Friday, May 10, 2013

The Benghazi scandal that isn't: How Republicans and the media are distorting a tragedy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another day, another breathless report of something supposedly "new" in the whole Benghazi saga, which really just amounts to a media-enabled Republican assault on the the Obama Administration -- first the president himself as the target, now, with Republicans looking ahead to 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Today it's from Jonathan Karl of ABC News, who "reports" the following:

When it became clear last fall that the CIA’s now discredited Benghazi talking points were flawed, the White House said repeatedly the documents were put together almost entirely by the intelligence community, but White House documents reviewed by Congress suggest a different story.

ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.

White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.  The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.

Okay... and? 

As ThinkProgress notes:

[T]he ABC report suggests the State Department "scrubbed" the talking points of terror references as some sort of nefarious cover-up of what really happened in Benghazi for political reasons. This, of course, playing into the GOP's conspiracy theory that President Obama was trying to preserve his campaign theme that his policies has significantly crippled the terror network. 

And I would note that Karl's piece seems to be written from the perspective of those conspiracy theories. At the very least, Karl is playing right along with the right's obsessions. ThinkProgress continues:

The story soon set reporters and Twitter alight. "Scrubbing the truth from Benghazi," a National Journal headline read. Even the BBC speculated that "heads will roll."

But absent in ABC's report is the key point that Obama and various members of his administration referred to the Benghazi assault as a terror attack on numerous occasions shortly after the incident (thereby negating the need to "scrub" any references in the talking points) and that then-CIA Director David Petraeus said the terrorist references were taken out to, as the New York Times reported, "avoid tipping off the groups" that may have been involved.

Basically, the State Department -- specifically former Cheney advisor Victoria Nuland -- was more involved in the development of the talking points than previously reported.

Republicans and their various enablers in the media -- who may think they're digging for the truth but are really just doing the Republicans' bidding -- seem to think this rises to the level of, well, something possibly worse than Watergate.

But there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sort of political interference that could be even remotely categorized as a conspiracy. (To extent that there was politics involved, yes, all public talking points are inherently political. That's not news.)

In other words, ABC's "exclusive" reveals a turf battle, not some cover-up. As it turns out, the story is more about how talking points are generated in the interagency process...

It was, needless to say, a crazy night. The U.S. diplomatic mission was attacked and people were killed. What happened was awful. In retrospect, sure, some things no doubt could have been done differently, but it's always easy to say that. But the Obama Administration does not have blood on its hands. Its immediate reponse -- and this includes the Pentagon as well -- was suitable given what was known at the time. And while the messaging could have been clearer and more consistent afterwards, there was little clarity with respect to the incident itself, and so obviously there were differences and inconsistencies along the way. This happens in a bureaucracy, not least when we're talking about an incident in a place as foggy as Libya. And again, as General Petraeus himself noted, there were good reasons for exercising caution with respect to language.

I am not saying the White House deserves no blame, but, really, this is simply not a scandal, let alone one of the magnitude Republicans are suggesting. And actually, if there is blame to assign, how about on the Republicans for cutting funding for America's diplomatic missions? The point is, Republicans didn't give a shit about any of this until they realized they could use it as a weapon to try to bring down first President Obama (with Rice as a proxy) and now Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans will no doubt continue to push this as far as they can, though we have long since passed the point of absurdity. But it would help if the media didn't lend credence to their partisan attacks, and if they were able to do some responsible reporting with a healthy sense of perspective.

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