Blind scribes keep groping the elephant: At some point, we’ve all heard the famous tale about the blind men and the elephant.
The world’s foremost authority on folk tales describes the famous old story this way:
WIKIPEDIA: The story of the blind men and an elephant originated in Indian subcontinent from where it has widely diffused. It has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies. At various times it has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behavior of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives.Whatever! We’ve been thinking of those famous blind men when we watch our major journalists try to explain What Susan Rice Actually Said.
Last night, on NBC Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell gave the task another try. Did Mitchell get the elephant right?
MITCHELL (11/27/12): The U.N. ambassador hasn’t even been nominated to be secretary of state but, today, she volunteered for a grilling in the Senate. Her critics were not satisfied.Andrea Mitchell is fully sighted. But try as she might, she seems completely unable to limn this particular elephant.
MCCAIN (videotape): We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get.
GRAHAM (videotape): The bottom line, I’m more disturbed now than I was before.
MITCHELL: Rice acknowledged today she was wrong on a key fact, when she went on five Sunday morning programs and said Benghazi was a copycat attack.
RICE (videotape): What happened in Benghazi was, in fact, it was initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.
MITCHELL: Today, Rice acknowledged there was no protest in Benghazi, but she blamed the CIA as she did last week.
Did Susan Rice really go on five Sunday shows and “say Benghazi was a copycat attack?” Sadly, no—that’s not what she said. For perhaps the ten millionth time, this is the transcript from Meet the Press, the show to which Mitchell referred:
RICE (9/16/12): ...But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo—almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.Pitiful, isn’t it? In reality, Rice said that the initial demonstration was “almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo.” She didn’t say that about the attack itself, which transpired when “extremist elements” arrived on the scene with “heavy weapons,” creating “a much more violent episode.”
What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons, which, unfortunately, are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya, and that escalated into a much more violent episode.
Obviously, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation...
By now, U.S. intelligence seems to hold that there was no protest at the consulate before the deadly attack. But the intelligence assessment given to Rice did say that a demonstration occurred. For that obvious reason, so did Rice, on four of those Sunday programs. (She wasn't asked about Benghazi on CNN. When you see journos discussing five shows, they haven't examined the transcripts.)
But even now, ten weeks later, Mitchell can’t seem to form an accurate account of What Rice Actually Said. Assuming good faith, this particular (sighted) journalist just doesn’t seem up to the task.
And by the way: If you can’t hear the difference between those accounts, you aren’t up to the task of perform this function either.
Again and again, you see the remarkable lack of intellectual skill within our mainstream press corps. This is what the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe writes in this morning’s front-page news report:
O’KEEFE (11/28/12): For several weeks, Rice has defended herself against allegations that she knowingly misled the public about the assault during a series of appearances on Sunday political talk shows five days afterward. She said repeatedly then that a spontaneous demonstration led to the violence, a claim later debunked by intelligence officials and reports from the ground.Is that an accurate paraphrase? Quite plainly, Rice did say, on those Sunday shows, that a spontaneous demonstration preceded the violence. But did she say it led to the violence?
We would say no, she did not. And if you can’t hear the difference between those dueling accounts, this task is over your head, just as it has persistently seemed to exceed O’Keefe’s capacity.
What did Rice actually say that day? In this morning’s New York Times, Mark Landler offers a rare double paraphrase! We get Landler’s account of Rice’s account of What Rice Actually Said:
LANDLER (1/28/12): In a statement after the meeting, Ms. Rice said she incorrectly described the attack in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as a spontaneous protest gone awry rather than a premeditated terrorist attack. But she said she based her remarks on the intelligence then available—intelligence that changed over time.Is that what Rice said on September 16? Did she describe the deadly attack as a spontaneous protest gone awry? In our view, that is a horrible paraphrase of What Rice Really Said. Beyond that, you’ll note that Landler doesn’t even quote what Rice said in yesterday's statement. Instead, he gives us his own paraphrased account of what Rice said she said!
“Neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in the process,” said Ms. Rice, who was accompanied at the 10 a.m. meeting by the acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael J. Morell.
Again and again, the most striking characteristic of our upper-end journalists is their lack of intellectual skill. As those sighted men and women have struggled to describe that elephant, they have persistently failed to explain What Rice Actually Said. As recently as yesterday morning, CNN still wasn’t sure if Rice had said that she was giving preliminary information. At that point, the failure of journalistic skill at CNN was total.
As we noted yesterday, Rice plainly said, again and again, that her information was preliminary. That brings us to Maureen Dowd’s latest hapless attempt to discuss What Rice Actually Said.
Dowd is one of the emptiest people in this broken-souled guild. For that reason, she is regarded by the guild as one of its brightest stars.
In this morning’s column, Dowd quotes an array of nit-picked complaints by Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine. Incredibly but inevitably, this is the first complaint cited, with Dowd betraying no earthly sense of how crazy this complaint is:
DOWD (11/28/12): Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access.Did Rice promote her account of the deadly attack with some form of “certitude?” Again and again and again and again, she stressed the fact that her assessment was preliminary. But all over Fox, crackpots instantly started complaining about the “100 percent certitude” Rice had expressed in telling her story. (Liz Cheney, September 17.)
In right-wing swamps, this upside-down talking-point persists to this very day. In typical fashion, Dowd rushed today to type the krazy klaim up.
The mainstream press corps has behaved this way for a very long time. Career liberals have very rarely complained.
This was routine in the Clinton-Gore years. The silence our "leaders" brought to those slanders has come back to haunt us today.
Why is Susan Collins behaving this way: Susan Collins has never been a nut. Why is she acting like a nut in Dowd’s new column, with Dowd buying every cashew?
Just a guess:
Collins is up for re-election in 2014. As a long-standing moderate Republican, she remains highly vulnerable to challenge in a primary. (Her moderate colleague, Olympia Snowe, retired from the senate this year, thereby avoiding a challenge.)
Presumably, Lindsey Graham is currently acting like a nut for the same reason. Graham and Collins may be planning to agree to some sort of budget deal. If you plan to engage in such heresy, a modern Republican has to engage in some visible craziness as a form of balance.
It’s known as romancing the base. This morning, Dowd bought every word.
This talking-point emerged quickly: Back in September, the crackpots quickly began to complain about Rice’s “total certitude.”
In fact, Rice had stressed, again and again, that she was only offering a current best assessment—that the investigation continued. She said it and said it and said it again.
So what? Instantly, the crackpots were saying things like this:
CHENEY (9/17/12): Well, I think that Steve is right when he talks about the importance of looking at the overall policy here. You know, my sense of what happened in Libya—I watched Ambassador Rice yesterday say with 100 percent certitude that this was all because of the movie, and I found that to be preposterous.That was Liz Cheney, on Fox. Speaking with the hapless Erin Burnett on CNN, Rep. Mike Rogers was pimping the same line:
BURNETT (9/17/12): As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, do you believe her?By that Friday, Kirsten Powers was pimping this same bullshit on Special Report:
ROGERS: I'm not sure I believe her or not. I disagree with her clearly. All the information I see from the Department of Defense and our intelligence agencies, they're recommending at what something they call, Erin, a moderate degree of confidence, which is not solid, that they think it was a spontaneous event. But there is lots of other information, some classified, some public, some open source, when you put it all together, when I look at the information, I mean it had indirect fire, artillery type fire from mortars. They had direct unit action. It was coordinated in a way that was very unusual. They repulsed a quick reaction force that came to the facility and then you look at other bits of information that we had including some that your reporter reported on that, hey, they were getting information that these extremists, some coming from other countries were coming around and they were having a very difficult time—
ROGERS: —that all doesn't make sense to me. That certainly looks like it was a planned and coordinated event. Now, none of us know for sure, to be fair, but to say for sure and for certain that this was a spontaneous event I just can't get it.
BURNETT: You don't see it.
ROGERS: No, I can't see it.
POWERS (9/21/12): Look, the administration is either lying or is dangerously clueless and it is not getting covered by the media. And I think that is the point that David is trying to make. You can't have a political impact if people don't know about it. They are not held accountable. The president said in interview you put up we don't want to speculate about this. They did more than speculate. They said definitively what happened. They sent out Ambassador Rice to tell us all the stories that didn't make sense. That's why they stayed clueless because we all watched that and thought, “Nobody believes this is what happened. Nobody believes it was spontaneous, that there are reports showing otherwise.”Rice had stressed, again and again, that this was preliminary information. Even today, the appalling Dowd is willing to type the opposite line.