Some Standard Group Stories are accepted by all!


What Glenn Kessler said on Benghazi: Mercifully, the hurricane has wiped away the need to pretend that we’re discussing the presidential election.

Last evening, TV pundits were stripped of the need to declare that the other side had been lying while their own incomparable side has been telling the truth all along.

As part of this process, Benghazi slid beneath the waves churned by Hurricane Sandy. This lets us offer a bit of history concerning the potent Group Story which grew up around this event.

Within the insider press corps, some narratives are more equal than others. Some narratives possess so much social capital that they end up being adopted by one and all.

No one dissents from the Standard Account, not even our new breed of fact-checkers.

In the case of the Benghazi Group Story, we reviewed the pitiful job Politifact did when it fact-checked this story. Today, let’s look at what Glenn Kessler wrote on September 27.

Kessler is the main man at the Washington Post’s FactChecker site. No one is perfect, but Kessler has done a lot of good work as he’s covered the current campaign.

We’ve often learned facts from reading his posts. In recent days, he has been pounding away at Candidate Romney.

That said, Kessler’s September 27 report on Benghazi shows the power of the Group Story which formed around that event. On that day, Kessler posted a timeline of the events which followed the September 11 attacks. Today, we’ll look at Kessler’s introduction to that timeline.

In our view, Kessler’s introduction would have been extremely speculative as an opinion column. As the work of a fact-checker, we’d say it wandered many miles off the reservation.

Right from the start, Kessler speculated and offered insinuations about the administration’s motives. In these speculations, he kept assuming the worst—and he seemed to make some factual errors as well:
KESSLER (9/27/12): In any kind of confused overseas event, initial reports are often wrong. But the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including the ambassador, is a case study of how an administration can carefully keep the focus as long as possible on one storyline—and then turn on a dime when it is no longer tenable.

For political reasons, it certainly was in the White House’s interests to not portray the attack as a terrorist incident, especially one that took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring—anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt—which apparently was prompted by the video—with the deadly assault in Benghazi.

Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation.

Ultimately, when the head of the National Counterterrorism Center was asked pointblank on Capitol Hill whether it was an act of terror—and he agreed—the administration talking points began to shift. (Tough news reporting—as well as statements by Libya’s president—also played a role.) Yet President Obama himself resisted using the “t” word, even as late as Tuesday, while keeping the focus on the video in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

On Wednesday [9/26], however, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged also that Obama himself believes the attack was terrorism—and so more than two weeks after the attack the Rubicon finally was crossed.

As a reader service, we have compiled a comprehensive timeline of administration statements, showing the evolution in talking points, with key phrases highlighted in bold. Many readers sent suggestions for this timeline, for which we are deeply grateful.

We will leave it to readers to reach their own conclusions on whether this is merely the result of the fog of war and diplomacy—or a deliberate effort to steer the storyline away from more politically damaging questions. After all, in a competitive election, two weeks is a lifetime.
As a fact-check, that’s a work of pulp fiction! Right from his opening paragraph on, Kessler kept assuming and implying that the administration had behaved in bad faith. He never even considered the possibility that administration statements changed as more information came in.

Beyond that, he asserted, as a simple fact, that the anti-Muslim video played no role in the Benghazi attacks. As far as we know, the truth of that matter still hasn’t been established.

He asserted that Obama resisted using the “t” word, even though Obama had referred to “acts of terror” on several occasions, starting on September 12.

Kessler also seemed to say that Obama blamed the video for the Benghazi attack when he addressed to the United Nations. That has been part of the Standard Group Story, but Obama simply didn’t do that. In fairness, we note that Kessler used a rather slippery construction in the passage in question. He seemed to imply that Obama blamed the video, without saying so directly.

That's very odd conduct for a fact-checker. But the level of insinuation was high all through this peculiar piece.

The Benghazi episode has been quite remarkable. A powerful Group Story took hold in the press, migrating from the conservative world into our mainstream press organs. Liberals just sat there and watched.

Kessler pushed this Group Story early and often. We’ve learned a lot from Kessler’s posts. But within the conservative world and the mainstream press, the Benghazi Group Story has been very potent.

We’d have to call this the strangest performance Kessler turned in all year.


  1. "Balance" is more important than facts. Kessler keeps a running track of his scores; Romney, who has run the most dishonest presidential campaign in recorded history (his staffers even brag about it to journalists, off the record, of course), averages 2.44 "Pinnochios;" Obama averages 2.11. Kessler probably goes to bed at might nagged by even that "unbalance." Fact checking is a fraud. The purpose of fact checking is NOT to establish truth or falsehood, but to give the appearance that someone in journalism is doing actual journalism, or is at least capable of it.

    Has Kessler ever fact checked other journalists?

  2. I kept wondering if I were the only crazy one in thinking both polifact and Kessler sounded more like Romney apologists than fact checkers. This post, as well as the one on polifact (which I had missed) confirms my impression that the press as gone absolutely bonkers on this.

    For the life of me I can't see anything the lease bit unusual or exceptional on how Obama handled this.

  3. Obama only implied that the video was responsible, just like he only implied that the attack was an act of terror. Almost saying things is a specialty of his. And I absolutely agree that Obama's handling of Benghazi was his usual way of handling things - disengaged, deceptive, and relentlessly political, in the smallest sense.

    1. Said without the slightest argument whatsoever. You know, supporting evidence?

      I doubt you know what Ambassador Rice actually said.

    2. @ABL Own up, 'know-it-all' ! You've 'hated Obama's guts' from long before you ever heard the name Benghazi pronounced - what, within the last half year ?

  4. Bingo ABL. He never actually says anything and leaves you with the impression that something was agreed upon between him speaking and you hearing his words. So pedants like Somerby can protect him.

    The ultimate problem is that Islamists are actually seizing control of North Africa. That is the fruit of Obama's skippy genius.

    1. You will be the first to volunteer for our ground nation-building in Egypt and Libya, right? And Syria for good measure, under the assumption that your geographic and historical knowledge is on a par with Romney's (Syria is Persia's route to the sea, not the PERSIAN Gulf) and you think Syria's in North Africa, right?

      Oh, wait, I forget the GOP is populated by chicken hawks like Cheney, Bush and Romney.

    2. Romney's Zionism is creepy as hell.

      Anyway, ayman Zawahiri is AQ #1. He's a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood now have a huge stake in Egypt in the cabinet. Call them the political wing of AQ. They are very close to getting rid of secular law.
      In Libya they are gaining ground too. Cyrencia is a place where Egyptian influence is heavy. The battle in Benghazi is a clear enough indication that the Muslim Britherhood have a very long reach.

      You are a blithering American idiot. Biden and Obama have failed their geography lessons in both practical examination and in oral presentation. The Arab spring was a front for some very dangerous forces.

    3. I'm trying to understand the irony that we love democracy all over the world -- as long as they elect guys we like and support U.S. interests 100 percent,

  5. Right. He only "implied" that Benghazi was an act of terror when he called it an act of terror in a speech about Benghazi the day after Benghazi.

    And dear clueless: The issue is over. Your boy got slapped down. He's moved on to Jeeps in China. And not doing all that well with that one either.

    So please, let us all know what your right-wing handlers are telling you boys to say every where you can find a forum on which you have not yet been banned.

  6. By the way, your side could use more "pedants like Somerby."

    He's been carrying Mitt's water for months now.

  7. What is ironic, this is pretty much what Rachel Maddow said when she blasted PolitiFact a couple of weeks ago.

    But of course, it was said by Rachel Maddow, so Somerby had to go ape-shit because it came from her.

    1. Stick to the subject. This one is Good Bob. You'll get your chance, probably very soon and very often.

  8. re Somerby says: "But within the conservative world and the mainstream press, the Benghazi Group Story has been very potent."

    Canada's daily tabloid equivalent of Fox News publishes this in dailies across Canada:

    excerpt: "Why then did both President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice keep repeating the story that this was a spontaneous protest riot against an anti-Islamic video in America?"

    gosh golly gee this Daily Howler guy keeps getting lucky in his analysis of the elite media sucking the various appendages of right agenda for access to the bling.

    He's just a lucky ducky I guess.


    Howell variations on the theme... Benghazi B.S.

    D. Howler just got lucky in his theorizing.


    Sowell continues Benghazi fiction... across Canada.

    "It was a little much... Benghazi"

    ((( no it wasn't. didn't happen. Howell makes shit up. )))

  11. Many of us tend to forget this blog is about the mainstream press corp and not about the right vs. the left.