Still able to work for CBS News and for Slate: By traditional standards, John Dickerson is a bit of a good looking feller. He’s also a legacy. His mother, the late Nancy Dickerson, was a good-looking female correspondent in the 1960s, one of the first such women in TV network news.
Perhaps for these reasons, Dickerson has several good jobs at good pay within the upper-end press corps. He holds jobs with Slate and with CBS News despite a shortcoming:
John Dickerson doesn’t know how to read.
Dickerson puts this lack of skill on display in his new piece at Slate. In this passage which follows, he tries to explain what Susan Rice said on those Sunday programs.
Our view? If Dickerson looked at the transcripts in question, he doesn’t know how to read:
DICKERSON (6/5/13): In the original case against Rice, Sens. John McCain and Graham argued that she was central to the Obama conspiracy to hide the facts about Benghazi. On the Sunday public affairs shows, Rice had promoted the idea that rioters were spontaneously angered by an anti-Muslim video and that they were not terrorists with links to al-Qaida who may have planned the attack. This message helped to protect the president's re-election chances, which were built in part on his administration’s competence fighting terrorism.Did Susan Rice “promote the idea that rioters were spontaneously angered by an anti-Muslim video?” Not exactly, no. She said a spontaneous demonstration had taken place at the diplomatic post in Benghazi—and that “extremists armed with heavy weapons” had then arrived on the scene and “hijacked events.”
According to Rice, it was these extremists with heavy weapons who waged the killing attack. For all we know, they might have been angered by the anti-Muslim video; major newspapers quoted attackers at the scene of the crime saying this in real time. That said, we can’t find a place in the transcripts where Rice describes their motives.
Did Rice “promote the idea that rioters...were not terrorists with links to al-Qaida?” We’d have to say no, she did not. When Bob Schieffer directly asked about that, this is what she said:
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): Do you agree or disagree with [Muhammad Magariaf] that al Qaeda had some part in this?If Dickerson knew how to read, he would understand what Rice said in that passage. If you know how to read, you can see that Rice said that the killers might have been “al Qaeda itself.”
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find 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.
That statement could have been the day’s takeaway! The next morning, front-page headlines could have bannered this:
Ambassador Rice says Benghazi killers might have been al Qaeda!
That could have been the headline! But partly because many journalists can’t read, and partly because of GOP propaganda, that isn’t what the headlines said the next day. And from that day right up to this, pseudo-journalists like Dickerson have been saying things like this:
Susan Rice said the killers didn’t have links to al-Qaeda!
That simply isn’t what she said, as literate people can see.
Let’s consider the most interesting of Dickerson’s various paraphrases. Did Susan Rice “promote the idea” that the attack wasn’t planned? (We’re paraphrasing one part of Dickerson’s final, multiple claim.)
For ourselves, we would say she did not. This takes us to one of the oldest problems in all of western cogitation: What does it means when someone tells you that she doesn’t know X?
Did Rice say the attack wasn’t planned? On balance, we would say she did not. With Schieffer, she had this exchange:
SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with [Magariaf] that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?Schieffer asked about several months of planning. But since we're working with the “press corps,” let's stay away from such complex points.
RICE: We do not—we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
In that exchange, did Rice say the event wasn’t planned? Plainly, no—she did not. She said the United States government had no such information at present.
That statement doesn’t mean what Dickerson seems to think it means. But then, that type of statement has caused big trouble ever since the dawn of the west.
In effect, Rice said this: At present, we don’t know. Average people—people like Dickerson—have always hated such statements.
In the end, Socrates was forced to drink the hemlock for making a form of that statement. Can we talk about the way the human mind tends to work?
Average people—people like Dickerson—always want an answer. They want you to tell them a story right now, just like Mother once did. If you offer some form of “we don’t know,” they get annoyed and they don’t understand.
You see, people like Dickerson make up their stories. In their hearts, they don’t understand why you don’t follow suit.
People like Dickerson will get annoyed if you express uncertainty. Typically, they will proceed to invent some answer which they will then put in your mouth. This invented statement takes the place of the answer you wouldn’t produce.
Again and again, Rice kept saying we still didn’t know what happened at Benghazi. Dull-witted people will always get nervous when such things get said.
That said, Dickerson is a real piece of work. Like many journalists, he is now making the highlighted statements:
DICKERSON: The idea of a spontaneous demonstration sparking the attack came from the CIA, not Rice. Yes, but what about the video? Rice mentioned that the video sparked the protest. There was nothing about that in the CIA talking points. True, but the CIA-informed talking points say that the Benghazi attack was inspired by the Cairo protests. What started the Cairo protests? The video.Has the video been “discredited” as a motive in the attack? We have no idea why Dickerson says that. No one has been formally accused of these killings. How can we rule out motives for killers whose names we don’t know yet?
The Sunday after the attack is where Rice leaves the story. The video would ultimately be discredited. One of the open questions is why Obama and Hillary Clinton continued to talk about the video after it had been undermined. But that's still a question that has nothing to do with Rice. There are lots of other questions about the attack and information that was put out afterward that still require better answers, but Rice was never the person expected to provide them.
Meanwhile, only a true defective would still be wondering “why Obama and Hillary Clinton continued to talk about the video.” Riots were roiling large swaths of the Muslim world—riots in reaction to that insulting video. It was that global phenomenon which Obama addressed at some length on September 25 at the United Nations. It was that phenomenon which Clinton addressed in various statements and forums.
We know that because we’ve read the transcripts of the various speeches. But Dickerson doesn’t know how to read. He can only repeat the claims he hears from illiterate colleagues.
Paraphrase is a very basic reading skill. To demonstrate reading comprehension, you have to be able to read a statement or speech, then explain what the person said.
Paraphrase is a basic skill. Many top “journalists” lack it.