One of Washington’s worst-kept secrets is how to officially release a not-so-good news story and still keep it at least semi-secret.
The answer is: Just dump it into the news stream late on a Friday night.
That’s precisely what the Republican Mike Rogers’ House Intelligence Committee did last Friday. Rogers, who may be the House’s most able chairman (and is retiring as a Michigan congressman to become a talk radio host) was releasing his panel’s much-awaited investigative report on the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA annex, in which four officials were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
His committee’s unanimous bipartisan report rejected many of the incendiary accusations leveled against the Obama administration by Rogers’ fellow conservatives in Congress and the news media. Especially at Fox News.
Well, the old game plan worked once again. Most big-name news organizations initially missed, ignored, or buried the real news that was debunking conservative accusations that once were page-one, primetime news.
The committee report has now disproved many conservative accusations leveled since the terrorist attacks on the Benghazi U.S. diplomatic facility and nearby CIA annex, in which four U.S. officials died, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. It was big news because the panel had access to so much intelligence, documents and players. And even former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., founder of the House Tea Party caucus, concurred.
It is worth noting again that it is often easy to find important page-one news in our greatest newspapers – if you’re willing to turn enough pages.
On Saturday, Nov. 22, if you turned in your Washington Post to page A12, you saw the one-column report that the House committee rejected “allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward” – and found “no evidence” of any “stand down order or a denial of available air support.”
As for The New York Times, our page-turning theory might have left you with carpel tunnel syndrome before it ever got you properly informed. Saturday’s Times carried just a mini-news brief about it on page A15 of the late edition. The next day, the Times ran a full story on A14.
Television coverage was initially scant. Especially on Fox News. Until it was rescued Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who just survived a tea party threat by blasting Team Obama bigtime, all the time, about Benghazi. Graham heroically rescued the overlooked report by calling it (here I hope I don’t lose you in the wonky jargon of political science): “C--p.”
Well, that got major coverage everywhere. CNN’s Reliable Sources news media show reported Fox News’ failure to report its two years of Benghazi bunkery had just been significantly debunked.
But conservatives shouldn’t feel totally despondent. The report also validated some conservative criticisms of then-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s State Department: State’s agents felt “ill-equipped and ill-trained” – unable to defend their Benghazi mission from armed assault.
The report cited flaws in changing talking points then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used on TV. She made statements that proved “inaccurate” – suggesting the tragedy grew from a spontaneous protest over a video unflattering to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
She was wrong, the report said, because officials received “inaccurate” intelligence, the panel said. Why? The CIA gave insufficient weight to eyewitnesses in Benghazi, the panel concluded.
Time out. For two years I’ve been citing a source apparently overlooked by the House panel and government intel experts. Here’s my source: an Oct. 16, 2012 New York Times article, the only account I’ve seen citing eyewitnesses in the Benghazi crowd during the attack. A Times’ Libyan journalist had interviewed people who said that, while everyone in the crowd was angry about the video (the point CIA analysts apparently fixated upon), many attackers were known members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Ansar al-Shariah. They’d arrived heavily armed to make war, not protest.
Yet, oddly, in December 2012, even The Times itself seemed to forget that. In reconstructing what it knew, the Times concluded the tragedy really did spring from a protest about the video.
No way. Based just on the intel I’d scooped by reading that October 2012 Times report from inside the Benghazi crowd, I concluded long ago what the CIA, State, Pentagon, White House and yes, The Times itself, should have deduced just by having operatives at the scene:
America’s Benghazi tragedy had to be a terrorist attack from the get-go.
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.