BULLROAR OVER BENGHAZI: David Ignatius gets right with power!

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2013

His ridiculous column will stand: For twenty years, it has been the central organizing principle of American pseudo-journalism.

Here it is, that central principle:

When a pseudo-scandal is formed by the right, the American journalist must never reveal the flaws of the pseudo-scandal.

In this morning’s Washington Post, David Ignatius works quite hard to bring himself in line with that creed. Ignatius devotes his entire column to the Benghazi talking points.

The blatant illogic of his piece is blatantly obvious early on. The blatant illogic emerges in these, this guild member’s opening paragraphs:
IGNATIUS (5/19/13): An e-mail trail of dysfunction

The hundred pages of Benghazi e-mails released this week tell us almost nothing about how four Americans came to die so tragically in that Libyan city. But they are a case study in why nothing works in Washington.

Rather than reading these messages for their substance on Benghazi (on which officials were still basically clueless three days after the attack), try perusing them as an illustration of how the bureaucracy responds to crisis—especially when officials know they will be under the media spotlight.

What you find is a 100-page novella of turf-battling and backside-covering. By the end, the original product is so shredded and pre-chewed that it has lost most of its meaning. All the relevant agencies have had their say, and there’s little left for the public.
Surely, anyone can see the flaw in the gentleman’s logic. In paragraph 2, Ignatius says the officials in question “were still basically clueless” about Benghazi as they composed their account of what had happened.

But so what? In his very next paragraph, Ignatius unveils his complaint: “There was little left for the public” in the talking points those officials produced!

Question: If those officials were basically clueless about the attack, how much could they have told the public in their account of the attack? Ignatius ignores this obvious question as she sails through his name-calling column. Using the buzzwords of the right, he batters these officials for failing to tell us the various things he says they didn’t yet know.

Below, Ignatius swears fealty to his guild and to its basic laws. Note the sheer inanity of his attempt at an argument:
IGNATIUS: Perhaps it’s because I’m a spy novelist myself, but I couldn’t resist reading the thick stack of e-mails as an epistolary tale of life in the bureaucracy...

The Benghazi e-mails have all been unclassified, of course, but they reveal one of the true secrets of U.S. national security policy—which is its lumpy inefficacy. If I were the Russian or Chinese intelligence services trying to understand how America really works (or doesn’t), I’d start here.

Take a stroll with me through these memorably inane pages. CIA officials take turns patting each other on the back with comments such as “Good question,” “Good point.” And tellingly, from the very beginning, CIA officers are looking over their shoulders for what the lawyers will say: “Make sure that nothing we are saying here is likely to impact any future legal prosecution.” This at a time when the agency’s priority, surely, should have been understanding who did the attack, not their prospective legal rights.

Then the cascade of bureaucratic logrolling and pettifoggery begins, as each new agency is called to the trough. The office of the director of national intelligence is copied, belatedly, and then the White House. Then it’s over to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who has all kinds of problems with the detail-rich draft, which she fears “will come back to us at podium”—and from there, the neutering of the text begins in earnest.
It’s true, of course, that the CIA should have been trying to figure out who had staged this killing attack. But these officials had been given a different task. They had been asked to devise a report explaining what was known about the attack.

According to Ignatius, almost nothing was known! Then he savages these “bureaucrats” for failing to produce a “detail-rich” text!

Again and again, Ignatius batters these officials for their “bureaucratic logrolling,” for emails which are “memorably inane.” He not only calls them bureaucrats, he says they worked at “the trough.”

He makes no real attempt to distinguish among these various players, who manage to “neuter” the “detail-rich draft” with which they began. We return to our obvious question:

If intelligence officials “were still basically clueless” at this point, how could they possibly produce a detail-rich text? One answer: In that original “detail-rich draft,” they had included some bogus claims—claims which should have been removed from the text. As we’ve noted many times, this passage included two blatant examples:
ORIGINAL DRAFT OF THE TALKING POINTS (9/14/12): Initial press reporting linked the attack to Ansar al-Sharia. The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but it did not deny that some of its members were involved.
Part of that detail-rich passage was wrong. In fact, Ansar al-Sharia had released a statement the previous night saying that none of its members were involved. That claim should have been removed from the text because the claim was inaccurate.

More significantly, only a fool would name the perpetrator of such an attack based on “original press reporting.” That claim also should have been removed from the detail-rich draft.

Ignatius of course understands this. But in this blatantly illogical column, he pretends he doesn’t. He clobbers those “bureaucrats” for “neutering the text” by removing those details—details which were wrong or unfounded. Continuing his semantic assault, he goes on to say that these bureaucrats “scrubbed” the text of its details, even though he started by saying that these officials “were still basically clueless” about what had actually happened.

Might we make the obvious points? If these officials were basically clueless, there was no way they could produce an honest text which was rich in details. Because he isn’t a stupid person, Ignatius of course understands this.

David Ignatius understands everything we have said. But Ignatius is part of a guild which has very clear laws concerning such matters. And late last October, David Ignatius dared to step forward and break a key law of that guild.

Late last October, Ignatius wrote a column which interrupted a hanging. Susan Rice was being hung as part of a crackpot attack from the right. Breaking a basic law of the guild, Ignatius interrupted that action!

Last October, Ignatius published this column, in which he revealed the final text of those talking points. Breaking a basic law of his guild, Ignatius noted an obvious fact—Rice had merely stated the facts of the case as those facts were then known.

When he published that accurate column, Ignatius defied the central organizing principal of modern pseudo-journalism: What a crackpot attack had been launched from the right, the American journalist must never reveal the fact that it doesn't make sense!

From that day to this, Ignatius has been working to make himself right with power again. This blatantly illogical column is his latest disgraceful such effort.

His column today makes no earthly sense, but he slimes a long list of people by name. On the bright side, he makes his own name whole in the process.

This column doesn’t make sense. You’ll note that Ignatius never tells us which details should have remained in that “detail-rich draft.”

As they bellied up to the trough, should the bureaucrats have spared the accusation against Ansar al-Sharia—an accusation which was based on initial press reports? Should they have spared that other claim—a claim which was simply inaccurate?

Ignatius forgets to say.

Ignatius’ column doesn’t make sense, but we can make one guarantee. You won’t hear this tomorrow night when you watch The One True Liberal Channel.

Try to believe that he said it: As he continued, Ignatius was even willing to quote Tommy Vietor and Ben Rhodes as they made key observations:
IGNATIUS: By the time it’s over, the overcrowded editors’ desk will include the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency—in addition to many, many officials at the CIA, State Department and White House. At 8:40 p.m. Friday, when the scrubbing has been underway for hours, Jacob Sullivan, the wunderkind adviser to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ventures (not unreasonably): “I do not understand the nature of the exercise.”

White House media wranglers sense trouble ahead, given that the talking points will be parsed by news media who are properly curious about what the heck happened in Benghazi. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor warns that “there is massive disinformation out there, in particular with Congress.” Senior press guru Ben Rhodes weighs in at 9:34 p.m. and warns of feeding “a ton of wrong information” and creating “a hardened misimpression.” Sorry, Ben, but I don’t think the counter-the-spin effort worked too well.

The final editor proves to be Michael Morell, the deputy director of the CIA, the next morning. He takes what started as six information-rich bullet points and whittles them down to an information-thin three points.
Ignatius quotes Vietor and Rhodes making important, obvious points. Already, “massive disinformation” was being peddled concerning this attack. It wouldn’t help if the talking points contained “wrong information” which might create “a hardened misimpression.”

These warnings were thoroughly sensible. But so what? Rather than affirm this fact, Ignatius snarks at Rhodes in the dumbest way possible. He complains when bogus claims are removed from the text—when officials who were still basically clueless whittle down an “information rich draft.”

This column makes no earthly sense. But Lawrence isn’t going to tell you. Neither will Rachel, Chris or Chris.

Those children also belong to the guild. For that reason, this column will stand.


  1. Bob Sheiffer made a comment today that serves as a response to Bob Somerby's position:

    "SCHIEFFER: But Mr. Pfeiffer,...I'll just make this as an assertion: when the executive branch does things right, there doesn't seem to be any hesitancy of the White House to take credit for that. When Osama bin Laden was killed, the President didn't waste any time getting out there and telling people about it.

    "But with all of these things, when these things happen, you seem to send out officials many times who don't even seem to know what has happened. And I use as an example of that Susan Rice who had no connection whatsoever to the events that took place in Benghazi, and yet she was sent out, appeared on this broadcast, and other Sunday broadcasts, five days after it happens, and I'm not here to get in an argument with you about who changed which word in the talking points and all that. The bottom line is what she told the American people that day bore no resemblance to what had happened on the ground in an incident where four Americans were killed.
    "But what I'm saying to you is that was just PR. That was just a PR plan to send out somebody who didn't know anything about what had happened. Why did you do that? Why didn't the Secretary of State come and tell us what they knew and if he knew nothing say, “We don't know yet?” Why didn't the White House Chief of Staff come out? I mean I would, and I mean this as no disrespect to you, why are you here today? Why isn't the White House Chief of Staff here to tell us what happened?" (emphasis added

    Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2013/05/19/schieffer-obama-advisor-why-are-you-here-why-isn-t-white-house-chief#ixzz2TlSVdaEZ

    1. So, you're reduced to this: The "we don't know everything yet" came from the wrong person.

      It shouldn't have come from Susan Rice because she had "no connection" to Benghazi. Instead it should have been the WH Chief of Staff!

      You are a pathetic sad little man.

    2. D in C, that hack Bob Scheiffer's idiotic question is not in the least a legitimate response to TDH's position. It only illustrates what THD has been pointing out over and over again, about how our press corps mindlessly perpetuates right wing scripts. His question is based on numerous false premises. You couldn't have been reading TDH's position on this if you hold this up as some type of effective response. Rice explicitly said that her talking points were preliminary. What she said has been constantly mischaracterized and distorted by the right and by the MSM. What she said was based on talking points supplied to her. Who was deceived? who was harmed? We still don't know what happened in Benghazzi, e.g we don't know who did it. Have you entertained the idea that this is a phony, manufactured scandal?


    3. Yeah, David in Cal is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g quite a bit, isn't he?

      Hey David, read the PDB of August 6, 2001:


      And watch Condi Rice's lame testimony before the 9/11 Commission on that memo:


      Now, that's what a real scandal looks and sounds like.

      What say you, David?

  2. Rice was a high official in the State Department and it was a state department office that was attacked. How is she not an appropriate person to be speaking to the press? This incident seems to have been manufactured initially to forestall her appointment to replace Clinton. Now it is being repurposed to embarrass anyone else who can be tarred with the same brush.

    The main point is that we still don't know who perpetrated the Benghazi attack. And by "we" I mean our intelligence agencies. How can Rice have been expected to know who did this when no one knows the answer to that to this day?

    I do not understand what this controversy is about, other than an attempt by Conservatives to try to embarrass political opponents in the Democratic party. That attack has clearly succeeded. My question is who is behind that attack and why are we not being told the truth about who keeps raising Benghazi as an issue?

    1. I think the UN ambassador is directly responsible to the president, not someone responsible to him or her from within the state department. (You know, all those flow charts business people love.) A minor point, maybe. Or a major one, more likely. Rice was chosen as spokesperson for her remote or transcendent or some such relationship to the people at State, CIA, who were struggling in the morass of ongoing mess. President: Let's talk to the American people in a responsible way, pending further investigation and developments. Call Susan. A smart and reasonable move. All hell breaks loose because we have Republicans these days who care less about our nation's welfare than their own, narrowly defined. End of of story. (If only.)

  3. If Schieffer had any integrity, he would have been reminding everyone all along that Rice explicitly acknowledged that it was possible there was al Qaeda involvement. That conclusively shoots down the notion that there was an effort to hide the possibility of terrorism.

    1. It's gotten to the point that it's clear that this isn't incompetence, it's blatant dishonesty. Realize that they've gone through every word Rice said on those shows that day and they're as aware as anyone here that her words are being grossly mischaracterized.

  4. Question: If those officials were basically clueless about the attack, how much could they have told the public in their account of the attack?

    Lots! As much as they wanted, provided airtight accuracy didn't concern them. If they chose to invest their faith in certain narratives of events that were unproven but politically favorable, they could go public with all kinds of hunches and suggestions and possibilities. All while playing down another less favorable but unproven yet possibly true narrative.

  5. Very good work from the Daily Howler here. Even without the sad performance at ABC, we should not discount the possibility that this will be a net political gain for the Dems, even if it is a loss for the Country. But, that's the price you pay for living in a free Nation, where people like David in Ca. are allowed to live.

  6. AnonymousMay 19, 2013 at 3:00 PM -- It's probably a waste of pixels, but I will try to respond to your post.

    Suppose you're a supervisor of some operation. If your subordinate knows about a highly significant event, s/he should immediately tell you about it. That obligation exists whether the event is good or bad and whether or not the subordinate had any blame or credit for what happened.

    The President works for you and me. We pay his salary. We hire him to perform enormous numbers of vital tasks. We give him great power; he needs a lot of power to do all we ask of him. However, his enormous power doesn't change the fundamental relationship that you and I are his bosses.

    Mr. Obama had an obligation to tell us as promptly and as accurately as possible what happened when Benghazi was f...ed up. He didn't fulfill this obligation. He chose a spokesperson who would be unable to answer certain important questions, such as what Secretary of State Clinton and the President were and were not doing during the crisis. As it turns out, much of what Ms. Rice said turned out to be wrong or misleading, particularly her reference to the internet video and the supposed riot prior to the attack.

    Bob Somerby argues that Rice didn't know that her talking points were inaccurate. He argues that, even though her presentations gave an incorrect impression, they had enough disclaimers to not be falsehoods.

    Bob Sheiffer rejects these excuses. He says the Administration set out to not provide a full and accurate report. (Otherwise Hillary Clinton or Mr. Obama would have been on the Sunday talk shows, instead of Ms. Rice.) What the Administration presented turned out to be wrong and/or misleading.

    Presumably Scheiffer would not be criticizing the President for wrong or misleading statements if the Obama Administration had actually tried to present a full and accurate report.

    1. Seriously, you think the President was a candidate to go on the talk shows and discuss the attack? Get real. A president does not go on Sunday talk shows for the specific reason of discussing an attack on a consulate/CIA outpost (whatever it was), even if people died. Did Reagan go on the Sunday talk shows after the 1983 Beirut barracks attack?

    2. Anon -- Other Presidents have had press conferences and answered all the questions in that format.

    3. As I said at 2:44 yesterday, you've settled on your quite literally insane position; now you've even amped up the wackiness: Presentations by any spokesperson other than the President are, on their face, evidence of intent to mislead.

      That's an airtight crazy theory for you.

      You can't show Rice did anything wrong, given the state of US intelligence service's reporting, so you just say, with no basis whatever in reality or history, that it was wrong for Rice to speak at all!

      You are a horrible person. Please do the right thing for once. Go away and never return.

    4. Like most of his conservative brethren David in Cal is a real tool.

      David, read my other comment above on the PDB of Aug 6, 2001 to see what a real scandal looks and sounds like.

      And by the way, we are all still paying quite dearly for Bush's folly.

    5. DInC,

      Can you cite one instance when a President described a covert CIA operation in detail to the general public?

      For that matter, can you cite one instance when the CIA described one of it's covert operations to the general public?

      adjective |ˈkōvərt, kōˈvərt, ˈkəvərt|
      1 not openly acknowledged or displayed: covert operations against the dictatorship.

    6. gravymeister --
      Well, not in detail, but the Obama Administration has now informed the general public that Benghazi was essentially a covert CIA operation. However, they waited until after the election to share this detail.

      AnonymousMay 20, 2013 at 10:07 AM -- How can I look at your earlier post, when you post anonymously?

    7. I am not Anon 10:07, but I can search a web page for "PDB." Maybe the real reason you don't respond to his point is because it makes you look so bad. Which is your cherry-pickin' M.O.

    8. DinC,

      In other words, our President kept mum until we could get our assets out safely, rather than exposing them and leaving them twisting in the wind in a violent situation?

    9. D & C, a totally unconvincing rebuttal to my post. You still didn't answer whether you have entertained the possibility that this is a phony, manufactured scandal.

      AC/ MA

  7. The Republican idea, as we can see from the above, is to just keep flapping your gums about it, and certain Press Corps actors will go along. But there may ultimately be a backlash: imagine the Star Report without Monica, and that may be where this ends up.

  8. The whole place is created just for you and the fantasies of yours. http://www.sunset-gate.com

  9. IMHO Rice was the wrong person to go on the Sunday talk shows, because she had no independent knowledge. All she could do is quote the talking points. The Administration might just as well have sent the moderator a copy of the talking points and let him read them on his TV show.

    Here's an analogy. Suppose you're taking a class in calculus from a teacher who knows no calculus. All he can do is write the words from the tetxtbook on the board. He can't answer any questions unless he can find a quote from the textbook that happens to answer that precise question. I think you can see that a student wouldn't learn as much as if the teacher actually knew what he was talking about and could respond knowledgably to students' questions.

    Similarly, I think the public would have learned more about Benghazi if someone like Secretary of State Clinton had been interviewed. The Administration's choice of Rice suggests that the Administration's goal was to limit information shared to nothing more than what was in the talking points.

    AnonymousMay 20, 2013 at 3:44 PM -- I'd be happy to have a discussion with you if you'll just choose a screen name. Hit the dropdown, choose name/URL and enter whatever screen name you like.

    1. They signed their post, for crying out loud. That was one of your most poorly executed dodges ever, and that's saying something.

      So you are down to this, it is a scandal because "the public would have learned more" if someone else went on the Sunday shows.

      You know, conservatism is a political philosophy. Undying fealty to Republican talking points is something else.