Scripted star sticks to the scripts: What does it mean to have a banana republic press corps?

Consider what happened when Wolf Blitzer sat in last night for Anderson Cooper. In his second segment, Blitzer introduced two guests to help him discuss Susan Rice.

One guest came from the center right; the other guest came from the right. In just his second Q-and-A, Blitzer shared an exchange with Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Blitzer cited a minor mistake by Mike Morell, acting CIA director. In his reply, Gerecht unleashed an obvious howler:
BLITZER (11/28/12): And, Raul, you say it's not an insignificant mistake that Mike Morell made.

GERECHT: No. I mean, I don't think so. I mean, the administration got itself into a lot of trouble, particularly Ambassador Rice got herself into a lot of unnecessary trouble, by just being so assertive on television and denying the possibility that you have an organized terrorist attack in Benghazi.

I think the narratives of Cairo got conflated with the narratives in Benghazi. And if Ambassador Rice and others in the administration had just been a little less determined to say that this well-known video now was behind it all, I think this problem never would have happened.
Remarkable! According to Gerecht, Rice had just “been so assertive” on the September 16 shows. She had “denied the possibility that you have an organized terrorist attack in Benghazi.”

Except inside a banana republic, that is a very strange claim. Example:

On the September 16 Face the Nation, Rice said that “extremists” armed with “heavy weapons” were responsible for the killings. She then was asked if al Qaeda played some part in the deadly attack.

Schieffer asked; the ambassador answered. This is the way your UN ambassador “denied the possibility that you have an organized terrorist attack in Benghazi:”
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?

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.
In reply to Schieffer’s question, Rice said those extremists armed with heavy weapons might have been “al Qaeda itself.”

Eleven weeks later, Gerecht went on TV and said what he said to Blitzer. And here's where thebanana republic comes in:

Blitzer just sat there and took it! He didn’t challenge Gerecht's statement in any way. He let his absurd statement stand.

It's as we've told you for many years. Inside the banana republic, employees like Blitzer know they are paid to stick to Established Press Corps Scripts. In the Q-and-A which immediatelty followed, he continued to play this role:
BLITZER (continuing directly): Reuel, as for the talking points that were used by Ambassador Rice—subject, as you know, of great, great contention still—there are still a number of unanswered questions. As a former CIA officer, you say her performance raises a red flag, that officials are supposed to analyze this information for themselves. But isn't there a danger in having a political appointee like a U.S. ambassador in a sense freelancing when sensitive classified material is concerned?

GERECHT: No, I don't really think so. I think Ambassador Rice could have easily have said that we may have had an organized terrorist group that may have been affiliated with al Qaeda behind the attack in Benghazi. I don't think it would have been compromising of any sensitive information.

I think the administration has used that as an excuse. You know, America has a lot of overclassification, there's no doubt about it. But that's one reason we have adults in senior positions, is that they are supposed to be able to handle this. I don't really think it would have been all that difficult for her to give a somewhat more nuanced discussion of what really transpired in Benghazi.
Say what? As we've just noted, Rice did say that the extremist killers “may have been affiliated with al Qaeda.” In fact, she went Gerecht one better—she said that the extremist killers may have been “al Qaeda itself!”

But so what? Here too, Blitzer stuck to the script, failing to refresh Gerecht’s memory—and failing to inform CNN's misued viewers.

Next, Blitzer turned to the increasingly awful Fran Townsend. She rattled another script:
BLITZER (continuing directly): Fran, you have dealt with classified and unclassified talking points when you served over at the [Bush] White House. You agree with Reuel?

TOWNSEND: Well, normally, Wolf, before a Sunday show, what happens is the communicators and those who have drafted the talking points, in this case perhaps the intelligence community, will prepare the individual who is going out on the Sunday shows, especially when they are going to do multiple shows, to make sure they understand where the lines are.

We don't know if that happened here. If it didn't, it certainly should have. It leads to what Reuel was saying, that you learn how to make a more nuanced argument so that you don't cross classification lines, but you don't speak inaccurately.

Frankly, Wolf, this was just poorly handled. Clearly, the talking points were poorly coordinated, and she went out there, making it sound crystal-clear, and I think she was both poorly served and then she didn't really use the talking points she was given in the way that she might have, to get to Reuel's point.
From September 17 on, this has been a Standard Claim from the right: Ambassador Rice went on TV and made her claims “sound crystal-clear.” (Gerecht had just offered the same talking-point, saying that Rice had been "so assertive" and so "determined" to advance her specific conclusions.)

In the real world, that isn’t what happened. Once again, for the ten millionth time, this is what Rice said that morning on a well-known show, Meet the Press.

By our count, she voiced seven disclaimers in just 170 words:
RICE (9/16/12): Well, let me tell you the best information we have at present. First of all, there is an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. 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 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 that escalated into a much more violent episode.

Obviously, 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.
Over and over, again and again, Rice said she was offering the "current assessment"— "the best information we have at present." She said she awaited fuller information from the ongoing FBI probe. But so what? By the next day, Liz Cheney was trashing Rice for “saying with 100 percent certitude that this was all because of the movie.”

Just that quickly, all those disclaimers had been disappeared. They remain disappeared to this day.

In a rational world, Blitzer wouldn’t have sat there and swallowed this bullshit last night. But you live in a journalistic banana republic, a reality we will explore in the posts which follow.


  1. The lazy fallback is emerging now: no specifics, because every specific claim can be shot down completely, but just, "It could have been handled better." In fact, what she said was perfect -- perfect -- given the confirmed information available at the time and the CIA's intelligence concerns. Petraeus's hunches, no matter how educated and how likely they were to be proved correct, were not confirmed information. Could they have been "Libyan-based extremists," as she indicated? Um, we had just taken sides in a civil war, and the other side or sides lost. Is it possible some of them would have had a grudge, even against Ambassador Stevens personally? Let's hear from the trolls telling us that possibility was absurd.

    They're on the defensive, as they should be, at least in part due to the great work here, and this is the last, weak line of defense.

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