New York Times Wonders: Was Chris Stevens Out of His Depth in Benghazi?
The New York Times's extensive exposé on the September 11 Benghazi attacks turned up no ties to Al Qaeda. By highlighting obscure militiamen and ignoring the roles of White House officials, the piece continues an alarming trend of dismissiveness toward the Obama administration's greatest foreign policy scandal.
The Times's David Kirkpatrick assembles a long-form argument in the paper this week that the White House could do little to stop the attack which he concludes was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim YouTube video in part aided by the work of non-Al Qaeda related militiamen. Kirkpatrick writes that, while the unease at the embassy was palpable in briefs to the White House, Libyan rebels also seemed to indicate their support for increased investment by American companies, particularly KFC, in Benghazi.
Rather than framing this as "the White House was duped by clever rebels they should have never trusted," the piece seems to tell the reader, at the very least, that he would have believed the same—and at most, that Ambassador Christopher Stevens' faith in the Libyan people caused his own death.
The protagonists in the New York Times version of the events are names that have no place in the greater political narrative as it would be told by those in charge and who have followed it closely. For example, there is the mysterious militiaman Abu Khattala, who is simultaneously linked and not linked to the attacks. He receives a chapter's worth of attention, which emphasizes his agreement with but exclusion from Al Qaeda.
There is, of course, Ambassador Stevens, whom the Times comes dangerously close to blaming for his own death, ascribing responsibility for the attack on "American misunderstandings and misperceptions about Libya" without mentioning the White House proper. The third chapter of the piece focuses exclusively on Stevens, noting that agents in the area "often found themselves turning to Mr. Stevens for advice because he seemed to know the militia leaders better than any other American expert." As the best equipped to understand the fragmented nature of Islamic extremists in the area, the Times report accuses even him of having "little understanding" of the situation, according to—who else?—an anonymous State Department official.
In telling the story its way, the Times attempts—as have many left-wing media outlets, particularly Media Matters—to draw a bright line between the allegedly rational folk who believe National Security Adviser Susan Rice that the YouTube video is solely to blame for the attack and the "crazies" who have some questions about that simplistic framework. The Times paints Republicans as a sort of neo-truther set who believe without a doubt that the attack was a "carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary" of the 9/11 attacks.
From the article, it is impossible to discern that there are any gray areas between blindly believing the White House or blindly believing a conspiracy theory, and therein lies the evil genius of this sort of storytelling that has, unfortunately, managed to successfully diffuse a scandal that should have led to serious discussion of impeachment.
There are no legitimate questions about the White House's preparedness regarding Benghazi, the Times seems to say, and if you have any you must believe the one narrative in which Al Qaeda took the White House by surprise with its logistical prowess. Questioning Ambassador Stevens's competence is rational, but wondering why Hillary Clinton's name does not appear once in the piece is a bridge too far from rational thought. Wondering what the Secretary of State or the CIA Director—neither of whom are mentioned in the Times piece at all—knew and failed to act on in the days before the raid has become tantamount to trutherism.
It is not the first time by a long shot the media has exercised this sort of attitude towards the attacks. The aforementioned Media Matters managed to attack a fairly milquetoast 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attacks for even asking Susan Rice about lingering questions regarding the State Department's response to the attack. Granted, 60 Minutes's record has been less than pristine on covering the Benghazi attacks, but to shame it for asking questions implies something greater than a distrust of its journalistic practices. Such an action implies that those who don't feel their curiosity about the attack sated when Susan Rice calls the attack a "false controversy" are also inherently wrong.
It has not just been niche outlets like Media Matters furthering the idea that partisanship and general nuttery are the culprits for the Obama administration's failure to sweep this tragedy under the rug. NBC's Andrea Mitchell accused Republicans of investigating Benghazi for "obvious political" reasons. The LA Times covered the Benghazi hearings with slightly less enthusiasm than it had for its great taco recipes. MSNBC host Karen Finney did not bother to blame Stevens, nor to claim no one was to blame at all; instead she put the Benghazi blood on the hands of "austerity measures."
More than the botched HealthCare.gov rollout, more than the NSA's incessant meddling in Americans' private lives, more than the Tenth Amendment-defying persecution of legal marijuana dispensaries and raw milk drinkers, more than the killing of hundreds of innocents in signature drone strikes, the Benghazi tragedy remains the paramount failure of the Obama administration.
It exposed the level of respect for security concerns that the Obama administration has for its high-level officials. If this is how they treated Ambassador Stevens, what hope do the rest of us have?
This question is likely why the media has exhausted so much of its efforts in ridiculing those who refuse to take the most convenient explanation of the story at face value. It is why we will continue to see exposés like the Times's that use pretzel logic to silence the discussion about what Benghazi means for American national security. The piece should serve as a warning and reminder that cover-ups are always worse than their crimes.