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.