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 ScriptKrugman was on the right track. For his full column, click here.
A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. 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.
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.In that passage, Kirkpatrick gives the impression that Rice asserted a certain story-line about what occurred. That basically isn’t true.
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.
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