BULLROAR OVER BENGHAZI: David in Wonderland!

TUESDAY, MAY 14, 2013

Part 2—If it’s Sunday, nothing has to make sense: We’ve all been living in Wonderland for perhaps the past 21 years.

In Wonderland, facts get invented, then adopted by all. Other key facts disappear.

Embellished paraphrase is common. Routinely, these embellished accounts of what somebody said will be accepted by one and all.

(In some cases, these embellished accounts of what somebody said begin to appear inside quotes!)

Privileged children are paid millions of bucks to go on TV and pretend to be journalists. And so it happened:

On Sunday, David Gregory was in Wonderland pretending to get the facts concerning Benghazi. He spoke with Darrell Issa, who was reciting various chapters in an emerging novel.

If it’s Sunday, nothing has to make sense! This was Issa’s first statement to David. Does that highlighted statement make sense?
ISSA (5/12/13): Well, David, there are three distinct areas that haven’t been answered. First of all, a full understanding of why urgent requests repeatedly for more security before the attacks were denied. We’ve had statements that it wasn’t about money. But at the same time, people are asking for more security, they got less. The British ambassador has two assassination attempts, and yet we keep a facility that was not able to withstand even a few minutes of attack.

Then, those seven hours while the attack was going on. Was the response correct? Could it have been better? Why wasn’t—why weren’t things at least tried or revved up to be tried? Those are important questions.

And then afterwards, how could you change talking points 12 times from what seems to be relatively right to what seems to be completely wrong?
Many of the first two sets of questions have been asked and answered. But much of the current Wonderland tale concerns those now-famous talking points, which were allegedly developed so the White House could lie to the American people.

According to Issa, the original talking-points were “relatively right.” The final version was “completely wrong.” And yet, right at the start of the original talking points, we see the account that Susan Rice has been crucified for citing:
ORIGINAL CIA TALKING POINTS (9/14/12): We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.
That was the very first paragraph in the CIA’s original proposed talking points. Right from the start, the CIA said it believed that the attack in Benghazi was “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.”

That account came straight from the CIA, before the State Department or the White House suggested revisions to the talking points. And yet, Rice has been crucified for offering this account, even though she kept asserting that this was just a preliminary assessment.

Far and wide, the claim has been made that Rice was lying when she described a spontaneous protest in reaction to Cairo. Far and wide, people have been told that this represents the lying behavior of the White House—even though it was in the CIA’s talking points right from the start.

Surely, Gregory knew these facts. But Issa’s presentation was allowed to stand without challenge or clarification.

In such ways, an unbalanced, fact-challenged partisan novel continued to spread through the land. In his response to Issa, Gregory helped spread this partisan novel, in which the talking points were adjusted from right to wrong, for political reasons:
GREGORY (continuing directly): Why don’t I start there because in the immediate aftermath, there is both intelligence and there is internal administration communication basically saying that a terrorist group appears to be involved, right? Ansar al-Sharia. There’s communication about this in the State Department, but those are removed ultimately from the talking points in preparation for members of Congress and for Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, who appeared here and on other Sunday morning talk shows. And Steve Hayes has reported about this in The Weekly Standard. He writes about some of these changes. The official who changed it at the State Department, The Weekly Standard confirmed, was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for “not paying attention to agency warnings” about security in Benghazi. In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al-Sharia and made minor tweaks...
It isn’t clear that Victoria Nuland caused the reference to Ansar al-Sharia to be dropped. But as he blathered, Gregory fed the novel, suggesting that this change in the talking points shouldn’t have happened.

But is it clear that the reference to Ansar al-Sharia should have stayed in the talking points? This is the specific language which got dropped:
ORIGINAL CIA TALKING POINTS (9/14/12): Initial press reporting linked the attack to Ansar al-Sharia. The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but it did not deny that some of its members were involved.
In fact, the group had denied that its members were involved. That bungle to the side, ask yourself an obvious question: Should the intelligence community release such assertions based on “early press reports?”

A journalist might have asked that question. But David was in Wonderland, where questions like that don't get asked.

In Wonderland, nothing has to make sense! By the time of his second and third statements, Issa was making no sense whatsoever. Check out the highlighted nonsense:
GREGORY: CIA can’t stand up for itself and say, no, no, these are the facts?

ISSA: The fact is, there was a fact witness. His name was Ambassador Stevens. He said, “Greg, we’re under attack,” to his number two. That was the definitive statement from the ambassador on the ground before he was murdered. You have a fact witness. And you follow that up with fact witness after fact witness. So, to blame the CIA is a convenient truth. The real truth is, the people who were there in Tripoli and in Benghazi knew this was a terrorist attack from the get-go. That’s been said under oath. And that’s the reason that we need to know more about how these got changed.
Let’s marvel at the lunacy of that highlighted statement:

Did anyone ever deny that the Benghazi facility came “under attack?” Obviously, no one ever denied this blindingly obvious fact. But somehow, Stevens' hurried remark on the phone was supposed to constitute a “definitive statement” of something or other.

By now, Issa was making no sense. It was Sunday, and we were in Wonderland!

As the interview continued, so did the baffling logic. In his response to a question, Issa essentially accused a bevy of major figures of lying. He then recited another baffling claim, a claim which has come to be a basic part of this puzzling Wonderland tale:
GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there, that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don’t give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here.

ISSA: David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear. The only under-oath people I know about who have said what happened on the ground that day was, in fact, before our committee just on Wednesday. And more importantly, you know, when Face The Nation had Susan Rice saying one thing and the President of Libya saying just the opposite, that should have been a wake-up call, a real wake-up call that there was something wrong because we were effectively calling the President of Libya either incompetent or a liar. Either way, diplomatically, we went down the wrong road. You reconcile with the government that is hosting you before you go on national television and make that kind of claim.
Essentially, Issa accused Petraeus and Pickering of lying. (Presumably, Admiral Mullen was lying too.) After that, Issa repeated another part of this upside-down story: Susan Rice should have agreed with what the Libyan president said!

As we've noted, that notion comes straight from the Cuckoo's Nest—but David in Wonderland let it go! This was Sunday, and if it’s Sunday, nothing has to make sense!

Finally, we got to one last part of the upside-down Wonderland story. Issa said the American people “were effectively lied to for a period of about a month.” At this point, Gregory asked a good question—and got a crazy response:
GREGORY: I just want to be clear what you believe the lie was.

ISSA: This was a terrorist attack from the get-go. The attack succeeded very quickly, in no small part because the consulate or the diplomatic facility in Benghazi was denied the kind of support it needed or, quite frankly, the decision to leave which might have been just as good. Either way, they were, in fact, covering up an easy attack that succeeded that was about—was from the get-go really about a terrorist attack. It was never about a video. So when we look at what we know, the question is, how do we prevent a facility from being under protected, how do we respond better if we have seven hours or more of an attack, and how do we get the truth out?
Can you spot the Wonderland logic? David, alas, did not. He didn’t ask two obvious questions, of which we will offer just one:

Let’s assume it actually was a terrorist attack “from the get-go.” Why couldn’t a terrorist attack be “about a video?” People all over the Muslim world were in a state of fury about that insulting video. Meanwhile, reporting in the New York Times described attackers in Benghazi attributing the attack to fury about the video!

Assuming this was a "terrorist attack," why couldn't this terrorist attack have been in response to that video? Answer:

In Wonderland, nothing has to make sense! In this case, the idea that a terrorist attack can’t be about an offensive video has come to be a basic part of this crackpot novel. And so, when Issa voiced this puzzling logic, David in Wonderland let it go. As his reward, an earnest young Republican congressman seemed to make the same claim just a bit later:
KINZINGER (R-IL): Look, I’m not out to try to bring anybody down. I just want the answers. And, you know, I look at a couple of things. Number one, who changed the talking points? These are questions that go to motivation. But I do know that Ambassador Rice went on every morning show and said this was a result of a YouTube video, this was not a terrorist attack. It was frankly told to us in a closed door meeting in Congress by Hillary Clinton, too.
For the record, Ambassador Rice never said that it wasn’t a terrorist attack. But again, the earnest young Rep. Kinzinger implied that a terrorist attack just couldn’t be about an insulting video. That logic is straight outta Wonderland. But again, because it’s part of the novel, David let it go.

(Did Hillary Clinton say something about the video at that early closed door meeting? There is no way to know what she said. But at that time, the CIA was explicitly saying that “the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo”—and the protests in Cairo were protests about the video! Given the state of CIA belief, why wouldn’t people like Clinton be mentioning the video? David didn't ask.)

In a reality-based world, journalists challenge accounts which are built on bogus facts and driven by bungled logic. But in Wonderland, everything goes! For that reason, David Gregory made little attempt to push back against Wonderland logic this day.

If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press! Unless you’re fans of Lewis Carroll, what follows from that won’t be good.

Tomorrow—Part 3: The nightmare known as Fox

Candy Crowley in Wonderland: In Wonderland, nothing has to make sense. Note the absurd reponse to Candy Crowley by Maine’s crazy Senator Collins:
CROWLEY (5/12/13): Do you see something in Benghazi either in the handling before, during or after with the talking points that were scrubbed that the I-word, the impeachment word should come up?

COLLINS: I don't, at this point, I will say but that doesn't mean that these allegations aren't serious. Joe Lieberman and I did a preliminary investigation into the events into the attacks on Benghazi last fall. And we had a career CIA agent, who was the woman who first drafted the very first talking points, tell us that there was no national security reason for the line about the links to al Qaeda to have been dropped from the talking points. So clearly politics was at play here.
Can you spot the Wonderland logic there? One career agent tells Collins something. Therefore, it has be true! Everyone’s motives are thereby rendered “clear!”

Did eight career agents think something different? Is it possible that this one agent was wrong? In Wonderland, nobody asks.

Crowley didn’t spot the Wonderland logic. This was her response:
CROWLEY (continuing directly): And if that is so, is it not a cover-up on a scale of—I mean, why do you think they would do this? Do you think it was to help the president get elected?
In a rational world, that response is obscene. If it’s Sunday, it’s par for the course.


  1. As usual Bob nails it. I really am impressed by all the work he does trying to educate many of us to the inner workings of our modern press but don't see how he can stand reading and listening to so much rubbish. I was watching the same interviews and also wondered how Gregory could just sit there and not speak up about some basic facts. Its a sad situation we have in today's media.

  2. I too applaud Bob.

    I watched that interview with Issa. In the space of about 1 minute, Issa went from accusing Ambassador Pickering of refusing to appear before his committee, with Pickering sitting right there and disgustedly answering, "That's not true", to then saying, well maybe it wasn't Pickering's decision not to come, which Pickering immediately answered by saying that he was told by the majority party that he was not welcome to appear last week, to then claiming that it was the democrats fault for not inviting him. And all the while David Gregory getting paid obscene amounts of money just sat there like a potted plant.

  3. How deep should the press delve into events like this?

    What was going on in Benghazi was a covert CIA operation tracking down shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles that vanished from Gaddafi's arsenal.
    Ambassador Stevens was thought to be the point man.

    Do we really expect our government to make the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth public? Do we want it to?

    Rand Paul alluded to the movement of arms from Libya to Syria through Turkey, and evidence points to Amb. Stevens being a central figure in this movement (which likely occurred.)

    When Paul directly asked Sec. Clinton about it, she acted like the notion was absurd.

    One of the questions as yet unanswered. Was the CIA facilitating the arms movement, or trying to prevent it?

    What is clear is that the Republicans, Issa in particular, are ignoring the actual role of the CIA and Stevens, and trying to claim the cover-up is proof that Hilary Clinton is dishonest and incompetent.

    BTW. Richard Cohen points out that the Republican attacks are politically motivated, but it seems no big reporters are revealing some of the most pertinent details.

    Which makes sense.

    AP news service is claiming that the seizure of their phone records by the DOJ jeopardizes their methods and sources, but doesn't their reporting jeopardize the methods and sources of the US intelligence community?

    Who has priority here?

    Does our government have to make public ALL of its spy stuff to be considered "transparent."

    Are hiding spies activities from the media a violation of the First Amendment?

    1. "How deep should the press delve into events like this?"

      All the way until they find the truth. That is the purpose of journalism.

      "Do we really expect our government to make the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth public? Do we want it to?"

      Well, *I* do for one.

      "What is clear is that the Republicans, Issa in particular, are ignoring the actual role of the CIA and Stevens, and trying to claim the cover-up is proof that Hilary Clinton is dishonest and incompetent."

      They are afraid of her running against Jeb Bush in 2016 and are trying to "prepare the ground."

      "Who has priority here?"

      The American people, in whose name these actions are being taken and who are expected to foot the bills and endure the consequences of what our government does our behalf.

      "Does our government have to make public ALL of its spy stuff to be considered "transparent."


      "Are hiding spies activities from the media a violation of the First Amendment?"

      No. But it is a violation of the government's duty to be accountable to the people.

  4. I'm a lawyer and have taken literally thousands of depositions, so maybe my ear is more attuned to failures to answer questions, evasions, ambiguous responses and the importance of follow-up questions to really nail down the witness, but I've always been astounded and frustrated by the low quality of journalistic interviews, including interviews conducted by David Gregory. In fact, they're generally so lousy that I wonder if that's by design and whether the interviewees demand the right to evade , misstate and distort as a condition of giving the interview. I still think about that female Irish journalist who interviewed George W. Bush and had the sack to call the Decider on one of his lies. She caught a lot of flack for that, including from fellow journalists who should have been on her side. Any thoughts? Is it incompetence or careerism?

    1. "In fact, they're generally so lousy that I wonder if that's by design and whether the interviewees demand the right to evade , misstate and distort as a condition of giving the interview."

      There is no need for interviewees to demand such a right, as David Gregory has long made explicitly clear that challenging such evasions, misstatements and distortions is "not [his] role." I'm sure the other Sunday political show hosts follow the same gentlemen's agreement.

    2. It's not for nothing that Cheney always felt he could make his best case by going on MTP.

    3. I'm an attorney and have taken 100's of depositions, and have made the same observation.One thing is that in a deposition, you ususally have all the time you want to examinde the witness, not just a few minutes. also, the issues at a deposition are usually narrower. That said, highly paid television news interviewers are awful, asking shallow questions, and not seeming to have any insight.


  5. Stop saying emailS. I have a pile of junk MAILS on my kitchen table? It's a collective. And stop, if you're tempted to say, moving or going forward. Time only moves in one direction. Also, these are hideous and redundant: continue ON, expand OUT, reflect BACK, add IN. And there are no POINTS IN TIME. Only points in space.

    Everyone needs an editor. But I love your stuff. Don't assume a few handy hints equate to hate. They don't. I want MY group to be better than the fucking goobers.