Timesman steers clear of the shoals: Do we really have a banana republic press corps?
On the bright side, Scott Shane presents some cogent information in his News Analysis piece in today’s New York Times. What was the source of the “talking points” used by Ambassador Rice on the September 16 Sunday shows?
Shane explains in his front-page report.
In fact, Rice went outside those “talking points” in several ways, a point Shane fails to mention. But he does present a cogent account of the way that official assessment was devised.
According to Shane, “there is now a fairly clear account” of the way the talking points were devised. This is his (cogent) account:
SHANE (11/29/12): The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies rarely prepare unclassified talking points; more often, policy makers submit proposed public comments, and intelligence analysts check them for classified information or errors of fact. But in the storm of news media coverage after the killings in Benghazi, C.I.A. officials responded quickly to [Rep. Dutch] Ruppersberger’s request [for an unclassified assessment] on Sept. 14.We’d skip the word “recited” ourselves—especially since Rice went beyond the “talking points” in several ways that morning. But in that account, Shane explains why the names Ansar al-Shariah and Al Qaeda did not appear in that official assessment.
C.I.A. analysts drafted four sentences describing “demonstrations” in Benghazi that were “spontaneously inspired” by protests in Cairo against a crude video lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. (Later assessments concluded there were no demonstrations.) The initial version of the talking points identified the suspected attackers—a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, with possible links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of the terrorist network in North Africa.
But during a subsequent review by several intelligence agencies, C.I.A. officials were concerned that such specific language might tip off the malefactors, skew intelligence collection in Libya and interfere with the criminal investigation. So they replaced the names with the blanket term “extremists.”
Ms. Rice has been skewered by Republican senators for her comments on Sunday television news programs on Sept. 16, which they have suggested were part of an administration cover-up of the terrorist nature of the attack and links to Al Qaeda. The criticism has barely been affected by the revelation that she accurately recited the talking points the intelligence agencies prepared.
He doesn’t explain why the word “terrorist” didn’t appear. He doesn’t explain if that represented some sort of deliberate decision.
We cite the T-word for an obvious reason. As Shane notes earlier in his piece, Rice is being widely savaged for failing to utter the T-word on those Sunday programs.
It isn’t enough that she described the killers as “extremists” armed with “heavy weapons” who came to the site and “hijacked events.” On those September 16 programs, Rice never called the killers “terrorists.” This is being cited as part of the greatest cover-up since Watergate, or even before.
Shane doesn’t explain why the word “terrorist” was absent from that official assessment. That said, we were struck by a larger omission in his 1200-word piece:
In the course of his report, Shane never lists the various charges which are being made against Rice. This lets him present a rather long piece without going where the rubber meets an extremely hot road.
After explaining the genesis of that official assessment, Shane goes on to report a key fact—even though Rice “accurately recited the talking points the intelligence agencies prepared,” Republican senators are still attacking her conduct. Here’s the way Shane explained it:
SHANE (continuing directly): On Wednesday, as she and Mr. Morell continued their meetings on Capitol Hill, an evident preamble to her possible nomination as secretary of state, Republican senators were not mollified.Corker and Collins were still deeply troubled. But what were they deeply troubled about?
“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the United Nations ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine told a throng of reporters waiting for her after her hourlong meeting with Ms. Rice and Mr. Morell.
Ms. Collins said she “would need to have additional information” before she could support Ms. Rice for secretary of state.
Ms. Rice and Mr. Morell also met at length with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who said that he too was deeply troubled by what he has learned. “The whole issue of Benghazi has been, to me, a tawdry affair,” he said. Though he did not mention Ms. Rice by name, he seemed to question whether she would be an appropriate choice for a position as vital as secretary of state.
Shane skipped past that obvious question. In doing so, he made his own day a lot easier.
Shane’s analysis ran 1200 words. It included some cogent information, although it skipped past several key points. But one day before, one of his newspaper’s most famous writers had presented a list of the actual questions which have Collins so deeply troubled.
Most of those questions make little sense. Shane’s day became a lot simpler when he failed to review them.
What has Collins so deeply troubled? For whatever reason, Shane didn’t say.
Do any of Collins’ questions make sense? Yesterday, one of the Times’ most famous writers plainly seemed to think they did. On today’s front page, the news division didn’t seem eager to go there.
In our view, New York Times readers are being cheated by that omission. For whatever reason, Shane didn't go there.
In our next post, we will.
Next post: The banana republic of Dowd