Andrew Rosenthal’s fuzzy assertion: Friend, are you a press watcher?
If so, the endless assault on Susan Rice has been one of the most instructive episodes in recent years. Consider what Andrew Rosenthal says in today’s New York Times.
Rosenthal is a major player—he’s editor of the Times editorial page. Fecklessly, he offers the account which follows in today’s Sunday Review.
Please note: In his feckless piece, Rosenthal is attacking John McCain and Rice’s other unhinged critics. Despite that, he seems to say or suggest that “al Qaeda” staged the attack:
ROSENTHAL (12/2/12): Republicans have the same basic attitude toward conspiracy theories as the Plains Indians had toward the buffalo–they are the basis of life, even religion, and no part, no matter how minor, should go unexploited. Hence Senator John McCain’s milking of the Benghazi attack. Or, rather, not the attack itself but the Obama administration’s response to it.Really? Is it true that the CIA “thought right away that al Qaeda was responsible” for the deadly attack?
He and other Republicans seem to think that the White House, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, played down the possibility that Al Qaeda operatives were behind the attack, so that President Obama could boast on the campaign trail that his policies had decimated the terrorist organization. In other words he lied to the American public so that he could win re-election.
It’s an odd theory, because the attack did nothing to change the simple fact that Mr. Obama has been ordering people killed right and left in the war on terrorism, including Osama bin Laden and two American citizens.
Regardless, this theory gained steam when David Petraeus said at a closed hearing last week that although the C.I.A. thought right away that Al Qaeda was responsible, specific references to terrorism were removed from public talking points after an interagency review.
That’s what Rosenthal says in that passage—and he never offers any subsequent clarification, amplification or qualification of this unfortunate statement.
After reading that passage, many readers will assume that al Qaeda really was “responsible for the deadly attack.” But is that true? Is that what the CIA thinks today? Is that what the CIA thought in the first days after the attack?
Is that what Petraeus said at that closed door hearing?
Let’s start with a factual correction. In typical fashion, Rosenthal bungles the time frame of Petraeus' testimony. The closed-door hearing to which he refers actually occurred on November 16.
The hearing didn’t occur “last week.” But what’s a few weeks among friends?
Moving to matters of substance, what did Petraeus actually say at that closed door hearing? Did he actually say that the CIA “thought right away that al Qaeda was responsible?”
Since it was a closed door hearing, there is no tape or transcript of what Petraeus actually said. But this is what the New York Times reported about his testimony on November 17, the next day:
SCHMITT (11/17/12): David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.Did Petraeus say the CIA “thought” that “al Qaeda” was responsible? That isn’t what the Times reported. According to Eric Schmitt, Petraeus said the CIA “suspected” that the attack had been perpetrated by groups which were “al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers.”
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack—including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah—were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
According to Schmitt, Petraeus said the CIA “suspected” that a local Libyan group was involved. It also “suspected” a second group, which Schmitt described as “Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa.”
Guess what, people? “Suspecting” isn’t the same thing as “thinking!” And an al Qaeda “sympathizer” isn’t the same as al Qaeda itself. But in the lazy minds of the modern press, such distinctions wash away, even among people like Rosenthal, who is trying to criticize McCain for his overblown attacks.
Reading Rosenthal’s lazy prose, many Times readers will get the idea that “al Qaeda” conducted the Benghazi attack. They will certainly think that the CIA “thought” so in real time.
Is either claim accurate? We have no idea; we look forward to seeing the final official report on this matter. But most reporting seems to suggest that the intelligence community does not believe that “al Qaeda” conducted the attack.
A competent journalist would be careful in what he said about such a highly-fraught matter. Rosenthal, an inveterate thunderthud, rarely takes such care.
For the record, one person is this endless mess seemed to understand the distinctions involved in this matter. That person appeared on Face the Nation on September 16:
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): Do you agree or disagree with [the Libyan president] that al Qaeda had some part in this?According to Rice, the extremists who conducted the deadly attack might turn out to be “al Qaeda itself.” Or they might turn out to be “al Qaeda affiliates.” Or they turn out to be “Libyan-based extremists,” she said.
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
(For the record: Does it sound like Rice was denying that terrorists might be involved?)
We look forward to seeing what the final report on this matter finds. But Rosenthal doesn’t have to wait. His lazy mind has already jumbled these possibilities together.
So it goes at the New York Times—at the top of that great paper’s pile.
What your lizard brain may be saying: Your lizard brain may be saying that such distinctions don’t matter.
If your lizard brain is telling you that, your lizard brain is wrong. Your lizard brain is wrong on the substance, massively wrong on the spin.
A nation too dumb to observe such distinctions is headed for banana republic status. Thanks to journalists like Rosenthal, your nation achieved that status a good like time ago.
What the Times reported earlier: On October 18, the Times presented a fact check about the Benghazi attack.
The report was written in Q-and-A form. This is what Scott Shane reported about the matter in question:
SHANE (10/18/12): Is it fair to link the Benghazi attack to Al Qaeda?That’s what Rosenthal’s newspaper reported. Six weeks later, the inveterate blunderbuss blasted right through Shane’s distinctions.
Only very indirectly. Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, had called on Libyans to avenge the killing of a Libyan-born Qaeda leader, and American intelligence officials have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the assault from the attackers to members of the Qaeda affiliate in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
McCain’s loud screeching is fueled by such work. But so it has gone, for the past many years, with the lazy, incompetent stars of the upper-end press corps.