A basic part of post-journalistic culture: Yesterday morning, Susan Rice appeared on Meet the Press for the first time since being left for dead in the wake of the Benghazi attack.
In this exchange, she stated her view about that appalling episode, in which the RNC invented a big pile of crap about what she had said and the liberal world ran off and hid:
GREGORY (2/23/14): When you were last here, Ambassador Rice, it was an eventful morning on the story of Benghazi and the horrible attack on our compound there. We haven’t seen you in a while. As you look back at your involvement in all of that, do you have any regrets?Presumably, she meant that she didn’t intentionally mislead anyone. As it turns out, she seems to have been wrong in the claim that a spontaneous protest was going on before “extremists armed with heavy weapons” arrived and carried out the killing attack.
RICE: David, no, because what I said to you that morning and what I did every day since was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you was what we had at the moment—it could change; I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning—was provided to me and my colleagues and indeed to Congress by the intelligence community and that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false, and I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.
(Rice told a two-part story that day. Two parts is one part too many for American journalists. For life-forms like them, a two-part story is too complex to follow.)
When Rice appeared on those Sunday shows, she explained, again and again, that she was giving preliminary information, the best information that was available at the time. She mentioned that fact to Gregory again on yesterday’s program.
As we’ve noted, offering such disclaimers to American journalists is like speaking French to giraffes. They won’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.
Rice’s disclaimers that day were voluminous, clear and direct. They also went over the heads of the press corps. Given the caliber of our journalists, her disclaimers were far too complex.
During yesterday’s panel segment, Chris Matthews and a panel of pundits displayed another trait of this utterly hapless guild. Simply put, our top pundits never get clear on even the most basic facts of even a high-profile case.
Bless his heart, Matthews tried! Truly, he has been repurposed.
Matthews tried to defend Susan Rice. But as he did, he repeated a basic part of the bogus GOP line, and the rest of the panel just nodded:
MATTHEWS: Can I defend former Ambassador Rice, now the NSE director? You know, when she was on the program with you—if you go back and look at the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, basically on the main points, that it was a copycat situation, Benghazi, came out of what happened in Cairo, which itself probably came out of that crazy movie out of, that crazy video out of Los Angeles, that it did track. And the language used by her that day, which is “extremism” rather than “terrorism,” had come from the intelligence community. The refusal to mention al Qaeda in that context was directly a decision by Petraeus as DCI. And so it wasn’t that bad a performance.Bless his heart, he tried! Chris has even memorized several points, although his presentation was rushed and hard to follow.
That said, please note the highlighted point. Chris was still repeating a GOP talking-point—a claim which was blatantly wrong back then and of course is still wrong today.
Did Rice “refuse to mention al Qaeda” that day? We’re sorry, but no, she didn’t, despite what the sainted crackpot McCain trained everyone to say.
On Face the Nation that day, Rice was directly asked if the attack was staged by al Qaeda. This is what she said:
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): Do you agree or disagree with [the Libyan president] that al Qaeda had some part in this?Did Rice “refuse to mention al Qaeda” that day? When Schieffer asked if al Qaeda played some role in the attack, she said the extremists who staged the killing attack might have been al Qaeda affiliates or even “al Qaeda itself!”
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out 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’s what Rice actually said that day. But accurate facts play almost no role in the American discourse.
The GOP began pimping the claim that she had refused to mention al Qaeda. As Matthews made clear again yesterday, the bogus claim hardened, then turned to stone.
Seventeen months later, Matthews was still repeating this claim, even as he attempted to defend Rice! The following people didn’t correct him as he repeated the claim:
David Gregory, Judy Woodruff, David Brooks, Helene Cooper.
Any one of the panelists could have corrected the record. It would have been easy to jump right in and say this:
GREGORY, WOODRUFF, BROOKS OR COOPER: Well actually, Rice plainly said, on Face the Nation, that the attack might have been staged by al Qaeda affiliates or even by al Qaeda itself. She said we still had to determine that fact. But the claim that she said it wasn’t al Qaeda? That has always been false, although it’s been widely repeated by Republican politicians ever since that day.It would have been easy to say that in real time. Yesterday, seventeen months later, the potted plants still sat there.
Correcting the record plays almost no role in the American discourse. The role of elementary facts had been thoroughly superseded by deference to Standard Scripts.
None of the people on Gregory’s panel engage in the journalistic practice of challenging establishment scripts. Yesterday, when Matthews tried, he repeated a basic misstatement, seventeen months later.
This is so basic a part of our journalistic culture that observers barely notice it any more. The liberal world rolls over and dies for this kind of thing, then cheers when a person like Rachel Maddow toys with elementary facts in ways which warm our pitiful cockles.
Bless his heart, Chris Matthews tried! As he did, he repeated an inaccurate piece of RNC spin for maybe the ten millionth time.