LAND OF SCRIPT: Still misquoting Rice after all these years!


Part 3—Benghazi script survives: Our modern “journalistic” culture is heavily built around script.

What the heck is script? Nine years ago, Krugman defined it:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like, and It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media “script,” a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
Krugman was certainly on the right track! He described a pernicious culture that day—the modern journalistic culture built around deference to script.

Needless to say, this culture extends beyond the realm of cable news. Consider the New York Times’ lengthy, front-page report about the attack in Benghazi.

David Kirkpatrick wrote the 7300-word report. It appeared on the front page of last Sunday’s paper.

What actually happened in Benghazi? In this early passage, Kirkpatrick debunks two key parts of the script which has prevailed since September 2012:
KIRKPATRICK (12/29/13): Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Say what? In a lengthy investigation, Kirkpatrick found no evidence that Al Qaeda played any role in the assault. And good lord:

According to Kirkpatrick’s investigation, the Benghazi attack actually was “fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

Those findings contradict the punishing script which quickly emerged in the wake of the attack. According to that script, al Qaeda had planned and executed the attack, apparently to coincide with the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, had the attack been fueled by anger about that video? The notion was widely ridiculed. According to the prevailing script, that notion was simply absurd.

There was a victim of this script; her name was Susan Rice. Five days after the attack, Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows to present the administration’s “current assessment [of] what happened in Benghazi”—“the best information that we have available to us today.”

Instantly, Rice was denounced as a liar for what she said on those Sunday programs. The claim that Rice was a liar became a basic part of the Benghazi script.

How powerful is the role of script in our journalistic culture? Amazingly, Kirkpatrick continues to misrepresent what Rice said on those Sunday programs.

His paraphrase of what Rice said is extremely loose and unskillful. At one point, he even flatly misquotes something she said on Meet the Press.

Where do such errors come from? A cynic might see two invisible hands guiding this part of Kirkpatrick's report.

On the way hand, a cynic might see Kirkpatrick bowing to the power of the Benghazi script, which can’t be completely discarded. Beyond that, a cynic might see Kirkpatrick bowing to a wider post-journalistic edict—the notion that both major parties just have to be wrong in a dispute of this type.

For ourselves, we don’t know why Kirkpatrick misrepresented and even misquoted Rice in Sunday’s report. But in our view, his lengthy report helps show us the power of script.

Even as he debunks two parts of the Benghazi script, others parts of the script stay in place. In this passage, he starts to paraphrase what Rice said:
KIRKPATRICK: Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.
Did Susan Rice offer a “story line” in which “the video inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand?” Did she offer a “story line” in which the attack was “spontaneous” and bore no warning signs?

That is a very shaky account of what Rice actually said on those Sunday programs. In this passage, Kirkpatrick flatly misquotes something she said:
KIRKPATRICK: After the attack, Mr. Obama vowed retribution. “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act,” he said in a televised address from Washington on the morning of Sept. 12. “And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But much of the debate about Benghazi in Washington has revolved around statements made four days later in television interviews by Ms. Rice, who was then ambassador to the United Nations.

“What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.”

Republicans, pouncing on the misstatement, have argued that the Obama administration was trying to cover up Al Qaeda’s role. “It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an Al Qaeda-led event,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month on Fox News.

“This was a preplanned, organized terrorist event,” he said, “not a video. That whole part was debunked time and time again.”
In that passage, Kirkpatrick flatly misquotes something Rice said. A person could argue that he misquotes her more than once.

He then describes the way the GOP “pounced on [her] misstatement.”

What did Rice actually say that day? Yesterday, for the ten millionth time, we posted the transcript of her remarks from Meet the Press.

To watch her entire presentation, you can just click this.

In last Sunday’s report, Kirkpatrick debunked two parts of the prevailing Benghazi script. But even after all these months, Ambassador Rice is still being paraphrased very carelessly, even flatly misquoted.

To us, this speaks to the power of script. Tomorrow, for the ten millionth time, a look at what Susan Rice said.

Tomorrow: How to paraphrase, how to quote

Saturday: Bob Schieffer should explain himself on this week’s Face the Nation


  1. It was clear that the Republicans were not simply attacking Susan Rice but using her to criticize the Obama administration and to embarrass Hillary Clinton (who continues to be seen as a viable presidential candidate). There were criticisms of the talking points given to Susan Rice and an implication that these were revised by Obama's people to manage the news report so it would appear that the war on terror was being more effectively managed by Obama (coming into the election). Rice wound up being the ostensible target but she was being used as a surrogate for other political players, all of whom are still around.

    The Clintons showed that the best protection against swiftboating of this type is an active and noisy assertion of the facts and calling out of the attempted swiftboaters. Obama doesn't do this very welll. He tends to keep his head down and hope trouble will disappear. I commend Somerby for asserting the facts in this situation once again and I find myself wondering why the rest of the Democratic apparatus doesn't support him in this.

    1. Active and noisy assertion of facts by the Clintons:

      "I did not have sexual realtions with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

  2. how about the mother of all scripts?

    Practically no media figure questions why the US is killing Muslims all over the globe.

    This blogger has consistently swallowed this camel and strains mightily at idiotic gnats for his Kool Aid drinkers.

    1. First of all, the US isn't killing Muslims "all over the globe." The US has used drones to kill a couple of thousand in Pakistan and a few in Yemen. Secondly, there's opposition to the drone program, mostly on the left, on the grounds that the practice is illegal, immoral, and counterproductive. Use the google with "drone killing domestic opposition."

      Killing "terrorists" with drones is quite popular in the US, as long as the "terrorists" aren't Americans or on US soil. Go figure.

      Indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture and antibiotics in commercial animal husbandry are two more big problems that TDH doesn't address. It makes as much sense to take him to task for those oversights as it does to whine about his refusal to write about killing people with drones.

    2. How exactly did the US Ambassador try to kill Muslims in the attack in Benghazi?

    3. Are you saying TDH swallowed a camel laden with antibiotics from the US? That explains a lot.

  3. Bob, please tell us what the misquotes are in your upcoming posts. Many people don't have time to read all the original transcripts from the morning shows. It would be helpful for some of us reading your posts. Thanks

  4. Somerby is 'tribing.' Whether the video impacted or not I don't know. But I do know that the NYT didn't establish anything. The Common Ills covered this in their year in review. Among the problems? NYT says an Egyptian program aired a clip of the video. NYT says that the program was watched in Iraq before Friday prayers. NYT explains the Egyptian program aired the clip September 8th. September 8th was not a Friday. It was a Saturday. Presumably, having established that the program was watched on Friday mornings, the Saturday broadcast would not have been seen. No one in the article backs up that the video fueled a protest or an attack in Iraq.
    Somerby's quoting paragraph ten of the long report.
    As C.I. of The Common Ills pointed out, when you have over 6,000 words to back up your claims, there's no excuse for not doing so.
    I don't care one way or another regarding the video or Rice. But I do care that because Somerby likes what the article says he suspends critical judgment. I've read the report now, The Common Ills is right, the article does not establish the tenth paragraph claim( (the claim Somerby has now quoted twice).

    1. Have you taken into account that you lose a day because of time zones when comparing events in Egypt and the US? It frequently results in confused discussion about when something occurred because people don't take the time difference into account. Can that explain your problem with whether the clip was watched on a Friday or a Saturday and which day was the 8th?

    2. There is a claim appearing on the web that the video could not have caused the rioting because it was not translated in time. I have seen no good evidence supporting this claim. I believe the claim comes from Republican Gowdy, who actually made a different claim. Gowdy claims that since there was attacks against Westerners in Benghazi before the attack that killed 4 Americans, how can we blame the video? The terrorists were already intent on harming Americans and didn't need the excuse of a video, Gowdy implies.

      Gowdy's argument then seems to have morphed into the video wasn't even translated in time of the attack. That is as far as I can tell.

      As for your assertion that Common Ills as somehow pointed out a huge flaw in the NY Times article, I can't say one way or the other--mainly because the Common Ills bog is an incomprehensible rant. Here's an example of the nonsense on this blog:

      "I was shocked because the article is speculation at best and fails to nail anything down and also fails as reporting." That's it. The blog fails to quote anything from the *Times,* and fails to offer any counter facts itself.

  5. Bob,

    Please help me understand better how Kirkpatrick flatly misquotes something Rice said in that passage you highlight. Was it leaving off the "best information / current assessment" qualifier at the beginning, or the slight change in the sentence describing which demonstration was prompted by the video?

    Rice (2012/09/16): "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."

    Kirkpatrick (2013/12/29): “What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.”

    1. Yes that is the misquote. Rice said very shortly after this highly confusing incident in an obscure backwater of the world that this is our best assessment at the present time, subject to revision on obtaining better info, don't hold me to it - there is a major distinction in putting it that way as opposed to simply declaring unequivocally this is how it happened.

      The whole manufactured scandal was so absurd on so many levels it is mind boggling

    2. Are you previewing Bob's upcoming post on bad paraphrasing? I am looking and looking for anything Rice said which might resemble "don't hold me to it."

    3. I am sure AC/MA will respond to your question "very shortly" Anonymous @ 10:15. By standards applied to Susan Rice, very shortly means five days.

    4. "But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that..."

      Unlikely at best. Certainly Bob has no way of know if that was the best information available or if that was even the current assessment. I have no idea why he thinks we should believe Rice on that, and yet he thinks that somehow it makes anything and everything that follows unassailable.

    5. The process of putting together the talking points used by Rice was described in public hearings so we all know, not just Bob.

    6. Trollmes, it only appears that he suggest that. We can't possible know what he thinks. That's my story line and I am sticking to the script.

    7. Anon 10:15 a.m. There is a difference between legitimate pararaphrase and distorted paraphrase. Where Rice, after at least twice saying that this is the best info we have at the present time, concluded with "obviousy, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the result of the investigation." Basic logic is that she is saying that what she said is subject to change if contrary info comes to light in the future, after further investigation. I paraphrased this, in part, as saying don't hold me to it to the extent more complete info is obtained in the future. I disagree that there is anything amiss in the paraphrase.

      Trollmes, the stupid controversy over Rice's remarks was based primarily on the characterization of her remarks as being unqualified, ignoring that she explicitly qualified what she said as being based only on the best knowledge at the present time, subject to what more could be discovered by further evidence. Perhaps ad nauseum, but to me validly,TDH has focused on decrying this distortion. You claim that Rice may have lied when she said this was the best info that the government had. That is a completely different issue from the persistent distortion what she actually said. However, from what I can see, Lindsey Graham et al are wrong, and what she represented was basically accurate, or at least there is no valid evidence that she knew what she said was untrue. An example would be that A makes a statement and is accused of lying. One issue would be, did A actually make the statement that is being alleged to be a lie. A different issue is, is what A said actually a lie. You're raising the second issue, I'm talking about the first.

  6. OMB

    A few people noticed that BOB has yet to explicitly say, in three posts, what the misquote is. We know Krugman defined script, because he has been quoted almost as much as Rice in this series.
    When will BOB define "flatly"?


    1. Update: Chris Hayes just devoted 7 whole minutes to the Benghazi story prompted by the NYTimes article. Not once did he note how Rice was flatly misquoted, Not once did he apologize for how he himself miscovered the story.

      He also does not care about black kids.


    2. Fuck off KZ. Also, kill yourself. First, though you might read Saturday's post here.

      IF you can read it, you can die knowing you were too stupid to read both Rice and the Times and spot the misquotation for yourself.

      Sadly, after all this time, you are here whining that you need Somerby to do your thinking for you! "Not once did he note!" WAHHHHHH!

      The car is in the garage. Close the door, turn out the lights and sit and think. You'll see the path ahead. Start the car.

    3. Gee, I wish my Thursday comment about something BOB promised in Part Three had been informed by what he finally around to in Part Four. Of course if that shamed me I would have committed suicide before Saturday, since he wrote nothing about it on that day.


    4. Whiny baby KZ: I whined that I couldn't think without
      Somerby's help, but that was *before* he helped me!!!

    5. Like Schieffer, you failed to address your "flat" factual error about when the BOBster got around to finally delivering his earlier promised demonstration of Kirkpatrick's misquote.

      And since the Schieffer post did appear on Saturday, let's note something BOB said in that post:

      "Tomorrow, Schieffer returns to Face the Nation. In the wake of Kirkpatrick’s report, he should address his past remarks, which were sad, inept, pathetic.

      It’s very unlikely that he will do that. And no one at MSBNC will say a word about it, any more than they did in real time, when they all ran off and hid in the woods."

      You suggested we commit suicide because BOB, one episode into this series later than he promised, got around to demonstrating what he felt to be misquotation. What should I suggest you do? Two days after we
      noted here on BOB's blog (in the very comment to which you replied, suggesting suicide for us) Chris Hayes on MSNBC covered the Kirkpatrick story on Thursday, BOB predicted they would be silent.

      Should you:

      a) Explain that BOB really meant MSNBC commentators would be silent about Schieffer, not Kirkpatrick's piece. That would be the tribal BOBfan approach. That of course leave us open to talk about sloppy journalism, but we know BOB, like us, has only imaginary analysts and no editors.

      b) Note that BOB doesn't read his own blog's comments.
      That would be the BOBpologist tack, and allow other commenters to snarkily refer to BOB's propensity to quote comments from other blogs to prove great societal trends which are part of his script.

      3) Comment with an alternative form of Zarkon ending his life, one which recognizes he does not engage in intergalactic travel in a fossil fuel burning vehicle. That would be our best guess for you since it would allow you to be consistent in refuting with ignorant insult rather than fact.