Gearan and Lynch—misleading, bogus, not truthful: Why is it always We Irish?
On the front page of this morning’s Washington Post, Anne Gearan and Colum Lynch engage in the king’s latest spear attack. In a parody of journalistic practice, they pretend to report what Susan Rice said in the first few days after the fatal attack in Benghazi.
Do Gearan and Lynch have any journalistic skill at all? If so, then they have deliberately misled the Post’s misused readers. Or some editor has recast whatever it was they wrote.
What did Rice say on the Sunday shows on September 16, five days after the attack? In the course of a full-length front-page report, Post readers never find out!
Gearan and Lynch start their report in the following way:
GEARAN AND LYNCH (10/16/12): A month after the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a fateful series of television appearances by Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is haunting the Obama administration in the face of allegations that it deliberately attempted to play down suspicions of terrorist involvement.Rice has not been quoted at this point, but the paraphrasing has started. According to Gearan, Rice said, on each of the Sunday shows, that the fatal assault “appeared to have stemmed from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video.”
Rice made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows on Sept. 16, five days after the attack in the Libyan city, and in each one she said the fatal assault appeared to have stemmed from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video.
The appearances were part of a gradual increase in the public profile of an administration insider, one eyed as a potential successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Today, Rice’s profile has been raised, but hardly in the way that she or her White House supporters would have liked.
The administration’s characterization only days after Rice’s TV appearances that the assault in Libya was a terrorist attack has raised questions about why she attributed the incident to a protest that officials now say did not take place. Republicans have pressed for answers on whether she simply went too far in her assessment or was reading from an administration script that was designed to protect President Obama’s record on national security in an election year.
According to Gearan, Rice “attributed the incident to a protest that officials now say did not take place.”
Those are Gearan’s purported attempts to paraphrase what Rice said. For ourselves, we don’t know exactly what Gearan means by the formulations she offers.
But if we had been Gearan’s editor, we would have told her that her paraphrases were misleading. We would have told her to redo her formulations—and to quote what Rice actually said.
Did Ambassador Rice tell the Sunday shows that the fatal attack “stemmed from a spontaneous protest?” In our view, that isn’t a faithful account of what Rice actually said. But amazingly enough, Post readers never see a full quotation of anything Rice said that Sunday morning, on any of the shows.
Instead, Post readers see Gearan’s paraphrase. And sure enough! A bit later on, they get to get a second paraphrase of Rice's remarks.
This time, the paraphrase comes from a Republican senator:
GEARAN AND LYNCH: “The facts are there was never a riot,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”Did Susan Rice say, on Face the Nation, that the violent attack was “inspired by a video?”
“My belief is that that was known by the administration within 24 hours and, quite frankly, Susan Rice, on your show on September 16th, the president on the 18th and the 25th, kept talking about an attack inspired by a video.”
Plainly, Rice did not say that. But so what? Post readers had now been offered two different accounts of Rice’s remarks—and they still hadn’t seen any quotations from those Sunday programs!
As journalism, this is a lynching. Surely, Gearan and Lynch, and their editors, possess more professional skill.
What did Susan Rice actually say on those Sunday programs? By this point in her “news report,” Gearan is lynching the ambassador good. Finally, in paragraph 19 (out of 27!), Gearan quotes something Rice actually said that day.
Alas! As is often the case in attacks of this type, the quote is severely truncated:
GEARAN AND LYNCH: In addition to her comments on CBS, Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press": "Our current assessment is what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video."Rice actually spoke the quoted words! But Gearan omits the larger context, giving a false impression of what Rice said and conveyed.
What did Rice actually say on Meet the Press? What follows is the fuller statement from which Gearan plucked her dagger.
Gearan included the first key point. She chose to omit the second:
RICE (9/16/12): Let me tell you the, the best information we have at present. First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.It’s true! Rice did say that, according to the best information then available, what happened in Benghazi was “initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo”—a copycat demonstration.
But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of—of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.
What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that's, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear—we'll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
But then, we reach her second key point, the key point Gearan omits. Rice went on to say that “extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.” In Rice’s account, these heavily armed, extremist elements were not the people who had been staging the original demonstration.
According to Rice, a demonstration was underway. A second group of people—heavily armed extremists—"then" came to the scene later on. Gearan and Lynch included the first part of that story, chose to omit the rest.
In that statement, was Rice saying that the fatal assault “stemmed from a spontaneous protest?” Not exactly, no. She was saying that a second, militant group came to the site of the protest.
In that statement, did Rice “attribute the incident” to an ongoing protest? Not exactly, no. That makes it sound like a protest simply spun out of control. Plainly, that’s not what Rice said.
Did Rice "attribute the incident to a protest?" Plainly, Graham's remark is inaccurate. But Post readers got to see what Graham said, and they never saw Rice fully quoted.
Maybe Gearan and Lynch are just horrible journalists. We’ll offer a second possibility—they may just be horrible people.
If they have even minimal skill, they are playing an ugly game. Their account of what Rice said that day is just extremely misleading.
On all the Sunday shows that morning, Rice said that a heavily armed extremist group showed up at the site after a demonstration had started. She didn’t say that a demonstration simply spun out of control.
On every show, she said that a second group arrived with heavy arms. She didn’t say that they were or weren’t al Qaeda. She said we didn’t yet know.
By now, it seems there was no initial demonstration. If that was the initial belief, then the initial belief was wrong.
But Gearan and Lynch play an ugly game as they paraphrase what Rice said. They make it sound like Rice told the world that a demonstration spun out of control. They let a Republican senator say the same thing—and when they finally quote Rice’s comments, they eliminate a basic part of what she actually said.
Question: Are Gearan and Lynch horrible journalists? Or are they simply horrible people?
Either way, they have badly misled the Post’s readers. They never let Post readers what Susan Rice actually said.
Extra credit concerning the ways of the world: Will Lawrence and Rachel complain about this? If so, will they name Gearan and Lynch by name?
They are your heroes—and you are their marks! Surely, you know what isn't going to happen.