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The 2014 Duranty Award Winner: David M. Kirkpatrick's '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.