BULLROAR OVER BENGHAZI: Return of the famous old Clinton Rules!

FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2013

Part 5—The ultimate insult revealed: An eight-month insult to your intelligence will be revealed in Sunday’s Washington Post.

No one will notice that this has occurred. But still!

The deconstruction will be performed by Michael Hirsh. He will be identified as “the National Journal’s chief correspondent.”

In the paper’s Outlook section, Hirsh will publish a piece bearing this headline: “Five Myths About Benghazi.” This highly instructive piece has already been posted on-line.

As he examines the first of those five myths, Hirsh will tell Post readers what follows. He refers to Susan Rice’s appearances on the now-famous September 16 Sunday programs, at least some of which were taped:
HIRSH (5/19/13): [T]here is little doubt that Rice’s taped remarks reflected the best intelligence assessment of the attacks at the time. As more information came in, intelligence officials changed that assessment publicly. If the talking points were extensively edited after an interagency consultation, that was fairly normal procedure, especially when it came to deleting classified portions referring to specific groups. Rice did allow, in her comments on TV, that “extremist elements” might have taken part in the attack.

Even now, the FBI and other agencies are not certain who the culprits were. In that light, the administration’s efforts to remove references to specific groups look more judicious than nefarious.
As has been the norm since the rise of the Clinton Rules, Hirsh is pulling his punches here, deferring to crackpot allegations from the pseudo-conservative world.

Ambassador Rice “did allow...that ‘extremist elements’ might have taken part in the attack?”

Hirsh makes it sound like Rice said that in passing, or like it was somehow forced from her lips. In fact, on all four shows where Rice was asked about Benghazi, that was her principal explanation of who had staged the attack.

“Extremists armed with heavy weapons” arrived at the scene and “hijacked events!” Rice offered some version of that statement on all four programs that day. It was her principal explanation of who had staged the attack.

That was Rice’s principal statement, offered on all four programs. But Hirsh is playing that statement down in accord with the famous old Clinton Rules, in which good boys and girls in the mainstream press corps must defer, in all major ways, to whatever crazy attacks are coming from the likes of Dan Burton. Or maybe from Saint John McCain!

Hirsh is deferring to the right in that peculiar phrasing. But even as he underplays what Rice said on those Sunday programs, he authors a truly remarkable statement. Here it is, standing alone:

“Even now, the FBI and other agencies are not certain who the culprits were.”

That is an astonishing statement, even though Hirsh breezes past it. That statement pulls back the curtain on an eight-month insult to your intelligence.

Here’s how:

Over the past eight months, crackpots of the pseudo-right have made several major charges concerning the perfidy of Rice and Clinton and Obama and the administration in general. Here are the two most common claims, each of which has been widely bruited just in the past week:
The two major claims from the right RE Benghazi:
Susan Rice lied when she said there had been a spontaneous demonstration in reaction to the protest in Cairo.

The administration lied when it scrubbed the talking points of all references to Ansar al-Sharia and al Qaeda.
Last Friday, we learned that the claim about the spontaneous demonstration came straight from the CIA itself—even though the children on MSNBC still can’t manage to say this. (See our next post.)

That’s what we learned last Friday. This coming Sunday morning, Hirsh will state an amazing fact, although he will hide its vast implications:

Even today, the FBI and the CIA don’t know who staged this attack!

Is Hirsh right in that assertion? As far as we know, he is. In the past week, have you seen any major newspaper or news broadcast explain who is being pursued for staging this attack?

Even today, eight months later, there have been no real arrests or apprehensions. Meanwhile, as for Ansar al-Sharia, everyone knows where they can be found! In February, the Washington Post, and other newspapers, described the group’s ongoing role in Benghazi’s public affairs:
HAUSLOHNER (2/17/13): After the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission last fall that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead, the Islamist militia widely accused of leading the assault all but disappeared amid a popular backlash.

But Ansar al-Sharia is edging back into society, and many of Benghazi's residents now say they want it here.

The militia tentatively resumed its role as guardian of Benghazi's two main hospitals last week. Its fighters have staked out positions at the western entrance to the city. They have also moved back onto their base, and residents say the group has been participating in community cleanup and charity work.

Its resurgence—and that of Rafallah al-Sahati, another Islamist militia—underscores the city's reckoning with a harsh reality, residents said. No one else is capable of securing volatile Benghazi.
Is it true? Did Ansar al-Sharia stage the attack? For ourselves, we have no way of knowing. By implication, Hirsh is saying that the government still isn’t sure.

But so what? All through the past week, crackpots of the pseudo-right have been screeching and wailing about the way the CIA’s original talking points got scrubbed of its claim that Ansar al-Sharia staged the attack. Just to refresh you, this is the clownish first proposal which ended up getting scrubbed:
ORIGINAL CIA TALKING POINTS (9/14/12): We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.

The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.

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.
In fact, the group had made a formal statement saying that none of its members were involved. We have no idea if that’s true, but Hirsh is now saying that the CIA still doesn’t know.

Here comes that insult to your intelligence, based upon what Hirsh is writing:

Even today, eight months later, the U.S. government doesn’t know if Ansar al-Sharia staged the attack! And yet, crackpots have complained all week about the way that highlighted claim got scrubbed from the talking points—a passage which assigned blame to Ansar al-Sharia based on initial press reporting!

As we have noted all week, you’d have to be crazy to leave that claim in an official set of talking points—in an official white paper. If American journalists knew how to read, they would have mocked that proposed talking point when it was first made public last Friday.

But American journalists rarely show signs of knowing how to read. They do know how to make up novels, in which they have deferred to the right in matters like this ever since the 1990s, when the Clinton Rules first took effect.

When we started our five-part report this week, we started with Maureen Dowd. Over the past three decades, Dowd has been one of the craziest people in the press corps—and one of the most influential.

Last Sunday, Dowd wrote a typically clueless column about Benghazi. At one point, she dumbly wondered why Susan Rice would have mentioned the spontaneous protest. At another point, she very dumbly typed the passage which follows.

As is often the case when Dowd types, the logic was very much lacking. But the mind-reader was IN:
DOWD (5/12/13): Looking ahead to 2016, Hillaryland needed to shore up the mythology that Clinton was a stellar secretary of state. Prepared talking points about the attack included mentions of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group, but the State Department got those references struck.
Like the rest of the world’s biggest crackpots, Dowd was upset that the reference to Ansar al-Sharia was struck. In the world of this very dumb person, official white papers should base extremely serious claims on “initial press reporting.”

Dearest darlings! Why ever not? People like Dowd build their novels that way. Why shouldn't the American government?

In that passage, Dowd got herself in line with the latest attacks from the crackpot right. In the process, she reverted to one of her favorite old themes, the lying of Hillary Clinton.

Even after those proposed talking-points had been published for all to see, it didn’t occur to this dumbest of humans that the Ansar al-Sharia reference may have been struck because it didn’t make sense. Because it doesn’t make sense to base such a claim on “initial press reporting.”

Instead, the doctor was IN—and the doctor was reading minds.

According to Dowd, that reference to Ansar was struck because of Hillary’s political needs! But then, Dowd has been typing this novel forever. She can type that novel in her sleep, perhaps even when she’s drunk.

In Sunday morning’s Washington Post, Michael Hirsh is going to say that the FBI and the CIA still don’t know who staged the attack. But he isn’t going to make an obvious connection:

He isn’t going to connect that statement to the claim which has flown around all week, in which Ansar al-Sharia should have been named as the culprit. Based on press reports!

If Hirsh is right in what he says, that repeated complaint has been crazy this week. If Hirsh is right in what he says, it would have been crazy to publish the claims which were correctly scrubbed.

But no one has told you that this week, and Hirsh is failing to make the connection. In our view, Dowd may have explained why this has occurred right at the start of her column:
DOWD: The capital is in the throes of déjà vu and preview as it plunges back into Clinton Rules, defined by a presidential aide on the hit ABC show “Scandal” as damage control that goes like this: “It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s old news.”
In Dowd’s warped brain, the Clinton Rules involve Hillary’s ubiquitous spinning. In truth, the Clinton Rules were something different. They were the agreement by the mainstream press that any claim, no matter how crazy, would be treated like a serious claim—would be covered for, enabled, assisted, given full journalistic respect.

The Clinton Rules gave us a decade of loud inane pseudo-scandals. When they were applied to Candidate Gore, they gave us twenty months of ginned-up claims, producing eight years of George Bush.

As of Sunday, our very dumbest pseudo-journalist felt that the Clinton Rules were back. Lying face down on Dear Jack’s shag, she wondered why the perfidious Rice had cited that spontaneous protest. And she said that Hillary lied when that claim about Ansar al-Sharia got scrubbed from the talking points.

These ideas have been everywhere this week, even though they don’t make sense. But have you noticed something this week? No one has explained the fact that these claims don't make any sense! Even the children on The One Channel can’t seem to tell you that.

Even last night, the children clowned. Why do you think that is?

Next post: The children clown on All In


  1. I can't figure out whether Grandpa Somerby is making Susan Rice or Hillary Clinton his new focus but after 13 years, he's finally found another dead horse to beat like he has on the 2000 election. There really are serious issues in this world. I thought this was a blog that sometimes focused on education. But please, Grandpa, tell us another story about last September, it'll help get us down for our naps. I'm yawning already.

    1. If you can't comprehend the central importance of exactly this kind of journalistic malpractice, and the need to repeat it until recognition reaches some kind of critical mass among at least a prominent segment of the media world, then you are profoundly stupid. Apparently you prefer to follow your own little narrative you think might cause readers to discount what TDH says.

      The Gore War has never reached critical mass in public knowledge, but at least you don't see "Gore said he invented the Internet" very much anymore. At least there are a few thousand or a few hundred who will swamp the "Contact Us" link when someone tries it. This site is probably about 99.5% responsible for that.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. You're wrong about that. I'm not sure what complaint could rationally be lodged against Rice. They all pushed what the CIA wanted pushed, and only dissented when the CIA said it had issued warnings to the State Dept. and when the CIA mentioned groups based upon unconfirmed info. I'd demand more proof before I made either of those claims, too.

      I'm sure they were pleased as punch to have the CIA anti-Islamic video motivation and goodness knows Clinton drove the hell out of that bus.

      Who could blame them though.

      As an aside, I'm suspicious of the whole CIA operation, and what effect that could have played in the decision not to try to intervene.

  2. Wonderful post.
    A lot of us weren't as plugged in during the Clinton years, so the context is helpful. I was aware of what seemed to be a media "narrative" but I had small children at home, I was busy, etc.
    It's equal parts fascinating and horrible watching it start up all over again.
    I've gotten to where I think of them as addicts, that sort of pattern. They go on a bender, there's a (brief) period of remorse, quickly followed by blaming everyone else for the bender.
    I can tell we're at the "blaming everyone else" stage because the complaint yesterday was that the Obama Administration didn't release the emails quickly enough. Had the administration released the emails more quickly, media wouldn't have had to rely on emails that were made up!
    Then the cycle starts back up again.

  3. Wonderful post? I disagree. I go with the first post and I honestly think Somerby's become as obsessed with this as the right wing. Let's assume Somerby's correct. His writing hasn't changed a thing. He's been screaming in defense of Susan Rice for seven or so months now. So all he's really doing is feeding into the right-wing frenzy on Benghazi and keeping this non-issue alive. Bob Somerby, Karl Rove's best employee.

    1. If we all just look the other way maybe this ongoing pattern of media malfeasance and incompetence that has so badly damaged this country for a generation will simply just go away.

      On the bright side, today's Friday, maybe "Rach" will provide us one of her "yippee!" super neato cool "wonky" stories that make her so adorable, and the boutique liberals love!

    2. And you seem to be obsessed with criticizing this blog, repeating over and over a different way of saying the same thing and offering absolutely zero substantive support for what you claim. Of course, you offer no substantive support because you have none.

  4. It still remains a great mystery as to why the CIA claimed there were "demonstrations" on the night in question when by all eyewitness accounts I've seen refute that claim. All was quiet until the attackers pulled up in their trucks and began assaulting the consulate. There were no demonstrations TO "hijack".

    How this piece of dis-information came to be is one aspect of this tragedy that has not received the attention that it deserves and puts into question other "facts" about Benghazi.

    Somerby's use of this unsupported claim by the CIA in his defense of Rice at this late date is rather disturbing, especially so considering his disparagement of the CIA in other articles he's published and in this very article where he derides them for the lack of action in identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

    His criticisms of the education establishment seem well-founded, his defense of Susan Rice, not so much. In his beating of this long dead horse, Somerby approaches the obsessiveness one usually ascribes to conspiracy theorists, the likes of which he is usually quick to debunk.

    1. You are correct. This is precisely the question that should be asked....to the limited extent that is, that anything to do with Benghazi matters a rats ass. I would have like to seen Jay Carey come out and play the Pretenders old song to explain Benghazi....'when ya own a big chunk of the bloody third world the babies just come with the scenery" Now THAT would have a been a truthful briefing!

    2. Susan Rice said exactly what she should have said. Whatever she said was consistent with what the CIA, FBI and State were comfortable with, and they were the agencies with the responsibility for investigating the matter. I'll bet you don't even know that Rice said that day to Bob Schieffer that al Qaeda could be involved, a fact that completely destroys your treasured notion that there was an attempt to downplay the possible role of terrorism. But then again, for people determined to believe there was some kind of scandal, your criticism will morph into something else. Facts are simply irrelevant to you.

    3. You're another one UL...can you read? Do you see the words "matters a rat's ass' above? Do you see what comes before it? Can you even come up with an original criticism of what I'm saying? Instead of reading YOUR talking points? Try reading it slowly this time.

      For the tenth time...if it took Rice down, all this is worth it.

    4. Jonst,

      I don't know how in the world you guys are calling this a "dead horse" when the very subject of whether the State Dept was massaging the talking points is on every news show.

      I don't know how you can suggest that it's a poor defense to argue that she related what was the latest and most consistent CIA assessment of the matter.

    5. Jonst
      Why do you think UL was responding to your post? Seems to me he's responding to TT.

    6. @urban legend - I'm just one of "Those" people, eh? A nice touch of the Alynsky in your post. Do you really believe that the CIA, the FBI and the State Dept are telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Used to be that the left held institutions such as these in utter contempt. My, how times have changed.

      @CeceliaMc - What's a "dead horse" is Somerby's notion that there was nothing wrong with Rice's "talking points". It's been demonstrated beyond a doubt that they were scrubbed and massaged quite thoroughly. What's in contention now is who was involved with the changes and why they made them.

    7. AllI see is that they were scrubbed of a CIA offering about having issued warnings, and they were scrubbed of the info that Ansar al-Sharia was involved.

      Is there something else?

    8. Toby, I'm astonished that you can say you've never read or heard anything to suggest there was a demonstration going on. That was reported by the NYTimes and WSJ reporters on the ground in Benghazi at the time it happened. The CIA itself says in one of those emails that they've had reports of it.

      There were people hanging around and watching the fun of the attack who said to reporters and apparently to CIA sources that they were there to protest the video.

      Read more widely.

  5. If Benghazi was a CIA installation, didn't the CIA have every motivation to claim the attack was unforeseeable and unrelated to their activities? Why does the apparent fact that the talking point came from the CIA make it beyond reproach, and how did the rest of the administration, competent and smart, become naive rubes, blindly having to accept what the CIA put out?

    1. Well, they didn't "blindly" accept the CIA version. That's what the email brouhaha is all about.

      The CIA didn't claim the attack was unforeseeable. The CIA claims that it issued warnings.

  6. gryfalon,

    Please post those links.

  7. oops, sorry, gryfalon. I don't usually need a sarcasm alert...

  8. Let's be clear here.

    The CIA may be a necessary evil, but it's often inept. It was grossly so when George Tenet infamously said weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were a "slam dunk."

    In this case (Benghazi), the so-called State Department "annex" was essentially a CIA station staffed mostly with CIA personnel. It was the CIA that screwed up (with lack of security, with inadequate "intelligence"). But the CIA wanted to shift all the blame to the State Department.

    Susan Rice did her part in helping to cover for the CIA. That's often the role given "diplomats," in this country and in others. Term it what you will. Shading the full truth. Protecting other operatives and operations. Providing cover.

    What's clear is that there was no "scandal" and no "cover up." Susan Rice was pilloried for political reasons. And the ultimate target for Republicans is HIllary Clinton.

    Meanwhile, Republicans continue to obstruct every meaningful piece of legislation that might help average citizens. They waste time and energy and money voting to overturn Obamacare and conduct politically-motivated and factually-vacant "hearings" for petty – and mean – partisan purposes.

    And the mainstream press goes along. Just like it did in the run-up to war in Iraq. Or as it did (and Bob keeps pointing this out) with Whitewater, or in branding Al Gore a loser.

    As Bob keeps saying, our mainstream press is not very good. And that's especially true with education reporting.

    But isn't the really BIG Benghazi story the fact that there is NO story, that Republicans are pushing it purely for political purposes, and that they doctored emails (i.e. they made stuff up) to try to create a "scandal?"

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