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 dysfunctionSurely, 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.
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.
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...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.
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.
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.”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.”
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.
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.