Like Coates (and Andrea Mitchell) on Rice!


Where does consensus come from: The ongoing assault on Susan Rice has been profoundly instructive.

It has been a long time since the nation’s press corps bought such a bogus tale from the right—although this conduct was very common in the days of the Clintons and Gore.

What happens when the mainstream press corps adopts a bogus attack from the right? Over the weekend, we were quite struck by this post at the Atlantic—a post by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is not a man of the right. Beyond that, he isn’t silly or dumb or fatuous or numb-nutted or even inane or foolish. For all these reasons, we were struck by the extent to which he advanced the right-wing narrative about Rice, even in a post in which he plainly takes Rice’s side.

Most of all, we were struck by the way Coates gathers the most basic information.

To evaluate Coates’ post, you’ll have to read the whole thing for yourself. But in the passage which follows, he recommends that we “revisit” Rice’s “original statements”—the actual things Rice said on September 16.

At this site, we have done that again and again and again. But good God! This is the way Coates did it:
COATES (11/23/12): In cases like this [I] find it always worthwhile to revisit the original statements. From Susan Rice:
On Sept. 16, Rice said on Meet the Press that the violence sweeping the Islamic world at the time was "a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it's not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with 'The Satanic Verses' with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad."

She then elaborated on the specific attack on the US consulate in Libya: "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."

Rice added, "Obviously, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation."
This is deceptive. And perhaps you believe that the White House, no matter the opinion of the intelligence community, has the responsibility to say all that it thinks it knows as forthrightly as possible, as soon as possible. But that isn't what Republicans are arguing. They are arguing that the CIA was the honest broker, and the White House intentionally played dumb in order to reap the political benefit of not saying America is under attack by terrorists.
“This is deceptive,” Coates says, after presenting the long excerpt we have italicized. Although his writing is unclear, we take that to refer to Rice’s original statements. (Beyond that, we’ve added one word to the first line we quote. We assume that reflects Coates’ intention.)

Coates goes on to defend Rice in various ways; he ends by wondering about the possible racial motivations behind this ongoing attack. But he seems to say, at this juncture, that Rice’s original statements were, in fact, deceptive.

We wouldn’t be inclined to agree with that judgment. But what is most striking about this post?

Feast your eyes on what Coates does when he instructs us to review Rice’s original statements! In the material we have italicized, he isn’t presenting Rice’s statements from the September 16 transcripts.

Good lord! Instead, he is presenting Andrea Mitchell’s account of what Rice said on those Sunday programs. He gives us Mitchell’s account of what Rice said, from this NBC news report!

Sorry, but we thought that was stunning—and extremely instructive.

It’s amazing that anyone would think that this is the way to “revisit” Rice’s “original statements.” Instead of posting the actual words which were spoken by Rice herself, Coates presents a fellow journalist’s edited version of What Rice Said On Those Programs.

And uh-oh! Mitchel isn’t a person of the right, but her account of What Rice Said strikes us as highly selective—and highly distorted. More precisely, Mitchell cherry-picked Rice’s statements in the manner which quickly became standard as the press corps bent to the GOP’s will in this ongoing matter.

As everyone and his crazy uncle has done, Mitchell quoted the first part of What Rice Said about Benghazi on Meet the Press. She then omitted the second, more relevant part.

She quotes Rice saying that the events in Benghazi were “initially” a spontaneous protest. But she omits what Rice said next.

Much like Gallant refuting his twin, we will quote Rice directly:
RICE (9/16/12): 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.
For whatever reason, Mitchell cherry-picked Rice’s original statements in precisely the way John McCain has done.

She presented the less relevant part of What Rice Said—the part about what “initially” happened. She omitted the more relevant part of What Rice Said—the part where “extremists” armed with “heavy weapons” came to the consulate as the protest was unfolding, producing “a much more violent episode.”

For whatever reason, Mitchell omitted that second part of What Rice Said. She thereby extending the cockeyed version of Rice’s statement which has been aggressively pimped by McCain and his various crackpot friends.

And good God! When Coates told us that we should review Rice’s “original statements,” he didn’t post Rice’s words as she spoke them. He directed us to Mitchell’s cherry-picked version of Rice’s statements, not to the statements themselves.

You live in a very strange country. As we’ve noted, Coates is universally thought to be brighter than the average journalist. It is that fact which makes his post such a remarkable document.

Your lizard brain will tell you we’re wrong—that we’re somehow misconstruing that post. In the end, Coates tied this episode to race, and that made your lizard brain glad.

But in the process, Coates extended a cherry-picked, misleading account of What Rice Said on those Sunday programs. It is the cherry-picked, misleading account which came from Saint McCain himself, and from other strange men of the right.

What happens when the mainstream press adopts Bogus Accounts from the right? We start believing the darnedest things!

We start believing (and saying) that Al Gore said he invented the Internet. We start believing that Susan Rice said the attack was a spontaneous reaction to Cairo.

Neither person said any such thing—until you start reading The Standard Account found all through the “press corps.”

Coates is thought to be much brighter than most people in that sad guild. That’s why his post about Rice was so stunning, although your lizard says different.

Coates didn't present Rice's actual statements. Instead, he gave us Mitchell's account!

Does anyone know how to play this game? Here within our very strange world, the answer
seems stunningly clear.

Tomorrow: The Puppy and the Kool Kidz

Musical accompaniment: Why not enjoy the Waterboys singing their highly relevant song, "Strange Boat?"

"We're sailing in a strange boat," the 'boys observe, "heading for a strange shore."


  1. Everyone misquotes and selectively quotes Rice, on this Benghazi issue, as the Howler continues to document.

    But the *real* problem is the Howler, who should stop paying close attention to this (continuing) instance of press malfeasance, and instead attend to whatever I think is a bigger problem: bad foreign policy and administration deception used to maintain it.

    Get my *own* blog and do it myself? No, I prefer to whine annoyingly here, thank you very much.

    1. Bozo & Co.:

      I'll never understand the attractiveness of these pre-emptive sallies -- first comment, no less! -- but as most people understand, political culture and commentary is entertainment. And as the owner and sponsor of political culture is corporate America, political culture and commentary is inherently deferential to ownership interests, notwithstanding the many social liberals who read the news and sit on talk shows.

      As most people also understand, any powerful interest group which makes a stink gets coverage. Indeed, these interests can claim the earth is 6000 years old, that the climate isn't warming, that America is a model of selfless benevolence and that fracking has never contaminated drinking water (notwithstanding ignitable water taps), and still get respectful coverage.

      Finally, most people also understand that these interest groups employ people likely to promote their interests. That's why -- believe it or not! -- Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory are on TV, and Noam Chomsky isn't. Speaking personally, I'd happily take Bob Somerby over Mitchell and Gregory, notwithstanding the fact that he's a crank and seems to take an odd joy in remaining shockingly uninformed about the realities of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

      Now, all that said, it's appalling that the likes of Ken Burns (for example) gets on national TV and spouts utter nonsense (then again, Burns has always been an establishment promoter, liberal affluence incarnate. You won't, for example, see a Burns documentary on American war crimes.) So kudos to TDH, for pointing this much out.

      Similarly, I've never understand the attraction of this Coates guy, but by all means, slog him for accepting the narrative line.

      As for the issue at hand -- as noted previously, Rice's statement are not unambiguous; it's difficult to know whether she, or members of the Obama administration, did or did not attempt to deceive. For that reason -- despite the frequent misquotes of Rice, in major media -- it's hard to get all that worked up about this particular issue.

      America media, after all, presents *nothing* accurately.

      As for getting one's own blog -- bro, political blogs are also entertainment. Anyone who cares to publish his views, several times a day, and expect no feedback or unkind commentary, had better get off the internet and restrict his musings to a private club; or publish without a comments' section. And bozos who get up early to be the first to post, insisting that their favored bloggers receive no scrutiny are even more laughable.

    2. "it's hard to get all that worked up about this particular issue"


      You're worked up enough that almost every thread on the topic contains your sad theorizing in favor of Somerby's ignoring the whole thing.

      For you to judge that mockery of your views is equivalent to a request that the comments here should be a "private club," with no dissent is revealing of a certain egoism.

      "Your post precedes mine, therefore you're lame" is likewise no way to represent one's thinking well -- But as you say, I can't stop you doing it anyway!

    3. I'm not the 12:46 anonymous, but I agree with him/her. I don't care about Rice at all, because she's lied about other issues. I also agree with the parody that the clown typed--yes, he's mocking people like me, but I don't care.

      That said, Bob has managed to persuade me of the importance of this issue, not because of Rice herself, but because of what he has demonstrated--the press adopts rightwing lies and portrays them as the truth, and even liberals like Coates are lazily snookered into following along. That's interesting even if one couldn't care less about Susan Rice, and as Bob pointed out the other day, it pretty well matches what you'd expect from Chomsky's model of the press, even if Chomsky himself wouldn't find this Susan Rice issue at all interesting, preferring as he does to write about US foreign policy and human rights. But it supports his model anyway.


    4. "and as Bob pointed out the other day, it pretty well matches what you'd expect from Chomsky's model of the press, even if Chomsky himself wouldn't find this Susan Rice issue at all interesting:

      I'm sorry, but absolutely not! What's happening in the Rice is matter is partisan politics, Republican management of the news cycle and the idiocies of corporate journalism and those it promotes. This spate does demonstrate the depravity and stupidity of our press corps, but it has nothing to do with the mechanisms of self-censorship and information control. Ideological enforcement and the limits of permissible discourse -- what interests Chomsky -- have nothing to do with it.

      The danger with this kind of criticism is the "Candidate Gore" peril, so exhaustively illustrated by this blog. You can, for years, lament the fact the press was mean to Albert.

      Meanwhile, however, the readers of this blog have learned absolutely nothing about what Albert did, as vice-president (how did the press cover *that*?). Or what actually happened during the Clinton years. Just that the press corps was mean and unfair to Albert. That's true, as far as it goes. But it's unspeakably mindless, when it forms the basis of a press critique, for 12 years and running.

    5. Anonymous 1246 --

      Anyone can say someone's statements are "not unambiguous." It's the cheapest critique possible, since, in theory, there are no words for anything that are "not unambiguous." You did not identify any specific words in her statement that justified such a conclusion.

      That being said, given the nature of the subject matter, her statements were totally clear. They were absolutely unambiguous: (1) preliminary information, still under investigation -- done, done, done, done, done and done; what is it about hearing that said about seven times that makes that clear and conspicuous warning disappear from every criticism of her statements? (2) believed there were demonstrations about the video that were spontaneous, as there were in numerous places throughout the Middle East -- done, but I believe subsequent investigation still has not solidified this one way or the other; (3) clearly distinguished the demonstrations from the attackers -- done, by implying or expressly saying the demonstrations were used as cover by or "hijacked" by the attackers; (4) correctly identified attackers as "extremists" -- the President had already described it publicly as an "act of terror," which by definition it was -- when it was uncertain exactly who the group was and that was the word the CIA wanted to use at that point -- check; (5) before Schieffer, who asked the pertinent question, expressly preserved the possibility that it could be an al Quaeda sponsored group or al Qaeda sympathizers whose motivation could also be more Libyan per se. Done. (Um, the U.S. along with NATO took sides in a civil war. There could be numerous groups with an ax to grind.) (6) followed the non-classified script passed by the CIA, and did not reveal information not yet considered non-classified by the CIA, as she was bound to do because it would be the CIA with the sole jurisdiction for determining whether any related classified information (such as the identity of agents) would be compromised or not -- check; (7) had to make sure she performed the role, for diplomatic reasons judged to be important, of informing the world of the U.S. Government's position on the video -- done; (8) had no reason to misinform about the possibility of a terrorist connection when the President had already called it "an act of terror" and she had expressly identified the possibility of an al Quaeda connection -- check.

      Some of the stupidest statements I've ever seen include the idea that a foreign policy officer of the United States of America was supposed to talk about Petraeus's hunch, no matter how educated a hunch it would be, or adopt the view of a foreign official, before confirming evidence was established.

      It's so easy to show how "reasonable" and non-partisan one is by partially agreeing with the opponents narrative. It's also dishonest because it is the product of an agenda other than telling the truth. Although I generally like him a lot, and think, with no engagement of a lizard brain, that he may be right that there's a heavily-nuanced case to be made that Rice's race (in conjunction with the President's and several of his closest advisers') may have made Republicans think their attack could succeed, that's the agenda Coates was following in this particular case in choosing his description. Using Mitchell's quotation of what Rice said instead of the actual transcripts was an egregious error. But I defy anyone to show how Rice said anything she should not have said, or failed to say something she should have said, based on the actual words of the complete transcript of any broadcast.

    6. I'll repeat that Chomsky would show no interest in the Rice controversy, but it does fit his theory, because, to use your words, a depraved press corps which promotes idiotic stories is precisely what one should expect. We aren't arguing about whether, for instance, there is a bipartisan consensus in favor of whitewashing American or Israeli war crimes. We (meaning those involved in mainstream politics) are arguing about some stupid story about Benghazi. And that's because the press ignores the really interesting and significant lies and focuses on the BS instead.

      As for Bob's limitations, sure. So what? I'm actually learned something important from him on the Gore thing--the press is even more dishonest than I realized. I knew they did a horrible job on covering human rights. I didn't know they did a horrible job even on covering a mainstream Presidential campaign. I expect them to lie about the people Chomsky calls "official enemies". I didn't know they'd lie about a Democratic Presidential candidate.

  2. We've heard it time and again: "We're journalists, not stenographers." In this day and age, more stenography, please.

  3. My goodness, there seem to be right wing lizard brains also! Who knew? Besides that, excellent work.
    As he often does when on the side of the angels, Bill Maher made hash of Benghazi on his show too.

  4. NPR used the following formulation today. Referring to Republicans who oppose Rice:

    They say she misled the nation by saying that the attacks
    have begun as protests over a anti-Muslim video produced
    in California.

    Which may be technically accurate, it doesn't have Rice saying the attacks *were* a protest, only that the incident *started* that way.

    But this formulation certainly feeds the Republican narrative by omitting her observations at the end that Somerby keeps quoting.

    Cynical me, I think that NPR carefully crafted a sentence that meets technical accuracy while being misleading.

    1. Chuck Todd was egregious and unprofessional again this morning on the Today show where he showed a very carefully edited and truncated clip of what she said on MTP leaving out all her references to the extremist elements. This is Orwellian and Bob is a treasure for documenting this.

    2. amen! i love bob somerby! i can't BELIEVE the things that he has uncovered over the years. i've been reading him since about 2004, and i STILL can't believe the incompetence and dishonesty and groupthink and the my-career-above-truth operating principle of the media. "...and i scream at the top of my lungs, 'WHAT'S GOIN' ON'?!"

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