods and Glen Doherty: who was the ultimate source of that order? And speaking of ultimate sources, where was the ultimate ultimate source that night — where was Barack Obama? We have it on the authority of Tommy “Dude” Vietor, a former National Security spokesman, that Obama was not in the situation room that night. Where was he? What was he doing? Preparing for his fundraiser in Las Vegas the next day? We don’t know.
Why wasn’t answering that part of the Times’ “exhaustive research”?
We’ll probably never get full answers to most of these questions. But David Kirkpatrick’s elaborate exercise in ideologically motivated historical revisionism nevertheless really is something special. It exhibits a mendacity that is both deep and insinuating, poaching skillfully on the tattered but still powerful reputation of a once great newspaper, coolly reinforcing the partisan damage control concocted as the 2012 presidential election entered its final phase, and subtly disparaging any counter-narrative that might be thought damaging to the administration’s skein of lies.My own suspicion is that David Kirkpatrick’s ultimate ambition had less to do with salvaging President Obama’s crumbling reputation than it did with removing obstacles littering the way towards Hillary Clinton’s eventual nomination in 2016. I also suspect, however, that recent revelations have put paid to that enterprise just as they have definitively revealed “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi” to be little more than a congeries of lies, half-truths, and ideologically motivated obfuscations.
So, congratulations to you, David M. Kirkpatrick. The judges were enthusiastically unanimous in recognizing your unsurpassed claim to first prize in this year’s Walter Duranty Award for Journalistic Mendacity. Dude, you deserve it.
To conclude the 2014 Duranty Awards, video and a transcript of Roger L. Simon’s presentation of the first annual “Dan Rather Award for a Lifetime of Journalist Mendacity” follows on the next page.
Media bias is a lifetime endeavor. Who knows when it begins? If, as some say, life begins at the moment of conception, it could be then. Indeed, bias is basic to the human condition, built into our psyches, and largely “about me.” You are biased in favor of something that gets you something — food, shelter, power, money, fame, partners of the opposite or same sex, whichever you prefer, even eternal life. No one is unbiased. At least I haven’t met him or her yet.
The wise — or at least the honest — admit their prejudices. But many live under the pretense that they are not biased, lying to others and even more significantly to themselves. Dan Rather was and is one of the greatest recent exemplars of this kind of self-deception in journalism and it is fitting we name our award for lifetime achievement for media bias after him — not to mention that he already, inadvertently, gave the name to PJ Media, formerly PJ Media, one of our hosts here this evening.
It will be recalled that back in 2004 when a group of bloggers questioned the legitimacy of supposedly official National Guard papers besmirching the Guard service of then presidential candidate George W. Bush, papers that had been repeatedly promulgated as authentic by Mr. Rather on ’60 Minutes’, his executive producer Jonathan Klein publicly proclaimed those bloggers a bunch of amateurs in their pajamas. Hence, PJ Media.
Klein, no intellectual, was evidently unaware that Proust wrote “Remembrance of Things Past” in his pajamas.
To this day Rather — no longer an anchorman, as we know — has not acknowledged that he lied about the forged Bush National Guard Papers. That’s because he thinks he lied for a greater good. His narrative was correct, so those papers were to him, in essence, spiritually, if not factually, real. I believe the meme is “fake but accurate.”
And what was that greater good? On first blush, we would say the conventional modern liberal view of our politics and society. But, as I have suggested, it is something more personal. For Rather, and many others, their wealth and, more particularly their fame, had fused with this world view. They could not reconsider their views, or observe them with even enough objectivity to see an obvious forgery, because they had become one with them. Their self, their identity, was dependent up on them. That which makes you powerful must be true. As others have suggested, this in the realm of faux religious faith, also in the realm of the narcissistic personality disorder.
Which leads us to the first ever honoree for The Rather. The committee indeed had many choices, enough to fill a decade of dinners, or maybe several decades. But we had to pick one. I have to confess that our choice was once a hero of mine, which says a lot more about me and who I was than it does about him.
But indeed, for many years, this man was a media star. Known to many as the greatest investigative reporter of his generation, he has been described the Financial Times as “the last great American reporter.”
Unfortunately, he was also a serial fabricator. After making his name at the age of thirty-three with the exposure of the My Lai massacre, for which he won a Pulitzer, he garnered important positions with the New York Times, speaking of Walter Duranty, and later the New Yorker. But the Times grew quickly nervous about his scattershot approach to the truth and let him go.
Not so the New Yorker, for whom our honoree wrote for years, including six extensive pieces during the Bush administration, claiming he had information the United States was about to launch a war against the Islamic Republic of Iran, each time revising his date when it didn’t happen, much like a Seventh Day Adventist pushing back Armageddon every year or two.
All this was done based on inside sources almost never identified beyond “a former senior intelligence official” or a “senior commander,” This was the wont of our honoree who had evolved his own special style of reporting, relying on those secret sources, that had long since crossed the border into fiction — and not particularly good fiction at that.
This style had evolved from his 1983 book on Henry Kissinger in which our man, without real evidence, alleged Prime Minister Desai of India had been a paid agent of the CIA. Those prevarications, based always on secret or sketchy sources (one man that even he admitted “lies like people breath”), continued on into his 1991 tome The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and America Foreign Poly in which our honoree claimed that Israel blackmailed the US during the Yom Kippur War by threatening to go nuclear against its Arab enemies. Nixon himself said this had no foundation.
But that didn’t stop our honoree and his many fans. Not even the absurd allegations in his 1997 doorstopper about the Kennedys, The Dark Side of Camelot, that JFK offered hush money to Marilyn Monroe and conspired with the mafia to overthrow Castro. These factoids were based, as it turned out, apropos of The Rather, on forged documents. Like Dan, our man was always ready to believe anything that supported his narrative — or that would shock, make people pay attention to him.
This has continued into more contemporary times with wild and always inaccurate, not to mention disparaging to America, allegations about Abu Ghraib, the manipulation of intelligence before the Iraq War and now, importantly, about Iran, a country our honoree wrote at length, in The New Yorker again… I thought they were famous for their editing… was not interested in nuclear weapons. This nonsense came out almost exactly the same time as the IAEA produced detailed evidence exactly to the contrary. Our man sluffed this off… let certain members of our audience be warned… as the excessive influence of “Jewish money from New York.” (I’m out of this — I’m from LA.)
So we can say our first Rather honoree is the poster child for a phenomenon endemic to our culture — slanted opinion writing masquerading as serious unbiased journalism (would that there were such a thing). But at least he’s consistent. In the view of this man, everything about Western Civilization is evil and/or corrupt, except, of course, when it pays his check.
It is with ironic pleasure that I present The first Rather Award of PJ Media and The New Criterion to Seymour Hersh.