Part 4—With no fear of contradiction: What does it mean to be a hack?
One way to learn is to watch Sharyl Attkisson's May 12 C-Span appearance. To watch the full session, click here.
For twenty years, the highly telegenic “investigative correspondent” has been a major figure at CBS News. But for 42 minutes that morning, she performed like a GOP hack with regard to the scandal-mongering which has surrounded Benghazi.
What does it mean to be a hack? For 42 minutes, Attkisson challenged the motives of Democrats and defended the motives of Republicans. She offered a flowery profile of Gregory Hicks, the repellent State Department malcontent who had just become one of the oiliest witnesses in the history of Congressional hearings.
She even pretended, early and often, that she had no idea where the notion of a spontaneous protest in Benghazi had come from—and no, we aren’t making that up! In the process, she advanced every Standard Scandal Claim from the large, well-maintained right-wing pile.
How bad was her performance? Early on, about two minutes in, Attkisson offered this pitiful twofer as she spoke with C-Span’s Steve Scully. We’ve posted the first chunk before:
ATTKISSON (5/12/13): Well, I would like to know where the YouTube video attribution came from, because now we’re getting again this building body of evidence that— Really nobody on the ground that we’ve spoken to, State Department officers and diplomats and so on, ever said that they thought it was, you know, based on a protest or YouTube video. So it seems to me, you know, as I look to solve the puzzle of what happened and what was being said, it looks like somebody developed a story line very quickly, perhaps even that night right after these attacks occurred—although the bulk of the evidence suggested what we now know, that this was an act of terrorism and preplanned, it seems as though somebody decided to guide the American public’s viewpoint toward that YouTube video.In that first paragraph, Attkisson pretends she has no idea where the notion of a “protest or YouTube video” came from. Since no one ever thought anything like that, she suggests that someone, “perhaps even” on that first night, simply invented this crazy story about the Benghazi attack.
And one very specific piece of evidence on that is, when some of the family members came to see the bodies of their loved ones, you know, brought back here, at least two of the members were told by Mrs. Clinton, they say, “We’re going to get the person who made that awful video.” And I wondered at the time, why didn’t she say, “We’re going to get the terrorists who killed your son?” Or “We’re going to get the people who killed your son?” Even if a video were at play, assuming for the sake of argument, why would you be after the maker of the video more so than the people who committed the murders? But it seems like there was a story line that was being advanced.
Presumably, Attkisson was lying. As of May 10, everyone knew where that narrative came from. It came from the CIA, in their first official account of what they believed about the Benghazi attack.
Surely, Attkisson knew that. But then, in that second paragraph, she went where the rubber meets the road, suggesting it was Hillary Clinton who invented this obvious con.
Can we talk?
If Attkisson has any smarts, she understands a simple fact: She has no reliable way of knowing what Hillary Clinton actually said to those family members on September 14, when the bodies of their loved ones were returned from Benghazi.
But so what? In this astonishing passage, Attkisson pretends she has no idea where the whole protest/YouTube story came from. And she pounds away at Clinton for the very strange things she is now said to have said.
But then, there are no Standard GOP Claims Attkisson didn’t pimp this day. Later in this remarkable session, she even recited the Standard Groaner we highlight below:
SCULLY (5/12/3): And of course the other line from that hearing, when [Gregory Hicks] said that his jaw dropped when he heard Ambassador Rice on those Sunday morning programs.On the September 16 Face the Nation, a Libyan pol, Mohammed Magariaf, made a set of claims about the attack. As best we can tell, most of these claims haven’t been established even today, despite the impression a person will get from watching a hack like Attkisson.
ATTKISSON: A lot of people said the same thing. They did not know of any evidence about the protests and the YouTube video. He was involved first hand, had never reported such a thing. Ambassador Stevens, in the phone call to the embassy from Benghazi to Tripoli, had never said such a thing. Hicks says he’s confident, if there had been any sort of protest, the protocol would have been for Stevens to immediately notify them and evacuate the embassy. So Hicks at least is confident that didn’t happen. So imagine their surprise when they hear Ambassador Rice saying these things.
And Hicks was also very worried about offending Libya’s leader who was on Face the Nation [on September 16] saying quite the opposite, saying what we now know to be the truth, that this was probably motivated by a terrorist attack motivated by terrorism. And he says Rule One in diplomatic circles is, you don’t contradict your host country like that. So that was considered, something I know less about, but in the diplomatic world, a big faux pas apparently, for the ambassador to be saying one thing that so strongly contradicted Libya’s leader, especially when what we were saying there was less evidence for that than what he was saying.
It still isn’t clear whether Magariaf made accurate statements that day. But so what! In that passage, Attkisson furthered one of the dumbest Standard Claims from the whole GOP pile:
Susan Rice should have discarded her brief and agreed with Magariaf, right on the spot!
This notion is absurd on its face, but it’s part of the Standard Attack against Rice. At the May 8 congressional hearings, Hicks sounded like he wanted to defect and establish a cult to Magariaf, so deep was his grievance at the idea that Rice would advance the findings of U.S. intelligence rather than the self-serving claims of a little-known Libyan pol.
Hicks behaved like a clown that day; four days later, appearing on C-Span, Attkisson followed suit. And uh-oh! Later that morning, Attkisson appeared on Face the Nation, where the nonsense continued.
The hapless Bob Schieffer was in the chair, vouching for Attkisson’s obvious greatness. In this, the first Q-and-A, Attkisson peddled the piddle in a way which respected GOP pieties but may have obscured basic facts:
SCHIEFFER (5/12/13): Joining me now, CBS news investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who hasn’t been just covering the Benghazi story, but has been out front most of the time as we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of what really happened. Sharyl, where does this go from here? What do you see happening now?In best pseudo-journalistic fashion, Attkisson began by “wondering” what Petraeus might say if someone could “get him to talk.” Following that inglorious start, she began to obscure basic facts:
ATTKISSON: Well, I am still learning new things, including this past week we are learning new things about the way General Petraeus felt as head of the CIA when those talking points went through those huge revisions.
We saw e-mails that seemed to express deep disappointment on his part, if not aggravation, that so much material had been taken out. I wonder if he has more to say if someone were able to get him to talk.
I also wonder if a pattern is emerging, now that we have seen all mention of terrorism, Islamic extremists, al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia removed from the talking points. Additionally there was no convening of the counter-terrorism security group by the White House that night, which is described to me as required by presidential directive. Is there a pattern of someone wanting to avoid the terrorism narrative in exchange for basically the YouTube, spontaneous demonstration narrative?
In fact, the “spontaneous demonstration narrative” was in the talking points right from the start, placed there by Petraeus’ own CIA. And just for the record, there was never a reference to “terrorism” or “terrorists” in the talking points.
For that reason, no such reference was ever removed.
An initial reference to Ansar al Sharia was indeed removed from the points. But as far as we know, the group has not been charged with sponsorship of the attack right to this day. Beyond that, one of the initial statements about the group had been factually wrong.
Should that erroneous claim have survived? Attkisson didn’t say; the useless Schieffer didn’t ask. How about the major claim, which was based on "initial press reporting?"
Meanwhile, the final version of the talking points did ascribe the attack to “extremists,” a fact which may have been obscured by Attkisson’s heartfelt complaint.
Later, Attkisson worried about a cover-up. Not that she was making this charge:
ATTKISSON: I think everyone agrees that in the security decisions, some of which may have been bad, nobody wanted anybody to get hurt. The question is what willfulness occurred once this happened in perhaps giving a different story? I’m not saying there was a cover-up, but there are questions and allegations of a cover-up. What happened in that regard?She wasn’t charging a cover-up! Somebody else had alleged!
Attkisson’s twin performances on May 12 virtually define the term “gong show.” Two days earlier, she had made a groaning error, publishing bogus “quotations” from the emails which produced the revisions to the talking points—or at least, a groaning error was published under her name. When she denied that she made the error, she offered an explanation which, in turn, seemed to make no earthly sense.
Gaze on the wonders of Attkisson, high-ranking correspondent! After her error of May 10, her twin appearances on May 12 virtually defined the term gong show.
That said, an array of Standard Claims have emerged upon which Attkisson capably drew on these programs. Unfortunately, many of these Standard Claims don’t really seem to make sense.
But so what? Over the last eight months, these Standard Claims have been aggressively driven from the right. And as this familiar process occurred, it was enabled by another familiar process as the children on The One True Channel politely gazed off into air.
All next week, we’ll be addressing Alex Pareene’s highly relevant question: “What’s wrong with MSNBC?” As we do, we will discuss the remarkable silence this channel’s polite and useless children have brought to this eight-month attack.
That said, please understand—there’s nothing new about this:
All through the Clinton-Gore years, the big stars of the career liberal world kept their traps shut tight as mainstream and conservative power invented pseudo-scandals. In the end, those pseudo-scandals helped get Bill Clinton impeached, then sent George Bush to the White House.
This pattern is playing out again as useless children like Maddow, Hayes, Wagner simper and play for our amusement on The One True Liberal Channel. And sure enough! As Attkisson pimped her ridiculous shit, these overpaid stars looked away.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a set of the Standard Claims about Benghazi which have emerged in the past eight months. On May 12, Attkisson drew on this list, even pretending that she didn’t know where that “spontaneous protest/YouTube video” nonsense came from.
That said, Attkisson knew that she wouldn’t hear a peep from the children at MSNBC.
Sharyl Attkisson seemed to be lying. Her counterparts at The One True Channel still haven’t said the first word.
Tomorrow: Standard Claims
Next week: On to Pareene’s worthwhile question