By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
You would think that even the most partisan liberal Democrat would be ready to propose a plea bargain as the best response when anyone mentions the Obama administration’s story about the attack on our embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. The more Obama’s supporters try to spin themselves out of this one, the deeper they spin themselves into a hole. They are becoming laughingstocks.
What might the plea bargain look like? Something along the lines of, “Yes, we pushed a false narrative about an Internet video being the cause of the attack on the embassy, but you have to cut us some slack. Those were confusing days. It appears that people in our administration permitted their concerns about the upcoming election to cloud their judgment. As a result, they came up with an inaccurate account of the attack on our embassy that was repeated in public by Susan Rice, the president, and Hillary Clinton. We’re sorry.”
Would such a mea culpa work? It wouldn’t for a Republican, but the media might permit the Obama team to get away with it. In any event, there is no other option. It has become obvious that the American people were deliberately misled about what happened at Benghazi. We now have the “smoking gun”: the e-mail from Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s assistant and deputy National Security adviser.
Until Rhodes’ e-mail became public, it was only speculation that the Obama administration deliberately concocted a false story about how the attack on the embassy was caused by a demonstration against a video insulting to Islam that got out of hand, rather than a planned terrorist attack. Those who argued this position pointed out that it was important to Obama’s re-election campaign that he be able to maintain the claim that he had effectively destroyed the threat of Islamic terrorism in the world. You remember the smug mantra: “Osama is dead; GM is alive.” The claim about the Internet video was made repeatedly by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday morning talk shows, by Hillary Clinton on September 14 when she met at Andrews Air Force Base the flag-draped coffins of the men killed in the raid, and by the president himself in a September 25 speech to the UN.
Ben Rhodes’ e-mail shows us where this line came from. His e-mail — which was entitled “Re: PREP CALL with Susan” — speaks of how it is important “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broad failure or policy.” Andrew McCarthy, writing on National Review Online, calls it the “Blame the Video fairy tale.” It should be noted that Rhodes’ e-mail became public only because the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch had secured a court order requiring the Obama administration to release it.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) issued a statement contending that Rhodes’ e-mail illustrates “political manipulation by the White House.” He told former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson that the “political shop at the White House took over early on. They understood it was a terrorist attack, that they had a political problem, and were going to handle it politically. They weren’t going to entertain anything other than what they want the public to hear.”
It is hard to overstate the deception that we are looking at. The Obama re-election campaign had been running on the claim that al-Qaeda was “on the run.” A successful terrorist attack on an American embassy would have made a mockery of this claim. The effect on the upcoming presidential election — just eight weeks away — could have been significant. Andrew McCarthy does not mince his words. He calls the story of the Internet video a “fraud,” and that the “sooner Americans grasp that, the sooner they will comprehend the breathtaking depth of the president’s Benghazi cover-up.”
The question, of course, is whether the American people will ever grasp that. Things like that don’t happen on their own. Those who think that this story will become “another Watergate” may be disappointed. Such a public reaction requires a constant and loud drumbeat by the media.
Americans who get their news from Fox News may think that is happening, but it is not. So far, Fox has been alone in treating this as a major story. The other networks, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the newsweeklies are paying little attention. Their defenders say it is an old story; that the Obama team’s defense that they were relying on the “best information available from intelligence sources” is plausible — no matter what Ben Rhodes’ e-mail says.
Those old enough to remember will recall what it took to stir up public outrage over Watergate. In the weeks immediately following the revelation about the break-in at the Democratic Campaign headquarters by supporters of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, the public was largely uninterested. It seemed like routine political shenanigans. It was only after the information about the taped conversations of President Nixon devising a plan to cover up the crime became public that the media had something to work with.
The media took it from there. Night after night on the network news programs, the public was hit with the charge of a cover-up that threatened our democratic freedoms. Movie stars and rock musicians made it their cause. The network anchors spoke in grave tones and with somber faces of “sinister plots,” of “suborning justice,” of “corruption in the highest places.” People who usually paid little attention to politics began to repeat the mantra “the president lied” around the water cooler and over backyard fences.
To get an idea of what it was like back then, picture CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, and CNN treating Ben Rhodes’ e-mail in much the same manner as Fox News is covering it. No one in the country would be able to escape the wave of outrage over the Obama administration’s deception of the American people for political purposes. The mantra would be “Obama tried to fool us.” Over and over you would hear it: “Obama tried to fool us.”
Over and over you would hear the story from the families of men killed at Benghazi, of how Hillary Clinton, at the airport with the flag-draped coffins carrying the bodies of their loved ones in sight, leaned across to assure them that their government would “catch the guy who made the Internet film and make sure he was punished.” Followed by a commentator observing, “In light of what we know now, it is hard to believe that Mrs. Clinton believed what she was saying to those people.”
We would also get, night after night, clips from the president’s speech at the UN, where he blamed the video for the attack, and never used the world “terrorist.” Followed by a commentator saying, “In light of what we know now, it is hard to believe that the president believed that.” That is what should happen.
There is no way around it: A president using the power of his office to mislead the American people for the purposes of his re-election campaign is a big deal.