"Not Optimal": Conservative Media Use Incomplete Report To Smear Obama As Callous Toward American Deaths

Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

Conservative media figures are taking a partial quote from President Obama out of context in order to attack him as reacting callously to the deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel.

In an appearance taped today for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama was asked if communication between government personnel had failed to provide "the optimal response" to the Benghazi attacks. Obama replied in part: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."

Conservative media figures like Matt Drudge, Monica Crowley, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katherine Ham,John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson and outlets like Fox Nation all used early reports of Obama's comments to attack him, with several falsely suggesting that Obama had said the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, and not the communications effort, was "not optimal."

Their comments appear to be based on the first White House pool report on the Daily Show interview, which said:

On Benghazi, Potus said: "Every piece of information that we get, as we got it we laid it out to the American people. The picture eventually gets fully filled in." Potus also said: "Here's what I'll say. When four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it."

That report was sent at 4:35 PM. A subsequent update, with full context of the exchange between Obama and Stewart, was sent at 5:11 PM.

Obama's response to Stewart, in fuller context, makes it obvious that he was discussing the inadequacy of early communications between different arms of the government - not the deaths of personnel. From the 5:11 PM pool report:

Jon Stewart: "Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions? Not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within. Because I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page."

POTUS: "Here's what I'll say. If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it. Whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency the one thing that I've been absolutely clear about is that America's security comes, and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, security, and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency."

In the updated pool report, Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Memoli noted: "Here's the Q&A that led to the 'optimal' quote. Stewart had used the word in his question."

Conservative media have repeatedly taken Obama out of context, treating excerpts of comments as if they were complete statements in a manner that often transforms their meaning.

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