Republicans’ Six Big Mistakes in the Benghazi Hearing

Hillary Rodham Clinton
AP/Jacquelyn Martin

Republicans demonstrated clearly on Thursday that Hillary Clinton lied routinely and repeatedly about events leading up to and following the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

But the media have declared Hillary the big victor.

That was pre-ordained, of course; as I wrote last night, Vice President Joe Biden’s withdrawal made it inevitable that the media would coronate Hillary and then protect their liege.

That doesn’t mean Republicans did a good job. They made a number of key errors that helped the media cast Hillary as a victim rather than the perpetrator of one of the worst State Department fiascos in American history. Here are the top six errors.

Make Hillary’s Swearing-In Public. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who did an excellent job in questioning Hillary Clinton, made a silly error before the hearing. In an attempt to undo damage done to the committee’s credibility in the media by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who said that the committee had been designed to do damage to Clinton, Gowdy gave Hillary the option of swearing in privately, before the hearing. A committee spokesman explained, “Chairman Gowdy offered to swear her in, in private, because this is not about politics, it’s about the four brave Americans we lost.”

That may well have been true, but the media would never push that fact – it’s mentioned only by-the-by in reportage. Gowdy should have had her swear in publicly, understanding that the media will never give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t Go On For 11 Hours. The hearing was impossible to watch in one sitting. The American people simply don’t have the attention span to wade through hours and hours of questioning. More importantly, Republicans should have known that as the day went on, the narrative would turn from Hillary’s answers into her supposed bravery in undergoing enhanced interrogation techniques at the hands of evil Republicans.

Hillary’s coughing fit, which some conservative media played as a sign of weakness, played instead as a sign of duress – why were those big, mean conservatives beating up on the poor, little old lady just trying to weather their hatred?

The questioning would have been better split over the course of several days, rather than allowing Clinton the luxury of telling the press that she’d stay as long as it took to get through all the questions. The optics didn’t favor Republicans, and the length of the questioning only heightened the visual discrepancy between Hillary and her opposition. There’s a reason Democratic defenders of Hillary called direct attention to the fact that Hillary sat alone, without being flanked by other administration members, while the Republican bullies sat together, waiting to pounce on Grandma.

Be Clear In Your Questioning. The Republican argument yesterday was essentially threefold: (1) Hillary was responsible for the chaos in Libya; (2) Hillary lost interest, which led her to ignore security threats to Ambassador Stevens; (3) Hillary lied incessantly after the attacks, and obfuscated her record using her personal email server. This is not a particularly difficult argument. But instead of getting to the point, Republicans took 11 hours to make grand revelations. They were too busy pegging Hillary down on the details to remember that nobody cares about the details – they just care about the major points.

Use Visuals. Republicans spent an inordinate amount of time reading Hillary’s emails out loud. This was a waste of time. The only major slam on Hillary came through the visual of Hillary’s conversation with the Egyptian Prime Minister stating that she knew the attacks had been due to terrorism, not a YouTube video. The first rule of theater is show, don’t tell. Republicans told, and didn’t show.

No Grandstanding. Republicans have an unfortunate tendency to lecture Clinton, rather than simply grilling her. Gowdy is an excellent questioner, but other Republicans on the panel, including Peter Roskam (R-IL), took the opportunity to spell out their arguments against Hillary, rather than forcing her to answer questions. That, in turn, opened the “victimhood” door for Democrats to step right through, with blowhard Elijah Cummings (D-MD) labeling the entire committee a witch hunt. Simple, pure questioning did Hillary far more damage than anything Republicans said yesterday. They should have stuck to it.

Make It Personal. The most damaging angle Hillary took yesterday was her suggestion that Ambassador Stevens was responsible for his own death. Republicans should have focused in on it. Hillary eulogizing a man she never spoke to after his appointment as ambassador, a man who did not have her personal email address, a man who was rejected hundreds of times in his quest for security, was stomach-turning. Hillary attempting to play off one request for security as a “joke” was a gaffe moment. Republicans should have pushed her on it. They didn’t, afraid to look as though they were impugning her character. Well, her character speaks for itself.

Republicans were so concerned yesterday about how the hearings looked to the public that they forgot that the main audience for the hearings was not on CSPAN – it is the millions of Americans who will only read headlines, or see attack ads on both sides. The purpose of the committee isn’t to “get” Hillary Clinton – it’s to hold those responsible for Benghazi responsible. And that includes Hillary Clinton. With that in mind, they should have treated Hillary just as they would have treated any other hostile witness: with directness, aggressiveness, and back-to-basics questions Americans could understand.

Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of, and The New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.


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