Confusion is us, says the Post: What actually happened in Benghazi on the evening of September 11?
Second question: How reasonable was Susan Rice’s account of those events on the September 16 Sunday talk shows?
Almost surely, we’ll see another preplanned assault concerning these questions in tomorrow night’s debate. But uh-oh! In yesterday’s Washington Post, Greg Miller reported “an emerging consensus” among intelligence officials about what occurred in Benghazi.
That alleged consensus supports several things Rice said—statements for what she has been aggressively ridiculed and attacked in the past five weeks.
In our view, Miller’s report is important for the new information it conveys. But we think it’s important for a second reason: Because it displays the low caliber of mainstream reporting in our biggest newspapers.
Even as Miller’s report seems to support Rice’s statements, he displays some of the standard bungling which has dogged reporting of this topic. “Confusion is us!” the Post seemed to say as it ran this report.
Miller reports “an emerging consensus” about Benghazi among intelligence figures. In the headline and in his opening paragraphs, he paints a picture which largely comports with the things Rice said way back when:
MILLER (10/20/12): U.S.: Evidence doesn’t show planning in Libyan attackOn those September 16 shows, Ambassador Rice repeatedly said that her account was preliminary. That said, she has been ridiculed and aggressively attacked for exchanges like this, from Face the Nation:
U.S. intelligence officials said Friday that no evidence has surfaced to indicate that the Sept. 11 assault on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya was planned in advance, a conclusion that suggests the attack was spontaneous even if it involved militants with ties to al-Qaeda.
The description represents the latest shift in the U.S. government’s evolving account of an attack that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, as well as three other U.S. citizens, and has become entangled in the politics of the presidential campaign.
“There isn’t any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”
That emerging consensus among analysts at the CIA and other agencies could lend new support to the Obama administration, which has struggled to fend off Republican allegations that it has been reluctant to admit that the attack in Benghazi was an act of terrorism.
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): But you do not agree with him that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?Opportunistic attackers have quoted that statement by Rice without noting the question she was asked. But sure enough! According to Miller, there is an emerging consensus that the Benghazi attack was not “preplanned days or weeks in advance.”
RICE: We do not—we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
Is that really an emerging consensus? If so, is that consensus correct? We can’t answer those questions. But as Miller continued, he noted that this emerging consensus tends to undermine the ugly assaults which have been launched on Rice.
Or did he? As he continued, Miller kept making statements we found to be inaccurate or illogical. His errors tended to tilt the tale in the ways the attackers prefer:
MILLER (continuing directly): Much of that Republican criticism has focused on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, who appeared on television talk shows days after the attack and attributed it to violent protesters angered by an anti-Muslim YouTube video. The latest assessment indicates that the timing of the attack in Benghazi was triggered by protests, but also supports subsequent accounts by Obama administration officials describing the siege as a terrorist assault.By now, Miller had written six paragraphs—and he had made or accepted at least four puzzling statements.
As a result, the information provided by U.S. intelligence officials on Friday is unlikely to end the controversy surrounding a narrative that has already shifted several times.
Confusion is us, the Post seemed to say. Do you understand these points?
Why would the attack have been “opportunistic?” In paragraph 3, an intelligence official is quoted saying that the Benghazi attackers launched their assault "opportunistically" after learned about the violence in Cairo.
The attackers may have known about Cairo. But why would that make their own attack “opportunistic?” In what way would the events in Cairo give the attackers an opportunity they didn’t always have?
To us, this statement doesn’t make sense. Miller doesn’t notice.
Must an act of terrorism be preplanned? Miller seems to say that the lack of preplanning undercuts the idea that this was an act of terrorism. But what is the logic behind that statement? Must an act of terrorism by preplanned? Preplanned for how many weeks?
The inevitable misstatement about what Rice said: According to Miller, Rice “attributed [the attack] to violent protesters angered by an anti-Muslim video.” We’re sorry, but that isn’t accurate.
On those Sunday shows, Rice said there were protesters at the scene—but she said the violence began when “militants” with “heavy weapons” arrived and “hijacked” the proceedings. Five weeks later, major journalists still can’t capture this bone-simple, two-part chronology. Sadly, that includes Miller.
In this case, his error supports the preferred story-line of Rice's opportunistic attackers.
Why is this emerging consensus “unlikely to end the controversy?” In the last two paragraphs we’ve posted, Miller describes intelligence officials supporting Rice’s account in two different ways. But, for reasons we can’t fathom, he then goes on to say this:
“As a result, the information provided by U.S. intelligence officials on Friday is unlikely to end the controversy surrounding a narrative that has already shifted several times.” (Our emphasis)
In one basic way, we agree with that statement. This new information is unlikely to end the assault on Rice—but that’s because the Romney campaign is trying to win the White House this way. But for unknown reasons, Miller makes it sound like there’s a logical connection here. In his account, intelligence officials agree with Rice in every way—and “as a result,” the controversy is unlikely to end!
"Confusion is us,” the Post seemed to say. Why didn’t an editor clean up this bit of illogic?
The preplanned assault on Susan Rice has been underway for five weeks. Even now, journalists seem unable to explain what she said on those Sunday shows—and their logic is frequently cloudy.
Must we note that their puzzling errors tend to support the bungled narratives driven by her attackers?
“Confusion is us,” the Post seemed to say, even as it reported a consensus which bolsters the things Rice said. Your timorous press corps knows the rules:
Even when it debunks attacks from the right, it must repeat the bungled claims which keep those aggressive attacks alive. On balance, Miller's report supports what Rice said.
But Power must be served.