THE REFUSAL TO FIGHT: Adopting Isikoff’s Fox-tinged line!


Part 3—Rachel just isn’t that sharp: With how much skill has The One True Channel analyzed the Benghazi nonsense?

Has this channel been willing to fight?

Alas! Consider the “analysis” which emerged last Wednesday night, May 15, when Michael Isikoff appeared with Rachel Maddow. A bit of background:

Five days earlier, on May 10, ABC’s Jonathan Karl had released twelve versions of the talking points which were crafted last September concerning the Benghazi attack. On May 14, it had been revealed that Karl misquoted one of the e-mails which helped shape those talking points.

On this very day, May 15, a large trove of those e-mails had been released by the White House.

By May 15, journalists had had five full days to consider the evolution of the talking points. But how sad! When Maddow asked Isikoff for his views, this is the way he started:
MADDOW (5/15/13): Joining us now is Michael Isikoff, NBC News investigative correspondent. He has been going through these newly released e-mails since they came out tonight.

Mike, thanks for being with us again...What did you learn from these e-mails that might further explain the scandal or at least the politicization of this scandal?

ISIKOFF: Well, I learned that there actually is a scandal and I think the scandal is all these relatively high-level national security officials spent hours on end exchanging e-mails in order to produce what turned out to be complete bureaucratic mush. I mean, why these talking points were even being written in the first place, and why a committee was doing it, seems inexplicable when you actually look through it.

In fact, my favorite e-mail was from Jacob Sullivan, who’s head of policy planning at the State Department, who in the middle of this writes, "I do not understand the nature of this exercise." I think that kind of reflects anybody reading this.
That was a very strange, very dumb start. To watch this whole segment, click here.

In fact, everyone knows “why these talking points were even being written in the first place.” They were written so members of Congress could have an official account of what they could say about the attack without misstating the basic facts and without compromising security interests.

Everybody knows that! But for some reason, Isikoff chose to clown at the start of this session. And as he continued, he gave a deeply clueless, Fox-tinged account of what occurred as the talking points were developed:
ISIKOFF (continuing directly): Look, there is no smoking gun, to say the least. In fact, there’s almost an antismoking gun, which is the e-mail from the general counsel of the CIA, who at one point explicitly writes, "I know there's a hurry to get this, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it"—this is the original talking points, which did have information about al Qaeda, which did talk about Libya being awash in weapons and that, this being likely an attack by extremists—but whether providing it conflicts with the expressed instructions from national security staff, DOJ, FBI, that in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this.

So that’s coming from the original counsel of the CIA. And that sort of sets the ball in motion in terms of scrubbing out all relevant details about who was behind the attack from the talking points.
“At the end of the day, it all gets taken out, we’re left with the mush where Susan Rice says almost nothing,” the vacuous fellow went on to say. In this manner, Isikoff gave a profoundly dumb synopsis of this whole procedure.

In the highlighted sections above, this unhelpful fellow lamented the loss of all the “information” in the original talking points, “which did have information about al Qaeda, which did talk about Libya being awash in weapons and that, this being likely an attack by extremists.” He shook his head about the way all those “relevant details” got “scrubbed” from the talking points.

Isikoff was simply wrong on one point. In fact, the final version of the talking points did talk about the “extremists” who had staged the attack. Rice used that same term on the Sunday shows, where she repeatedly said that “extremists with heavy weapons” came to the scene and staged the killing attack.

(On those programs, Rice also referred, again and again, to the fact that Libya was awash in weapons.)

Isikoff was quickly wrong about one of his three basic points. That said, his terminal dumbness was revealed in the rest of that passage. To all appearances, it hadn’t occurred to this investigative correspondent that some of that “information” in the first version of the points may not have “information” at all—or that some of the “relevant details” in the original talking points may have been wrong.

Isikoff had read the text of the original version. Sadly, the obvious problems with this text didn’t seem to have registered:
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.
Even Isikoff didn’t complain about the dumping of the claim about Ansar al-Sharia—a claim which was stupidly based on “initial press reporting.” That said, it hadn’t occurred to Isikoff that the same lower-level CIA hacks who included that absurd attribution had also penned that passage about al Qaeda.

Did the CIA really “know” that some of the extremists in question had “ties to al Qaeda,” whatever that fuzzy statement might mean? It didn’t seem to have occurred to Isikoff that this initial claim may have been premature too.

It didn’t seem to occur to Isikoff that some of those original “details” may have been premature, unfounded, possibly wrong! Perhaps for that reason, he chose to adopt a mocking, Fox-tinged line about what had happened.

Mockingly, Isikoff described a process by which “information” and “relevant details” were “scrubbed” from the original text. He complained that Rice was left with “mush,” although she articulated two of the three specific points whose absence he lamented.

Duh! As Isikoff kept mocking the process which edited down the original version, he didn’t consider an obvious possibility: The process may have improved the points by removing premature claims!

Instead, Isikoff rolled his eyes, as if on Fox, at the somewhat comical way these agencies “scrubb[ed] out all relevant details,” thereby leaving Rice with “bureaucratic mush.”

Isikoff had had five days to consider the original talking points. Despite this, it hadn’t entered his thick head that the original version may have been ill considered. He laughed as if he were on Fox, mocking the way the bureaucrats left Rice with a puddle of mush.

Rachel had also had five days to consider those talking points. But so what? As the interview ended, Our Own Rhodes Scholar was just as clueless as her useless guest, whose mockery of the bureaucrats she adopted as her own:
ISIKOFF: At the end of the day, it all gets taken out, we`re left with the mush where Susan Rice says almost nothing and then sort of piece of resistance, which is David Petraeus’ e-mail, reading it, seeing all the stuff about the CIA warnings and then writing, "No mention of the cable to Cairo either? Frankly, I just as soon not use this”—this is about the talking points. And then, "No, but it’s NSS’ call”—that’s National Security Staff—“to be sure. You know, regardless, thanks for the great work." I’m not quite sure what the great work was there.

But bottom line is there’s no indication of partisan political motive for scrubbing this because of the election. There is plenty of evidence of this bureaucratic tussle between the State Department and the CIA, and that’s, at the end of the day, what we’re left with.

MADDOW: What I realized is, all of my fantasies built up from all of my years of watching spy movies and reading spy novels about how exciting it must be working as a top-level spy, actually, I don’t want that at all. It sounds like bureaucratic nonsense.

ISIKOFF: You don’t want to be a part of this e-mail chain.

MADDOW: Well, I don’t understand the nature of this exercise. Exactly how I felt reading it.

Michael Isikoff, NBC News investigative correspondent. Mike, thanks very much. Really appreciate your take on this.
For the record, Rachel didn’t just appreciate Isikoff’s take. As she closed, she adopted his take as her own.

Can we talk? As this sad exchange unfolded, the liberal world was being served by two TV stars whose names were Dumb and Dumber. What might Our Own Rhodes Scholar have said when Isikoff rolled his eyes at the “bureaucratic tussle?”

She could have spoken like a person who is angry after all these years of inane right-wing messaging. She could have spoken like a person who wants to fight back against this constant bullroar:
WHAT MADDOW COULD HAVE SAID: You call this a bureaucratic tussle and you act like it was just a big silly mess. But isn’t it possible that the State Department served an important purpose by removing premature claims from the talking points? In the original proposal, the CIA attributed one important claim to “initial press reporting.” Wasn’t it a good thing when that claim got “scrubbed,” as you put it?
Rachel could have said something like that. Instead, she parroted Isikoff’s Fox-tinged line as she dumbly signed off. This was a bunch of dumb stupid shit, “bureaucratic nonsense.”

Multimillionaires can be like that!

We hate to break the news, but Our Own Rhodes Scholar just isn’t all that sharp a great deal of the time. She’s very good at clowning around, thus teaching us how to adore her more fully. She’s amazingly good at pretending that she always corrects her mistakes.

But five days after The Twelve Versions appeared, it still hadn’t occurred to Maddow that the removal of those claims may have improved the talking points by making them less inaccurate. This hadn’t occurred to her on her own—and it seemed her useless staff hadn’t suggested it to her.

And no, it didn’t take a clairvoyant to see this possibility. Because Chris Hayes is less of a clown than Rachel, he had imagined this possibility five days earlier, on the very day when The Twelve Versions were revealed:
HAYES (5/10/13): But what was so fascinating is— You say in the fog of terrorism you don’t know what’s going on. What happens in the course of these talking points is they go from more information to less information, and I could see myself making the judgment that, yes, when there is real confusion about what’s true, say less rather than more because you’re going to have to defend what you say.
Duh! On that very first night, it had already occurred to Hayes that the talking points may have been improved when some premature claims were removed. Sadly, he was talking to Eli Lake, a full-blown Mooney hack who had been booked on his program. For that reason, viewers were instantly treated to push-back in which the removal of those claims was said to be a form of “sugar-coating.”

In large part, MSNBC is perpetrating a con on the liberal world. We’re constantly told that the channel’s hosts are just extremely smart. Why, we even have our own professor! Just like on Gilligan’s Island!

But how smart were Maddow and Isikoff this night? The overpaid pair had had eight months to get their heads straight about this gong-show. By last Wednesday, they had had five days to examine The Twelve Versions.

But when they met last Wednesday night, they recited dumb, Fox-tinged lines about those ridiculous bureaucrats who had scrubbed the talking points of all that information. Most of this would have played quite well on Fox. Maddow was too dumb to know this.

That said, Maddow didn’t do much better when she went after Jonathan Karl, whose name she kept failing to mention.

Tomorrow: Maddow on Karl


  1. Watching Maddow and her ilk fumble basic facts in the face of all their viewers is as frustrating in its own way as watching Hannity and his ilk lie, distort and deceive in the face of all their viewers. Apparently, competence and backbone are too much to expect from these liberal journalistic "stars." Considering the fact-free nature of the fictions these "stars" are confronting, it is striking they cannot manage to construct an evidenced-based narrative which they can use to effectively and consistently rebut right-wing fabrications.

  2. Symbolically, the inability of the press to defend Susan Rice is devastating to the progressive cause. A black woman who did her job perfectly well has been publicly destroyed and the NYT and Maddow, et al. have not adequately defended her and have even added fuel to the fire. Susan Rice was Hillary Clinton's proxy in this case. If we can't defend Ms. Rice this time around then we won't be able to do it when they start attacking Hillary Clinton in 2 or 3 years. That is exactly how they got Gore and gave us George W. Bush. Bob is exactly right. Why are these so-called progressive pundits such pansies? Why do they always dodge the necessary fights?

    1. You're demanding two contradictory conditions at the same time, Mark C. You have a right to one or the other, but not both.

      It's unclear who, exactly, you mean by "we" (as in "if we can't defend....") However, if the NYT and Maddow (not a very useful grouping, but no matter) were truly "progressive", they would be among the most vociferous critics of Rice, Hillary and Gore -- as flunkies for the plutocracy. Hillary, you may recall, announced during the early Arab Spring that the then dictator of Egypt was a good friend "of her family" and deserved every consideration -- including, presumably, indefinite privileges of rule over a population which despised him. So what if his torture chambers were running 24-hours a day?

      So which is it? Do you want progressives who the tell the truth about the Democratic party and Bob's heroes? If not, you have no valid beef with Maddow, because you're not demanding that she tell the truth. You simply require that she say what you want her to say, on select issues -- that she pursues the "necessary fights", to use your phrase, to promote the Democratic party.

      But if you want a liar to promote your interests, you're unlikely to have much control over the content. Nor do you have any right to demand probity from her in one area, but not another.

    2. It appears to me you are simply making up contradictory conditions to muddle the issue at hand. To refresh your memory, the issue at hand is Benghazi and how right-wing distortions, outright lies, and attacks on Democratic officials are not being effectively confronted by the liberal press. In failing to effectively confront these attacks with a strong evidence-based narrative, the liberal press fails in its duty as responsible journalists. Correspondingly, this fails the country by allowing same crackpots who trashed sane political discourse during the Clinton years and who paved the way for eight disastrous years of Bush to again gain an ascendant voice in American politics.

    3. Sorry Brad, but in the minds of such as 12:11 Anon above, the ONLY relevance of "right-wing distortions, outright lies, and attacks on Democratic officials" is that by competently refuting them you are aiding the evil Democratic party, the "flunkies of the plutocracy."

      It is better to pretend one's own ideological purity, it would seem.

    4. Brad S:

      You make the same demand as Mark C.: that the "liberal" press be truthful and combative (or, in any event, represent your interests), but only when it suits you.

      To "refresh your memory", life did not begin with Benghazi. You don't excoriate "liberal" talk show hosts and columnists for failing to point out the many, many lies, of great significance, perpetuated by the Obama administration, by Susan Rice and by Hillary Clinton. Nor does Bob Somerby.

      Even assuming the Benghazi matter is as clear-cut as Somerby makes it out to be, why the demand for truth here, but nowhere else -- except where Republican accusations are in play?

      Now, you're obviously entitled to your partisan associations and preferences. And you can rue the press corps behavior all out want -- but until you insist on truth in ALL matters of public discourse, you're expressing nothing but partisan frustration. And your demands for truth are a sham. You want truth only when it suits your interests.

      Strange, isn't it, that in thousands of TDH posts, not one takes the press to task for failing to point out the lies of a Democratic politician favored by Bob Somerby?

      If Somerby truly craved competent and principled journalism and punditry, his argument would not take this highly selective, partisan form. Your output is far more limited, but it would appear you share his sentiments: you want a principled press corps, but only when it tells you what you want to hear.

    5. First, some of us do complain about the press and complain that the Democrats do not support progressive causes.

      Second, while I wholeheartedly agree with your depictions of prominent Democrats (Obama's drones are crimes, right?), if you agree with the presentation of, let's say, Rice being a liar, then you are supporting their fight. For you, Rice is being a liar for completely different reasons. Now, when everybody gets riled up and throws the bums out, which direction are they going to turn? I am guessing that you would want more openness and a saner foriegn policy. Well, these fights are not constucted that way. It's all a set-up to get Republicans back in office.

      It's not about protecting Rice, it's about exposing the press corps for the rotting vegetables they are so hopefully sometime in the future there will be a voice for people who are not in the 1%.

    6. Sorry Anonymous 3:37, your avoidance in addressing the specific issue of Benghazi and the liberal press is transparent. To re-refresh your memory, we are talking about Benghazi and the liberal press. No, I never said or indicated life began with Benghazi. However, it is the topic at hand, no matter how hard you try to distract with opaque generalizations. And no, I never said or indicated "that the liberal press be truthful and combative...but only when it suits (me)." You simply make-up a framework and spice it up it with a little ad hominem--your mind-reading skills are less than impressive. In other words, you type up a novel to support your bogus framework—a blathering of non-sequitur. Come to think of it, you would be a good fit for the modern press corps! Moreover, if you paid the slightest attention to Somerby's work over the years, you would know that it largely focuses on the pitfalls of the modern political press, not the politicians. As such, Somerby has been very critical of the press corps--liberal, mainstream, and conservative alike. If you truly desire a principled, constructive discussion/debate of this particular issue, you would stick to the issue at hand and simply point out specific errors you perceive he's (or I've) made. And you would drop the pretense that building an evidence-supported position on an issue is somehow anathematic to principled political discourse.

    7. "but until you insist on truth in ALL matters of public discourse, you're expressing nothing but partisan frustration"

      To insist is on such purity is nonsense. Are you really implying that progressives should not defend Obama, or Clinton, Rice from unfair and unreasonable assaults? I am talking about choosing our battles. The attacks on Susan Rice--the character assassination-- is a very distinctive manuever. If it goes unchallenged by objective journalism then our whole political discourse will degrade into the same Gingrich-Starr tabloid-style mentality of the second Clinton term. It's great strategy for the Republicans. Already, even democrats are falling for it. "Hey, where there's smoke there must be fire. Call in a special prosecutor."

    8. "Are you really implying that progressives should not defend Obama, or Clinton, Rice from unfair and unreasonable assaults?"

      In a word, the answer is "yes" if, as a progressive, you believe Obama, Clinton and Rice are liars and scoundrels, and don't deem that their defense is a high personal priority of yours. Of course, there are partisan arguments to be made: that, bad as Democrats are, the Repubs are worse, so "we" better support politicians "we" despise.

      You're welcome to make that argument, but you can hardly reproach a progressive who rejects it on grounds of principle -- particularly when you can't answer for the actions these figures, redeemed by your defense, will undertake in the future.

      Look, for example, at Clinton's second term. I for one am delighted that his agenda was stymied by the Lewinsky matter. If not, we'd be looking at partial SS privatization, among other horrors. Even so, Bill managed to give the the financial services industry huge gifts, before leaving office, which cost the national economy trillions -- and for which he's been handsomely compensated, post-presidency. He also announced recently that for the long-term, well all better embrace the plutocratic vision of Simpson/Bowles. This guy just keeps giving and giving, doesn't he?

      Now if only progressives and the press had done a better job of defending Bill Clinton! We might have had SS cuts, 401K-type financial services banditry for SS, and Simpson/Bowles 13 years ago!

      And you can, with a straight face, reproach "progressives" for not jumping to the defense of Bill Clinton?

      Of course, the case of Somerby is different: he actually believes that Clinton, Gore and Obama are avatars of good government. But, then again, who can blame him: Bob has never been an "issues" man. Except for test scores, he does no independent research, so has no idea what policies these figures actually promote.

    9. You conflate laying bare a lying press with defending Rice. You don't like Rice (for good reasons), so you can't bring yourself to criticize her accusers. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. All I can say is, watch your back.

  3. It takes work to actually read the document dumps -- in this case the emails released. It takes work to track what is being said on Fox and other conservative outlets. It takes motivated hard work to construct arguments addressing the conservative distortions. I do not believe these liberal media stars want to invest in communicating a helpful liberal message when it would divert time from creating entertaining segments that maintain their ratings and high salaries. Who will do the work of entertaining if resources are diverted to informing the public?

  4. "Wasn’t it a good thing when that claim got “scrubbed,” as you put it?"

    Not allowed! Not allowed!

  5. When a tough investigative journalist, such as Isikoff putatively is, claims to understand anything done or said by the government, and betrays a willingness to accept its purposes as benign and routine, he forfeits the air of skepticism he's worked so hard to engender and the possibility of darker motives. He begins to look like a lapdog for the it's the appearance that's important to cultivate and husband. A certain amount of journalism is necessary to keep these shows going, but basically TV is show business.

  6. Izzy's job is to come up with a take he can drag on Fox or MSNBC, and sound sort of cynical/smart. But his presence only underlines what this is likely to come down to: no Monica.

    1. The only problem is that this has NOTHING to do with Monica Lewinski. 60% of independent voters believe the administration is lying. With no push back that stands. Your theory seems to suggest that eventually the public will grow tired of Republicans battering the administration over their "lies", take pity and cut them some slack. What's remarkable is that it would take minimal effort and smarts but our adorable media stars are too cowardly and inept to clarify this nonsense. Is there any wonder as to why liberals are frequently regarded as wimps?

    2. No, my theory is the public will get tired of YOUR lies. As they did with Vince Foster, Whitewater, Travelgate et all. Starr had to admit he wasted 35 Million of the taxpayers dollars on horseshit, even with the "liberal" medias support down the line. The only thing that saves him was Monica, my slow friend. Now they want to play this out again, please, you will cause every halfway decent human being to flee The Republican Party once and for all, as they should have done years ago! Do it! I'm sure your pole of independents is a hundred percent correct! Do it!

  7. The talking points were nothing but a good faith effort to inform the public. Any implication that political or election-related factors entered into it is just wingnut douchebaggery.

    1. Son of Mr. CredulousMay 22, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      The administration was lying to us. They knew everything, even before it happened.

      We are talking about 9/11, right?

    2. Building 7!!!

    3. "Building 7!!!"

      Troofer! So like, 6-7 years ago. :-)

  8. In watching the evolving press coverage of the disastrous Oklahoma City tornado, I was struck by how many errors initially were made detailing this event--from the death toll to the tornado's size. This happened despite being extensively documented by video and being extensively covered from the outset by professionals. There seemed to be general acceptance of this as a natural part of covering a traumatic event. Then I thought of Benghazi, which occurred in a foreign country and was characterized by extended deadly violence but which was not extensively documented by video and not extensively covered by professionals. Small wonder, then, in the days following Benghazi there were ongoing edits of those infamous talking points attempting to depict what had transpired. If initial reports of an extensively covered traumatic event in the United States contained errors that needed subsequent editing for account accuracy, it really doesn’t take a leap of faith to understand and accept the edited Benghazi talking points for what they were: attempts to re-create an inherently complex event more accurately. Despite all the bullroar from the crackpot right, no evidence has been produced that link these edits to a nefarious cover-up designed to protect the political fortunes of President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

  9. Guys and gals, there's no hope.
    This is from an exchange between me and a right wing nut:

    GRAVYMEISTER: "...the mainstream media have been repeating the Republican talking points on Benghazi for eight months…

    WING NUT:"(Gravymeister HIMSELF, speaking ex-cathedra from his anus) that the mainstream media report ONLY the side of the news that supports the Conservative cause. Yes, folks, he did say that in an email!"

    Liberals let the right FRAME the arguments instead of challenging the semantics from the get go.

    You can't win if you let the sophistry pass without calling it for what it is.

    Many of the arguments by commenters on THIS blog argue more about the "meaning of meaning" than they do about facts.

    You would think that journalists would have been trained in general semantics in school, but alas, "it just isn't done."