BENGHAZI: What difference does it make to the media or you?

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., May 5, 2014 – Recently, the press provided us with yet another “Sterling” example of how much time it is willing to devote to a story that panders to our sordid nature. However, when new information surfaced with respect to the political positioning of the attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, much of our media remained silent or at least detached from an investigatory perspective. This begs the question: Has our press abdicated its role as the Fourth Estate?

The story surrounding Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, commanded lead story status for a full week. It had every salacious element an uninformed American could want: sex, sports, and racism. Was it truly “breaking news”? No!

Now, consider the revelation that members of the Administration may have doctored the talking points surrounding the attacks in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. You can almost hear crickets in the background.

Of course, Fox News continued its crusade on the issue. In an effort to placate its core audience, it reports anything that might place the Administration in an unfavorable light. However, it might accidentally be doing its job with regard to Benghazi.

CNN also reported the story when it broke, and ABC dedicated 45 seconds to it in its nightly news program. That was 45 seconds more than NBC or CBS allotted to the news. Perhaps CBS should be excused since White House Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, whose e-mail lies at the root of the controversy, is also the brother of David Rhodes, President of CBS News.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” The press used to help us in that regard. Today, it’s a different story.

Consider the Benghazi-related question posed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a Senate hearing:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they (sic) go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

Let’s answer that last question for her and pose a few that remain open because the press has become anesthetized to providing the quality of inquiry that has heretofore protected our Liberty.

Madame Secretary:

  • It matters because there are, in fact, four dead Americans. They lie dead because requests for security were ignored by the State Department that you headed at the time. The excuse that you receive thousands of e-mails and cannot be expected to read each one doesn’t speak highly of your ability to prioritize. Responsible individuals rank life-threatening issues above the fund-raising speeches for which you found time.
  • While appropriate steps may have been taken to establish protocols to reduce the security exposure that existed at the time of the Benghazi attack, when will the American people have a clear understanding of why they existed at all?
  • Why was no authorized attempt made to respond to the initial attack on the consulate or the subsequent attack on the CIA annex? The excuse that, in retrospect, the military would not have arrived on the scene in time to change the outcome is specious reasoning at best unless the attackers were thoughtful enough to have provided us with advanced notice of how long their attack would last. It is seriously insulting to anyone of intelligence to suggest that, because we could not have made a difference, we are somehow exonerated from having tried.
  • Where were the President, the Secretary of Defense, and you during the attack? Were you in the Situation Room or conferring outside of it? Was a decision made to “stand down” and did General Ham, the head of AFRICOM, challenge that order? Was he relieved of command because of his actions, and if so, who made those decisions?

Please understand our curiosity. It has been nearly 20 months. Yet, we only have limited accounts of what transpired that evening in the White House.

We now know that the Situation Room was occupied in the President’s absence by Tommy Veitor (among others); a former National Security Council spokesperson, who when queried about whether he changed “attacks” to “demonstrations” in the subsequent talking points responded by saying, “Maybe. I don’t really remember. Dude, this was like two years ago. We’re still talking about the most mundane process… we’re talking about editing talking points. That’s what bureaucrats do all day long.” Try to understand why people might find that to be discomforting.

  • On September 12, 2012, you were the first member of the Administration to suggest that the attack represented a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video. Later, you buffered that statement with repeated references to “the fog of war” that obscures facts in the initial hours (and days) that follow such an attack. Yet, retired Brigadier General Robert Lovell, the Deputy Director of Intelligence and Knowledge Development Directorate for AFRICOM at the time, recently testified that his team knew that it was a terrorist attack and never seriously considered the video as a proximate cause for the outbreak. Why was the Administration apparently unaware of the intelligence assessment that was available from the region?
  • Given that the President recently responded to a question concerning the unrest in Ukraine by saying, “The notion that this is some spontaneous uprising in eastern Ukraine is belied by all the evidence of well-organized, trained, armed militias with the capacity to shoot down helicopters.  Generally, local protestors don’t possess the capacity of surface-to-air missiles or whatever weapons were used to shoot down helicopters, tragically,” how is it that the same logic wasn’t applied to the Benghazi attacks, which featured the use of RPGs and well-targeted mortars? It is difficult to believe that this type of weaponry could ever be rationally attributed to a “spontaneous” escalation of a protest.
  • With respect to the Rhodes e-mail of September 14, 2012: It was generated within the White House, distributed to senior White House personnel, and specifically addressed how to prepare Ambassador Susan Rice for her five major media appearances scheduled for September 16, 2012; the ones in which she emphasized the theory that the original attack was the result of a spontaneous response to an Internet video. The e-mail defines its goals as follows:
  • “To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
  • “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
  • “To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests; (and)
  • “To reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”

No one should quibble with the first or third points (although there is scant evidence that they have been actively pursued). However, if the Administration was still suffering from “the fog of war,” would it not have been better to avoid offering a false conclusion with respect to the cause of the attack? Why not state that we were still evaluating all the data to determine the exact cause?

Then again, it was a Presidential election year. So, God forbid there be any possible consideration of a “broader policy failure” on the part of the Administration lest it question “the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.” The press used to go after issues like this with a vengeance; digging deep to uncover the truth. Today, it just accepts this as the status quo of “political integrity,” which is an oxymoron if there ever was one.

During a White House press conference last week, Press Secretary Jay Carney had the audacity to suggest that the Rhodes e-mail wasn’t really about Benghazi or Susan Rice’s September 16th appearances. Should we ignore the subject line of the e-mail that said, “RE: PREP CALL with Susan: Saturday at 4:00 PM ET” or its specific reference to Benghazi?

Have we become as blindly indifferent to Party politics as the media? Keep in mind that the Rhodes e-mail only surfaced in response to a subpoena issued in a lawsuit brought against the State Department for the latter’s failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request. Previously, the State Department only provided a heavily redacted version of the document to the House Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed.

It is worth noting that the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to protect the right of the public to access information otherwise controlled by the United States Government. Correspondingly, the purpose of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is “to exercise effective oversight over the Federal Government and… work proactively to investigate and expose waste, fraud, and abuse.” In either case, the State Department and the rest of the Administration are expected and required to cooperate in a faithful manner.

If it appears that a breach of faith has been exhibited, there is a protracted process through which legal recourse can be pursued (as happened here). However, a more vigorous prosecution of the facts by an engaged press might have surfaced the information sooner and provided clarity to its significance. Why wasn’t that done?

Lastly, President Obama won the popular vote in 2012 by 3.14 percent. In the final two months of the election cycle, how might that 3.14 percent margin have been affected if the press refused to embrace the claim that a video precipitated the attack in Benghazi? How strongly would the President’s mantra of “al-Qaeda is on the run” have resonated with voters if the media had aggressively challenged that assertion?

Of course, even if the popular vote had swung to Mitt Romney, that doesn’t mean we would have a different President today. After all, the Presidency is decided by electoral votes rather than by the will of the people, but that’s the topic for another day.

Interestingly, Nancy Pelosi made a poignant observation during her weekly press conference last Friday: “What I will say is, again, diversion, subterfuge. Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren’t we talking about something else?”

Imagine what might have happened had she said the following in September or October of 2012, “What I will say is, again, diversion, subterfuge. Video, Video, Video. Why aren’t we talking about something else?”

There was a time when freedom of the press had meaning. The press bore the responsibility to investigate issues, particularly with respect to those that threatened other freedoms. It was an important enough power to be incorporated into the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom… of the press.”

Today, that protection is no longer required. Congress need not make any such law because the press has surrendered its right; comfortable in its new role of shaping the news rather than reporting it. The press no longer respects the responsibility that goes with its freedom; preferring instead to taint or ignore the facts in a manner that best conforms with the side it has chosen to represent. This is a travesty of epic proportions. How long will you tolerate it?


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).