By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 22, 2014
This afternoon, I conducted a quick review of four websites — two of them mainstream news organizations, two of them avowedly conservative news organizations — and their coverage of the latest news relating to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks against American outposts in Benghazi, Libya.
Let’s start with the mainstream coverage.
At The Washington Post, a story titled “House panel finds no intelligence failure in Benghazi attacks” was featured in prominent real estate — the top-left corner of the home page. Greg Miller’s article, posted Friday, Nov. 21, at 8:53 p.m., begins:
An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.
After a two-year probe that involved the review of thousands of pages of classified documents, the panel determined that the attack could not be blamed on an intelligence failure, and that CIA security operatives “ably and bravely assisted” State Department officials who were overwhelmed at a nearby but separate diplomatic compound.
The committee also found “no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support,” rejecting claims that have fed persistent conspiracy theories that the U.S. military was prevented from rescuing U.S. personnel from a night-time assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The House panel faulted preliminary assessments by the CIA and other agencies on what had caused the attacks and motivated militants, leading to erroneous public assertions by then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice that the assault had erupted from a spontaneous protest. The White House effort to assemble her talking points was deemed “flawed.”
But overall, the panel’s findings were broadly consistent with the Obama administration’s version of events. Previous investigations have reached similar conclusions, but the House committee’s report may be seen as more credible by critics of the administration’s handling of Benghazi because the panel is controlled by Republicans.
“We concluded that all the CIA officers in Benghazi were heroes,” the ranking Republican of the committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.) and ranking Democrat Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), said in a jointly issued statement. “Their actions saved lives.”
The New York Times didn’t showcase its Benghazi coverage, an Associated Press item without a byline that was posted Saturday at 4:51 a.m. The article, headlined “G.O.P.-Led House Report Debunks Benghazi Allegations,” appeared on the home page of the Times beneath at least a dozen other headlines and article summaries. This is how the AP item begins:
The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.
Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.
The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.
On the conservative side, let’s begin with National Review, which describes its outlets as
America’s most widely read and influential magazine and website for Republican/conservative news, commentary and opinion. Both the magazine and website provide insightful and incomparable coverage of today’s — and tomorrow’s — most important political, economic, social, and cultural issues and trends.
National Review and National Review Online are the benchmark vehicles for reaching those Republicans/conservatives who lead and shape opinion on all the important issues.
You can imagine my surprise at searching the text of the National Review home page early Saturday afternoon and finding…no reference whatsoever to Benghazi.
In 1955, in his mission statement for the magazine, esteemed conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. famously wrote that National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” Perhaps this reluctance to engage with current events explains the failure to acknowledge the newest House report on Benghazi.
I did conduct a Google search of nationalreview.com, which yielded…one single blog post referring to the report. Ian Tuttle’s item, titled “House Intel Investigation on Benghazi Clears Administration, Intelligence Community of Wrongdoing,” largely consists of excerpts of AP intelligence writer Ken Dilanian’s story from The Denver Post, which was datelined Friday, 2:37 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (or 4:37 p.m. E.T.).
Isn’t it odd that National Review hasn’t jumped all over this story, given that Joel Gehrke posted a 918-word report Sunday about whether the U.S. Senate might establish a special committee to (re-)investigate the Benghazi attacks once Republicans take control of that body next month?
I myself can’t explain it. Perhaps we’ll see more coverage from National Review next week.
Finally, let’s turn to Fox, the right-wing broadcasting empire. The Benghazi story was featured even less prominently on the Fox home page than it was on the main page of The New York Times. To find the relevant link, one had to read past at least a dozen headlines. Pictures accompanied four of these headlines, including one that read “You’ve Got Mail: Probe into IRS scandal finds Lerner emails.”
There were also links to four different videos, which bore these titles:
• “Swalwell defends Obama’s executive action on immigration”
• “Schweikert: Immigration order will strain state budgets”
• “Is Al Sharpton really concerned about justice in Ferguson?”
• “Is being a parent making you unhappy?”
Only after reviewing these links and scrolling down could the discerning Fox news consumer find a boldfaced headline, one of more than a dozen arrayed in two columns, reading “Benghazi Report: CIA gathered intelligence on weapons to Syria.” This link appeared in the left column, third from the top, beneath “Ferguson has third straight night of unrest” and, in reference to a gun-control measure in the state of Washington, “WWII exhibit saved from scope of new Wash. laws.”
And what exactly does Fox’s story say about the new report on the Benghazi attacks? Well, let’s allow the item, co-authored by Catherine Herridge and Pamela Browne, to speak for itself.
A leading Republican wants to expand the House investigation into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack by adding a Senate probe, as a new House Intelligence Committee report Friday concluded that the initial CIA assessment found no demonstrations prior to the assault and a primary purpose of the CIA operation in eastern Libya was to track the movement of weapons to Syria.
The report described the attack as “complex” with the attackers affiliated with Al Qaeda. It also said the initial CIA assessment concluded there were no demonstrations outside the State Department Consulate in Eastern Libya.
Referring to the House Select committee Chairman, and the Democratic ranking member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said the current House investigation should be expanded.
“(Republican) Trey Gowdy and (Democrat) Elijah Cummings have done a good job,” he said. “I can’t imagine the U.S. Senate not wanting to be a part of a joint select committee. We’ll bootstrap to what you’ve done, but we want to be part of discussion,” Graham told Fox News. “What I would suggest to (incoming Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell is to call up Speaker Boehner and say ‘Listen, we want to be part of this’.”
The story goes on from there — it’s more than 1,400 words long. But Herridge and Browne fail to emphasize certain important details. The elision is reflected by this comment on their story, from a reader identified as “askingquestions”: “The big story here is how Fox can write an entire article about a topic it’s been flogging for two years… and not even mention that its two main talking points were contradicted in the first page of the report.”
That comment isn’t entirely fair to Fox’s writers, who concluded their article — remember, it was more than 1,400 words long — with this paragraph:
In a joint statement, the committee’s Republican chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan, and ranking member, Dutch Ruppersburger, D-Md., said “…there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks but the early intelligence assessments and the Administrations’ public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attack were not fully accurate. A mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with al-Qa’ida, participated in the attacks. Finally, the Committee found no evidence that CIA conducted any unauthorized activities in Benghazi and CIA did not intimidate any officer or otherwise dissuade them from telling their stories to Congress”
The misspelling of Rep. Ruppersberger’s surname and the lack of punctuation at the conclusion of the quotation reflect the original article by Herridge and Browne as accessed this afternoon. (In other words, [sic].)
Still, the Fox authors fail to relay perhaps the most important determination of the House committee report, which states, in its second paragraph:
Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support. The Committee, however, received evidence that the State Department security personnel, resources, and equipment were unable to counter the terrorist threat that day and required CIA assistance.
So the report, as commenter askingquestions stated, indeed undermines two key conservative assertions about the Benghazi attack: That there was a coordinated coverup and that decisions made in the heat of the moment recklessly or unnecessarily endangered State Department personnel. One of these conclusions gets short shrift in Herridge and Browne’s story; the other goes entirely unmentioned.
It’s almost as if — try to bear with me here — people who only consume conservative-oriented news and analysis don’t receive all the information they need to gain a full understanding of current affairs and policy matters. To put it another way, eschewing mainstream news organizations, however flawed they are, in favor of conservative ones doesn’t automatically foster a smarter group of people who might be characterized as high-information voters.