Fox deceptively cited comments by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein to make it seem as though she is going to investigate whether the White House had nefariously edited intelligence community talking points regarding the September 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, Feinstein made it clear that the White House did not make any nefarious changes to the talking points.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on Sunday morning political shows on September 16 to describe what the administration had learned about the attack. Ever since, Fox News has sought to scandalize those interviews and use them as ammunition in a campaign to prevent her from being nominated as secretary of state. But David Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time of the Benghazi attack, has reportedly testified that Rice's comments were based on unclassified talking points provided by the intelligence community that Petraeus himself approved.
Petraeus also reportedly testified that language in the talking points originally pointed to Al Qaeda affiliates as the perpetrators of the attack, but the language was changed to refer more generally to "extremists." According to The New York Times, Petraeus "said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said."
Speaking on the November 18 edition of Meet the Press, Feinstein said she wanted to get to the bottom of who exactly made the change to the talking points, but firmly stated that "the allegation that the White House changed those talking points ... is false."
But the co-hosts on Fox & Friends cherry-picked Feinstein's remarks to make it seem like it was an open question whether the White House had made such a change. Fox & Friends played a clip of Feinstein saying on Meet the Press: "We gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out. We are going to find out who made changes in the original statement."
Later during the segment, co-host Steve Doocy said the talking points were change "because there was a general election coming up" and speculated that the original version of the talking points would have undercut the argument President Obama was making regarding his national security record:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Why is it that the unclassified briefing that Susan Rice got is different than the briefing that was actually based in reality that the administration got? And why can't we ever know the truth? The unclassified briefing, is that different from the classified briefing where one is the right way and one is the wrong way. I have an idea, let's do an unclassified briefing -- fiction -- and let's do the classified briefing -- non-fiction
DOOCY: You know why it was fiction? Because there was a general election coming up, and they're a lot of people on the right who number one say there's been like a Watergate-style cover-up, and the President of the United States just like the week before had been down in Charlotte. We were there, Brian. We heard the president talk about how Al Qaeda was on its heels, and it simply would not be helpful to his reelection if people saw that Al Qaeda was alive and well and killing our people.
If Fox had not cherry-picked Feinstein's comments, it would have been clear that on Meet the Press Feinstein strongly rebutted the claim that the White House had removed the reference Al-Qaeda from the unclassified talking points. Feinstein said that the only change the White House made to the talking points was changing the word "consulate" to the word "mission":
DAVID GREGORY (host) Senator, you said that two days before that, Director Petraeus said it was terrorism. Why didn't Ambassador Rice call it terrorism two days later?
FEINSTEIN: Because she could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points. I have some concern with those speaking points. But let me correct one thing.
GREGORY: Right. But what are the concerns and why speak at all? In other words, why was there a reference to it being a terrorist attack taken out of the public talking points?
FEINSTEIN: That is something that we're going to find out. But it was. That's the point. Now, with the allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false. There is only one thing that was changed, and I've checked into this. I believe it to be absolute fact. And that was the word "consulate" was changed to mission. That's the only change that anyone in the White House made, and I have checked this out.
Fox is only able to cite Feinstein make the argument that the White House may have changed the talking points for political reasons by hiding Feinstein's actual comments on the issue.