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Trey Gowdy’s Blunder–and Redemption–on Benghazi

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) did a decent–though imperfect–job running Hillary Clinton’s hearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. But his interviews afterward were a disaster.

CNN spent much of the day relating clips of Gowdy saying, ” I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has previous times she’s testified.” It was a disastrous answer, one that gave Clinton a victory–for now, at least–and thrilled the Democrats.

There was, in fact, plenty of new information at the Benghazi hearing–new to the public. The committee, however, knew much of it already, which was why Democrats were intent on creating distractions–they were afraid of it.

Gowdy answered the question the way a prosecutor would. A prosecutor does not put witnesses on the stand to find out new information. A prosecutor comes to trial knowing everything he or she needs to know to prove the case. The reason for examining witnesses is to put what is already known before the jury and on the record. There is  time later, in closing argument, to summarize the evidence and to explain to the jury how it proves the case.

But that is not how the media machine works. Most journalists wrote their analyses during the hearings; some had finished after the first hour or two (and some before the start). It was critical, therefore, to put the best arguments and the toughest questions up front, both to retain the interest of the public and to force Clinton and the Democrats on the panel on the defensive. Instead, the best were left for last, and Gowdy never gave a real closing argument.

Gowdy should have had a staffer noting every new piece of information, and preparing a statement for the media. He failed–inexcusably. But he may be redeemed later, because there really is so much damning information–and so many damaging, even self-incriminating, answers–that Clinton will not escape judgment by history, if not the voters. Her claims about “90 to 95 percent” of her emails being at the State Department have already fallen apart.

Much will depend on whether the GOP gets its act together and its story straight. Let Republicans take note–for the umpteenth time: you cannot merely win on points. You have to fight in the media (and, sometimes, fight the media).

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