Media Coverage of Benghazi Leans Toward Political Theater Bethany Stotts
October 7, 2013
Accuracy in Media recently held a conference on last year’s tragic attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. This event not only served as a launching pad for a new group called the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, but also called attention to some largely unknown facts about Benghazi that have been covered up by the administration and the mainstream press.
First, we learned from the Obama Administration that it was a YouTube video that sparked the protests—a false narrative gladly perpetuated by the media as long as possible. Currently, the media and the administration are pushing the story that attempts to investigate Benghazi constitute a Republican vendetta, the perpetuation of a “phony scandal” to incite the populace against the President and former Secretary of State—and presidential hopeful—Hillary Clinton.
To this end, it is not surprising that key details of the recent congressional hearings on Benghazi went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media. Instead, media consumers are left with the narrative that this is a political battle rather than a search for the truth, and that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his Oversight and Government Reform Committee are composed of belligerent politicians who care little about decorum or etiquette. (That, according to Politico, seemed to be the greater takeaway.)
What inspires headlines on the topic of Benghazi today? Political theater, such as Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) tweet that the World War II Monument had more security on hand than Benghazi did that terrible night.
“Displaying an increasingly hostile tone, Republicans Thursday sought to discredit the findings of a report on last year’s deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and criticize former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response,” reported Ginger Gibson for Politico in September (emphasis added). “California Rep. Darrell Issa, the committee chairman,cut witnesses off, interrupted fellow lawmakers and accused the administration of withholding witnesses from the panel and obstructing his investigation,” she wrote (emphasis added).
Gibson took the time to point out that “Most Republicans focused their questions on [former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael] Mullen, virtually ignoring the two witnesses who conducted a separate best practices investigation and focusing only a handful of questions on [Thomas] Pickering.” But she failed to report on one key instance which might have called Mullen’s “independence” into suspicion, and which was a subject of many inquiries during the hearing. As outlined in Darrell Issa’s Committee report(pdf), Admiral Mullen apparently chose to call up Hillary Clinton’s Counselor and Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills, to give her a friendly “heads up” that he didn’t think Charlene Lamb would comport herself well in front of Congress. Lamb was scheduled to testify on October 10, 2012, before Congress; the Accountability Review Board (ARB), of which Admiral Mullen was Vice-Chair, had been announced on October 3 by Hillary Clinton. Admiral Mullen had just interviewed Lamb for the investigative purposes of the ARB, and went out of his way to make this friendly call to Mills. The call to Mills occurred just days after she had called Mullen to ask him to be the co-chair of the ARB.
“If this is so independent [a board] why are you giving the State Department a heads up about a witness coming in front of this committee?” asked Rep. Jim Jordan at the hearing. Also, Breitbart reported that “He [Mullen] was asked if he ever alerted officials at the State Department or Department of Defense about ARB activities.”
“He told them they contacted Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff, ahead of time because it may be a difficult appearance for the State Department.”
MSNBC didn’t mention these telling moments with Admiral Mullen, either. But then again, they chose to ignore a whole lot of information that would be important in determining whether the ARB was actually independent. As mentioned in the hearing, the ARB investigators did not transcribe their interviews, they only took “diplomatic notes.” Neither Politico nor MSNBC found this newsworthy. Thomas Pickering explained during the hearing that he felt that transcribed interviews for the ARB would have hindered the kind of give-and-take he was soliciting from those he interviewed. It does, however, diminish the objective record of what happened during this investigation.
“The State Department’s refusal to turn over documents and materials reviewed by the ARB has limited the Committee’s ability to evaluate the thoroughness and accuracy of the ARB process,” stated the report from Issa’s Committee.
“Pickering pushed back on the accusations that the committee assembled to testify before the review board about Benghazi did not contain any ‘true outsiders,’ and that the report was biased,” wrote Traci G. Lee for MSNBC. What she failed to mention is that the Secretary of State chose four out of five investigators, and then the investigative board found that it wasn’t necessary to interview Clinton at all for her role in the Benghazi attacks.
Lee’s piece from MSNBC doesn’t address other concerns, such as the fact that the report from Issa’s committee asserts that the mid-level employees targeted by the ARB may have been unfairly targeted (instead of Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, or even more senior officials), and that they received little due process at the hands of the State Department. However, Lee cites the report in the first line of her article. Perhaps she hasn’t read it? It is, after all, 99 pages long—too long, perhaps, for the drive-by media.
On the preceding day, Ambassador Kennedy had outlined what was happening to the four State officials who were previously on administrative leave: “One of them has been reassigned to a lower-level position in the Bureau of African Affairs. One is the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions and the other, the other two are in the process of being reassigned to positions of lesser responsibility with no worldwide purview,” he said. According to Issa’s report, the latter two may be considered for positions of some prestige. When asked about this, Kennedy didn’t give a straight answer.
Instead, Lee writes: “As a result, four State Department officials were relievedof their duties.” The link goes to a 2012 ABC News article. She doesn’t even bother to educate the reader that these officials were recently reinstated to lower positions by Secretary of State John Kerry, after a “thorough review” of their performance which didn’t include talking to their supervisors. One wonders, does she even know?
Considering the mainstream media’s dismissive attitude about facts they don’t agree with, it’s little wonder that the American people know so little about what went on in Benghazi.
(This column was originally published at Accuracy in Media.)