LAND OF SCRIPT: The Times reports!


Part 2—The script about Benghazi: In our view, Paul Krugman has been the nation’s Most Valuable Journalist over the past many years.

Nine years ago, he was on a productive path, directed by an incomparable guide who only had at heart his not getting lost.

For the Frost reference, just click this. Here’s what Krugman said:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like, and It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media “script,” a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
Krugman was on the right track. For his full column, click here.

What follows is highly counterintuitive. The script has become the basic unit of thought in our broken intellectual culture.

Needless to say, its reach extends well beyond the realm of cable news.

Our journalism is ruled by script—by the recitation of story lines which come from favored sources. Because these sources are highly favored, their scripts will be recited no matter how bogus they may be, even when they sally forth “in the teeth of the evidence.”

Contradictory facts will be discarded. Broken logic will be ignored. Absurd paraphrases will be invented. Misquotation may occur.

Script has guided journalistic practice in the fiscal realm Krugman often discusses. It also guides our crackpot discussions about our public schools.

Script also guides narrower discussions. In September 2012, a set of powerful scripts emerged about the Benghazi attack.

No journalist accepted these scripts as quickly and dumbly as Bob Schieffer. (We’ll review his work later this week.) But the scripts were widely accepted by the vast bulk of mainstream journalists.

Liberal leaders showed no signs of knowing how to fight back. For months, the children at The One True Liberal Channel completely ignored the spreading shitstorm. From 5 P.M. on, not a word emerged from their careful, unskilled mouths as the shitstorm spread.

(On his weekend show, Chris Hayes addressed the spreading storm. He flatly affirmed the script, taking back what he said one week later.)

Susan Rice was the sacrificial lamb in this latest act of conquest by script. On Sunday, the New York Times offered a lengthy front-page retrospective about the issues which were involved in this manifest nonsense.

Yikes! David Kirkpatrick’s front-page report ran 7300 words. His report reinforced the Benghazi reporting the Times had offered in real time—reporting which was widely ignored in deference to script.

That said, Sunday’s new report was extremely detailed. In this early passage, Kirkpatrick contradicts two basic parts of the brain-dead script which caused so much damage:
KIRKPATRICK (12/29/13): Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Say what? The Times found “no evidence that Al Qaeda had any role in the assault?”

And not only that:

The assault “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam?”

Can those findings really be true? As everyone knows, Rice was crucified for suggesting the possibility that the video may have been part of the turmoil. And not only that:

On Day One, Rice was crucified by Schieffer for refusing to agree with the claim that al Qaeda had conducted the assault—indeed, that al Qaeda had planned the assault for months.

Fifteen months later, the New York Times has reported, in substantial detail, that the attack was not conducted by al Qaeda. Beyond that, the Times reports that the attackers were substantially motivated by the anti-Islam video which was fueling disturbances across the Muslim world.

Can the script about Benghazi have been so cosmically wrong? That’s what Kirkpatrick says in the following passage, which is journalistically weak in ways we’ll explore later this week:
KIRKPATRICK: Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
In that passage, Kirkpatrick gives the impression that Rice asserted a certain story-line about what occurred. That basically isn’t true.

Nor did Republicans always say that the assault had been preplanned to coincide with September 11. In our recollection, that interpretation was implied or permitted much more often than it was asserted.

But that passage captures the basic outline of the script which sank Ambassador Rice. According to the prevailing script, al Qaeda had staged a pre-planned attack—and that silly video played no role in what occurred. Rice had been lying to the public when she refused to concur!

No journalist pushed that script as dumbly or as quickly as Schieffer did. This Sunday, Schieffer returns to Face the Nation. He should explain why he did the things he did.

That said, this bogus script quickly came to rule the discussion. Very few journalists stood to challenge it. Indeed, Kirkpatrick bows to its power throughout his new report, as we’ll detail later this week.

Here’s a quick overview:

In deference to the controlling script, Kirkpatrick continues to misparaphrase what Rice said on the Sunday programs on September 16, 2012. At one point, he even flatly misquotes something she said.

Such is the power of script in our broken intellectual culture. Such is the weakness of the mainstream press corps’ intellectual skills.

Rice appeared on five programs that day. At one point, Kirkpatrick flatly misquotes what she said on Meet the Press.

In part 3, we’ll consider the way Kirkpatrick is still misparaphrasing what Rice said on those Sunday programs. We’ll look at his flat misquotation of Rice.

In fairness to Kirkpatrick and his editors, everybody makes mistakes. Beyond that, our journalists are extremely unskilled, especially at the highest levels.

Still, it’s hard to avoid an obvious thought. Even as Kirkpatrick debunks two parts of the Benghazi script, he has continued to defer to its political power.

He continues to misrepresent, and even misquote, what Rice actually said that day. He plays the “both sides did it” game, suggesting that Rice and her attackers made equal but opposite errors.

Beyond that, he names the names of Republicans who pushed the bogus script. But he fails to name the names of any big major journalists.

Rather plainly, MVJ Krugman was on the right path in 2004. To an astounding extent, our public discussions are ruled by script. Isn’t it time we all made this obvious statement?

Tomorrow—Interlude: Once again, the text of what Rice said

Thursday—Part 3: Still misrepresenting—even misquoting!—after all these years


  1. "Susan Rice was the sacrificial lamb"

    Only if that phrase means "gets a big promotion."

    1. Do you really think National Security Advisor is a more important job than Secretary of State (the position she was being considered for at the time)? She was not a viable candidate for that job after the Republicans smeared her over Benghazi. But I do think the real target was Hillary Clinton and Obama -- by association.

    2. I think she was being talked about as a possible candidate for Secretary of State. Obama gave her this current job out of loyalty. She did her job perfectly well and was publicly abused for months by the media. You are one of the stone throwers. Shameful.

    3. Trollmes. Douchebag 15 months ago, douchebag today.

      At least have the sense to choose a new alias so you can pretend you're someone else now, idiot.

    4. Bob, your sock-puppet is showing. urban legend sees it. Pretty much everyone who visits often sees it. Get a new act.

  2. "Script" is the term used by memory theorists (cognitive psychologists who study memory) to refer to the schemas that organize events in our minds. We remember events in terms of meaning, not the actual details that are the content of what happens. The further in time an event becomes, the greater our reliance on the scripts formed to represent meaning and the fewer actual details can be recalled. When we recall, we use the script to fill in details, whether those details are true (actually happened) or not. This is normal and this is how memory works, as supported by evidence from many experiments.

    The question is whether historians and journalists are in the business of creating pleasing narratives that conform to such scripts or whether their job is to fill in details about what actually happened, what was true in the world with respect to a given event. To do the latter, they must rely on sources independent of people's individual memories, because distortion of facts of an event experienced by a person begins almost immediately. People do remember the overall "gist" of what occurred accurately, but not the details.

    I think part of the problem is that there are no longer enough journalists, paid sufficiently well, to permit the media to investigate events thoroughly enough to know what happened. So, they rely on less accurate sources, including ideas about what must have happened, narratives circulated by others, and first-person reports by people involved in an event. There is no effort to corroborate anything and a sense that readers will not care much if the details aren't particularly accurate. Then, people with political interests seize on details considered trivial by journalists, find discrepancies, attach intent to them and blow them up into pseudo-scandals. Any memory-related mistake is called a lie (deliberate falsehood by someone who knows otherwise intended to deceive others).

    Journalists need to decide whether their job is to tell pleasant stories or to find out and communicate truth. If the latter, they need to emphasize skills and training for doing that and apply it to their work. I just don't see that happening any more.

  3. Both Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee who have been briefed on Benghazi have "tangible evidence, empirical data" that show the attacks had al-Qaida ties, he said.

    Here's a quote from one Democrat!

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also a member of the intelligence committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" said the New York Times report added value, but that the newspaper did not have the level of information the intelligence committee had.

    "I don't think the New York Times report is designed to exonerate the security lapses within the State Department that left our people vulnerable," Schiff said. "I do think it adds some valuable insights. I agree with Mike [Rogers] that, however, the intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda was involved. But there are also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al-Qaeda that were involved."

    When even the Dems say the Times was wrong, they must have been quite wrong indeed.

    1. "...that show the attacks had al-Qaida ties, he said"

      An attack cannot have al-Qaida ties. The people who commit that attack can. What is a "tie"? Does it mean some of the people overlap organizations? Does it mean the attack was ordered by al Qaida? Does it mean the Libyan group was a wholly owned subsidiary or a wannabe imitator? What exactly does it mean? Is there room for people to disagree about what constitutes a "tie" to another organization? Did someone's cousin once attend a meeting while on vacation in Pakistan?

      Lara Logan was suspended by CBS in part because she attributed Al Qaeda involvement to the attack when there was little evidence of it. Was CBS wrong? Might they have evidence of conservative partisan involvement in portraying the attack as something it was not, that perhaps Intelligence Committee members might not want to acknowledge?

    2. Al Qaida ties could perhaps be ordered at

  4. I think the actual media types refer to it as the "narrative" rather than the "script," don't they?

  5. "Kirkpatrick gives the impression that Rice asserted a certain story-line about what occurred. That basically isn’t true."

    Quibble: no need for the word "basically." In fact, it is misleading. Rice did not "assert" anything that day.

    1. Nor did Kirkpatrick "give an impression that Rice asserted" anything. He wrote what he wrote. It seems rather accurate.

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