The MSM and Benghazi: Will Their Coverage Harm Obama Administration? (Updated)
We are in the midst of an unfolding and growing scandal, which even the New York Times has been forced to admit in an online report which raises serious doubts about the administration's spin after the embassy attack. Indeed, they emphasized in their headline the demotion of Gregory Hicks for daring to tell the truth -- that from the get-go, everyone in the Benghazi compound described the event as an attack, and never mentioned a protest or a video. Mr. Hicks testified that State Department officials disciplined him for not sticking to the phony narrative told by Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton.
The Times story, then, is a major breakthrough from the MSM's regular pattern of ignoring the contradictions and treating the event as a non-issue.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is certainly correct when he states that the scandal is "every bit as damaging as Watergate." And we know what happened as a result of that cover-up: the impeachment and resignation of the presidency by Richard M. Nixon.
What the future portends depends a great deal on how the regular media treats it.
We must remember that the entire nation does not watch Bret Baier's nightly panel on Fox, which has given Benghazi the most complete coverage and whose panelists regularly discuss developments as they occur. Fox, as expected, led with the hearings and their importance.
Wednesday, the three major MSM networks led their nightly news reports with the kidnapping of the three women who were freed after ten years, putting the Benghazi hearings as their second story.
CBS News offered a solid report from Sharyl Attkisson, who has not shied away from news stories which do not paint the Obama administration in a good light. As the Washington Post recently noted, she has been "a persistent voice of media skepticism about Benghazi." She again made true on that assessment: Attkisson reported on both the issue of the attribution of the attack to the video, and on the other main issue of why military reinforcements were not sent when requested. The network then shifted to another reporter whose story reflected more of the administration's position.
NBC's and ABC's reports were shorter and less informative. But even they could not help but let viewers, who previously may have not thought there was any story remaining, understand that even months after the attack explanations have not been forthcoming. And further, that a cover-up may have taken place at State, and perhaps higher in the administration.
We already have seen -- in the screeds offered by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings -- what will undoubtedly be the Democratic talking points: that the entire hearings amount to an attempt by Republicans to "politicize" a tragedy. Of course, the politicization came from the administration which sought to neutralize and threaten potential whistle-blowers, and who wanted unanimity behind "the video was to blame" narrative.
The Times report bluntly stated the shocking revelation this way:
All three witnesses -- Mr. Hicks, Mr. Nordstrom and Mark I. Thompson ... insisted that the inflammatory anti-Islamic YouTube video that the White House initially blamed for the attack was something they never considered a factor in the assault on the compound. ... It has become clear that American officials on the ground and in Washington immediately believed the attackers were terrorists, not demonstrators who turned violent, as Mrs. Rice alleged in a series of Sunday talk show interviews. ... "I was stunned," Mr. Hicks said when asked what he thought when he heard Ms. Rice's explanation. "My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed."
How will the rest of the mainstream and liberal/left media treat the story now? Will they go with Rep. Cummings and many of the other Democrats on the committee, who argued that those who raise issues are only trying to "launch unfounded accusations and to smear public officials," or will they continue to report what is now obvious -- that the administration's leading spokesmen, from Susan Rice to Hillary Clinton, obviously lied?
Most political observers are treating Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee for president in the next presidential election. If she is nominated, we are likely to see Republican commercials featuring her angry rant in the previous Congressional hearings -- "What does it matter?" -- followed by the moving testimony of Eric Nordstrom that it matters to him, to the families of the deceased, and to the American people.
But perhaps the revelations are enough, especially as they unfold in the coming weeks, to derail her hopes of nomination. One suspects competitors for the spot on the ticket will quickly distance themselves from her and her role in Benghazi.
By Thursday evening, we shall see how other liberal journalists and media outlets spin the hearings. Look for an addendum to this column then.
Update: 3:15 pm -East Coast time
Evidently, as Rick Richman points out today at Contentions, The New York Times removed the very paragraphs I quoted in my column from the story that appears on the front page of today’s print edition. Evidently, those brave editors at the once proud "paper of record" were too scared to let its readers see evidence that may interfere with the Obama administration's chosen narrative. So now we not only have Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and her top advisor Cheryl Mills exposed as dissemblers, we have the Times' editors playing the game.
Nevertheless, Joe Scarborough began his discussion on Morning Joe by citing the paper’s article as proof that the Benghazi issue is not going away, and noted that it verified the concern by skeptics of the administration’s original story. Later, Walter Isaacson came on, and strangely argued that the demotion of a top diplomat with 22 years of distinguished service was nothing, since he was free to testify in public and was not in prison. If that is the standard for judging whether superiors at State dealt unfairly with one of their own top career officers, it is indeed bar far too high that Isaacson sets.
On All In with Chris Hayes, the story was all a right-wing much ado about nothing fomented by Fox News. Hayes called it a “byzantine” conspiracy manufactured by Republicans. As one guest, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Maloney put it, the story was nothing but “false lies” presented by Darrell Issa, and revealed Republicans needlessly attacking the military and the State Department instead of working with Democrats to put into effect the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board’s report. His next guest, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, portrayed the hearings as a non-issue created by Fox News to make some inept decisions seem like a cover-up. Indeed, Rep. Maloney then called for having Darrell Issa apologize to Hillary Clinton for accusing her of perfidy. Essentially, they argued that it was all an attempt to prevent Clinton from receiving the nomination of the Democratic Party for president.
At the left-wing Salon magazine, Anthony Clark, a former Democratic staff member of the House Oversight Committee, dealt with the issue by making a personal attack on Rep. Issa, and writing that “If Darrell Issa says something – based on the record, his statements and my personal observations of him up-close – there is a strong likelihood it will be baseless and easily disproven.” Of course, as PJM readers well know, the reason issues exist and are not going away is because of the testimony of yesterday’s three top witnesses, all career officer previously lauded for their work. It is not Issa’s own claims that were tested, but the testimony that Democrats are finding hard to ignore or refute.
After listing a whole bunch of Issa’s would-be sins, he writes: “these and other issues call into serious question Issa’s integrity, or fitness to serve in the United States Congress, much less chair a House committee vested with personal subpoena power.” As he later writes, Issa is even “awkward and ineffective” when he appears on Bill Maher’s TV program. So much for the issues brought forth in yesterday’s hearing! I do not have any expertise about Clark’s allegations about Issa. They may indeed be accurate, for all I know. But none of them -- I repeat none of them -- have anything to do with the issues surrounding Benghazi. But what better way for a spokesman of the Left to try and get readers to ignore the issues than by waging a personal attack on the chair of the House Oversight Committee?
Over the next weeks, expect the liberals in the media and the administration to get their talking points together, and to wage an all-out attack on any source that seeks to raise pertinent questions about Benghazi. TPM had one brief video saying both sides argue it was all about politics. So far, nothing has appeared on the website of either Mother Jones or The Nation, but rest assured their staffs are trying to come up with something to cast doubt on the growing Benghazi scandal.
The more the official story unravels, we can expect the MSM, including The New York Times, to revert to form and do all they can to make the story disappear. In that effort, the still-silent left-wing press will eventually lead the charge, spinning their own theories to discredit any future whistle-blowers. Let us hope they are too late.