Myths And Facts About The Conservative Media's Witch Hunt Against Susan Rice

››› ››› CHELSEA RUDMAN & MELODY JOHNSON

Conservative media have been facilitating a witch hunt against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, claiming that her public statements regarding the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, were untruthful and misleading. In fact, Rice was using talking points that had been approved by the CIA, and she repeatedly emphasized that the information was preliminary.

What Informed Susan Rice's Comments On The Sunday Talk Shows Following The Benghazi Attack?

Why Did Rice Connect The Benghazi Attack To An Anti-Islam Video?

How Definitive Were Rice's Sunday Show Statements About What Happened In The Attack?

What Role Did Classified Information Play In The Talking Points Rice Used In Her Appearances?

Sept. 16: Susan Rice Appeared On Sunday Shows To Discuss Benghazi Attack

Rice Appeared On Sunday Shows To Give Current Assessment Of What Had Happened In Benghazi. On September 16, Rice appeared on five Sunday news shows, including CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and told hosts that an FBI investigation of the attacks was under way. She also reported that the intelligence community's best assessment of what had taken place was that a small number of extremists appeared to have taken advantage of a larger protest at the compound over an anti-Islam video made in the U.S. [Media Matters, 10/11/12]

MYTH: Rice Fabricated Her Statements As Part of An Obama Admin. Cover-Up

Fox's Krauthammer: Everything Rice Said "Was A Confection," An "Invention." On the October 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer claimed everything Rice had said in relation to the Libya attack "was a confection" and an "invention."

KRAUTHAMMER: So everything that Susan Rice said was a confection, it was an invention. And as you showed, it was repeated again and again. You had Hillary Clinton speaking about the video as the body of the ambassador was lying next to her. Then you had Susan Rice spinning the tails. You had the president of the United States addressing the General Assembly more than two weeks later talking about the video, the insult to Islam, et cetera. You have this entire story going all along.

They're trying to sell the video, they're trying to sell extremism and they're trying to sell all of this at the time when they know it isn't true. So that's number one. And that's a scandal and I think it has to do with the fact that they were spiking the football over the death of bin Laden and al-Qaeda a week earlier in Charlotte and this was a contradiction of it. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier10/10/12, via Fox Nation]

WSJ's Rabinowitz: Rice's Appearance On Sunday Shows Was Part Of Obama Admin.'s Efforts To "Conceal, Falsify, And Tell Lies" About Benghazi. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote:

All administrations conceal, falsify and tell lies -- this is understood -- but there's no missing the distinctive quality of the prevaricating issuing from the White House in these four years.

It's a quality on vivid display now in the administration's mesmerizing narrative of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Here's a memorable picture, its detail brutally illuminating, of Obama and company in crisis mode over their conflicting stories about who knew what when. The resulting costs to truth-telling and sanity, or even the appearance thereof, are clear. Nor can we forget the strong element of farce -- think U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on those five Sunday talk shows, reciting with unflagging fervor that official talking point regarding mob violence and a YouTube video. Farce, but no one is laughing. [The Wall Street Journal, 10/21/12]

FACT: Rice's Comments Were Based On Information Provided By The Intelligence Community ...

Wash. Post's Ignatius: CIA Document Supported Rice's Description Of Attack As Reaction To Anti-Islam Video. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that the CIA confirmed that Rice's description of the Benghazi attack on the Sunday shows was accurate:

"Talking points" prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations." [Washington Post10/19/12]

Wash. Post Editorial: "Ms. Rice's Comments" On Sunday Shows "Were Based On Talking Points Drawn Up By The Intelligence Community." A November 22 Washington Post editorial noted that Rice's comments on the Sunday shows "were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community":

[A]s congressional testimony has established, Ms. Rice's comments on several Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 were based on talking points drawn up by the intelligence community. She was acting as an administration spokeswoman; there was nothing either incompetent or deliberately misleading about the way she presented the information she was given.

[...]

Nor was her account of what happened as far off the mark as Republicans claim. Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice's explanation that "this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo." [Washington Post, 11/22/12]

CIA Approved Rice's Final Talking Points. In an article describing changes made to the talking points Rice received, The New York Times stated that former CIA director David Petraeus and other senior agency leaders reportedly signed off on the final unclassified talking points given to Rice:

The issue took on added resonance after Republicans criticized the ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, for suggesting on Sunday talk shows five days after the assault that the siege in Benghazi was a spontaneous protest rather than an opportunistic terrorist attack.

Democrats leapt to Ms. Rice's defense on Friday, saying she was simply following the unclassified talking points provided to her. "I really think Ambassador Rice is being treated unfairly," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who leads the Intelligence Committee.

[...]

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that Mr. Petraeus explained to lawmakers that the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it. [The New York Times, 11/16/12]

... And There Is No Evidence Of An Administration Cover-Up

Press Secretary Jay Carney On Sept. 12: Benghazi Attack "Is Under Investigation." The day after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the violence was already "being investigated" and that "as we find out information that can be made available I'm sure we will." From Carney's statements:

CARNEY: It's too early for us to make that judgment [that Benghazi attacks were planned and premeditated]. I think -- I know that this is being investigated, and we're working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. So I would not want to speculate on that at this time.

[...]

I want to be careful about making statements that are based on speculation about this incident and its causes. It's under investigation, obviously, and as we find out information that can be made available I'm sure we will. [Press gaggle, 9/12/12]

Director Of National Counterterrorism Center Testified At Senate Committee Hearing About The Attack. On September 19, director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen informed lawmakers about information obtained in the investigation. [The Washington Post9/19/12]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: State Dept. Launched Independent Inquiry Into Consulate Attacks. On September 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the State Department was "opening a new inquiry into the attack" that would be "carried out by an independent four-member panel chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. [The Washington Post, 9/20/12]

Wash. Post Columnist Robert Kagan: Attacks On Rice Are Unfair Because There's No Persuasive Evidence That She Was Part Of A Cover Up. Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan asserted on November 16 that the attack on Rice "strikes me as unfair." He added: "I haven't seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice's statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack":

[T]he idea that Rice should be disqualified because of statements she made on television in the days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, strikes me as unfair. It seems pretty clear now that she based her statements on information the CIA provided at the time. That information proved erroneous, and why the CIA was giving faulty information to senior administration officials remains unclear. I haven't seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice's statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack. The fact that Rice was working from information provided by the CIA would seem to undercut such a theory. [The Washington Post11/16/12]

For more on the administration's investigations into the Benghazi attack, see here.

MYTH: Rice Had No Reason To Connect Benghazi Attack To Anti-Islam Video

Fox's Kilmeade: "Rice Was Making Believe That The Tape Was The Real Deal." On November 14, the co-hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed whether Susan Rice might replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Co-Host Brian Kilmeade said, "I think the Democrats have to feel like she's an embarrassment. She went out there and had her answer widely panned. Does the president really want to re-litigate this fight? And go back to the days when Susan Rice was making believe that the tape was the real deal?" [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/14/12]

Megyn Kelly Questioned Whether Rice Could Become Sec. Of State After She Linked Benghazi Attack To Video. America Live host Megyn Kelly said, "I think now all of our viewers know [Rice], because she's the one who went on all the Sunday talk shows and told us that everything that happened in Benghazi was linked to this video, which we now know was not the case. Can she possibly ascend into the Cabinet, into this position in the Cabinet, given that?" [Fox News, America Live, 11/13/12]

FACT: Rice Said Benghazi Attack Was A Response To Violent Protest At U.S. Embassy In Cairo ...

Rice On ABC: Attack Began As A "Response To What Had Transpired In Cairo": A Protest Over "This Very Offensive Video." On the ABC's This Week, Rice said that "our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous -- not a premeditated -- response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated." [ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos9/16/12]

Rice On CBS: Attack Began "As A Reaction To What Had Transpired Some Hours Earlier In Cairo." On CBS' Face the Nation, Rice said that "based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." [CBS News, Face the Nation9/16/12]

Rice On NBC: Attack Was "Initially A Spontaneous Reaction To What Had Just Transpired Hours Before In Cairo." On NBC's Meet the Press, Rice said that "the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video." [MSNBC, Meet the Press9/16/12]

Rice On Fox: "What Happened Initially Was That It Was A Spontaneous Reaction To What Had Just Transpired In Cairo." During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rice said:

RICE: [T]he best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control. [Fox News, Fox News Sunday9/16/12]

... Nobody Disputes That Cairo Protest Was Caused By Anti-Islam Video ...

AP: Protesters Assaulted Cairo Embassy "To Protest A Movie Attacking Islam's Prophet, Muhammad." A September 11 Associated Press article reported that hundreds of Islamist protesters marched to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that day and stormed the outer part of the facility. From the AP article, headlined "Mysterious Anti-Muslim Movie Prompts Protest in Egypt":

Ultraconservative Islamist protesters climbed the walls of the United States Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and took down the American flag, replacing it with a black flag with an Islamic inscription to protest a movie attacking Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

[...]

The protest was a result of outrage over a movie being promoted by an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States, clips of which are available on YouTube and dubbed in Egyptian Arabic. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, and shows him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad at all, much less in an insulting way. [Associated Press, 9/11/12, emphasis added]

... And Video Reportedly Did Play A Role In Motivating Attackers In Benghazi

NY Times: "The Attackers" In Benghazi "Did Tell Bystanders That They Were Attacking The Compound Because They Were Angry About The Video." The New York Times reported that there is evidence to support the notion that the anti-Islam video motivated the attack:

What do eyewitnesses say about the events in Benghazi? Were they related to the insulting video, or is that a red herring? And was the assault planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or was it spontaneous? 

According to reporting by David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway of The New York Times, eyewitnesses have said there was no peaceful demonstration against the video outside the compound before the attack, though a crowd of Benghazi residents soon gathered, and some later looted the compound. But the attackers, recognized as members of a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video. They did not mention the Sept. 11 anniversary. Intelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place. [The New York Times10/17/12, emphasis original]

NY Times: Attacks Were "Carried Out ... In Retaliation For An American-Made Video Mocking" Islam. A November 27 New York Times article said that parts of Rice's testimony were "wrong in some respects," but "accurate in others," specifically citing the video as a cause of the attack:

On-the-ground accounts indicate that Ms. Rice's description of the attack, though wrong in some respects, was accurate in others. Witnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. [The New York Times, 11/27/12]

Wash. Post Editorial: News Organizations Quoted People At The Burning Consulate Saying They "Were Angry About The Video." A November 22 Washington Post editorial pointed out that several Western news organizations quoted people protesting outside the attacked Benghazi consulate saying that they were angry about the anti-Islam YouTube video:

Though investigations are not complete, what has emerged so far suggests that the attack was staged by local jihadists, not ordered by the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Officials believe that it was inspired in part by demonstrations that took place that day in Cairo. That is not so far from Ms. Rice's explanation that "this began as a spontaneous . . . response to what transpired in Cairo." Republicans claim that Ms. Rice "propagated a falsehood" that the attacks were connected to an anti-Islam YouTube video. How then to explain the contemporaneous reports from Western news organizations quoting people at the burning consulate saying that they were angry about the video? [The Washington Post, 11/22/12]

MYTH: Rice Prematurely Gave A Definitive Assessment Of The Attack

Mara Liasson: "Susan Rice Was So Definitive" In Her Statements On Benghazi Attack. On Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributor and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson claimed that Rice "was so definitive" about what had happened in Benghazi:

LIASSON: I think the most, kind of mystifying part of this is that Susan Rice was so definitive, and was so kind of out over the tips of her skis, as they say, on the Sunday talk shows. Why not say, then, "We are doing an investigation to find out what happened," instead of saying definitively this was a spontaneous protest that in some cases got hijacked? I mean that's caused more trouble for them than the attack itself I believe. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 10/10/12]

Fox's Laura Ingraham: Why Didn't Rice Just Say There Is "An Ongoing Investigation, And I'm Really Not Going To Say Anything More"? On the September 16 edition of Fox News Sunday, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham asked why Rice had not just said that there is "an ongoing investigation, and I'm really not going to say anything more. We're going to learn more." [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday9/30/12]

FACT: During Sunday Shows, Rice Repeatedly Emphasized Ongoing Investigations And Cautioned Against Jumping To Conclusions

Rice: "There's An FBI Investigation That Has Begun ... That Will Tell Us With Certainty What Transpired." On the September 16 edition of ABC's This Week, Rice told guest host Jake Tapper that an FBI investigation was under way and relayed the administration's "current best assessment" based on the information available at the time:

RICE: Well, Jake, first of all, it's important to know that there's an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed. That will tell us with certainty what transpired.

But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous -- not a premeditated -- response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to -- or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in -- in the wake of the revolution in Libya are -- are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

We'll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that's the best information we have at present. [ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos9/16/12]

Rice: "We'll Want To See The Results Of That Investigation To Draw Any Definitive Conclusions." On the September 16 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Rice repeatedly stressed to host Bob Schieffer that the United States was conducting an investigation of the attack and that "we'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions":

RICE: Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the President, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch led by the FBI, that has begun and --

SCHIEFFER: But they are not there.

RICE: They are not on the ground yet, but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of -- of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation. So we'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy--

SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.

RICE: -- sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that -- in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent. [CBS News, Face the Nation9/16/12]

Rice: "Investigation, Which Is Ongoing," Will Give Us "The Definitive Word As To What Transpired." On the September 16 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Rice reiterated that an investigation into the Benghazi attack was ongoing and that the administration would "look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired." [MSNBC, Meet the Press9/16/12]

Rice: "Obviously, We Will Wait For The Results Of The Investigation And We Don't Want To Jump To Conclusions Before Then." On the September 16 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Rice noted that the FBI was investigating the attacks "closely" and stated that "we don't want to jump to conclusions before then." [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 9/16/12]

MYTH: Rice Should Have Called The Attack Terrorism Because She Saw Classified Intel Suggesting Possible Al Qaeda Involvement

Fox's Kilmeade And Doocy Suggested Rice Shouldn't Have Relied On Unclassified Talking Points In Public Appearances. On the November 27 broadcast of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade talked about three Republican senators' upcoming meeting with Rice and criticized her for using unclassified talking points in public appearances. Co-host Steve Doocy also said, "Keep in mind ... she also had access to the classified information":

KILMEADE: I think they're saying this. We know -- if you say you got those talking points, fine. But what kind of secretary -- potential secretary of state would take a -- unclassified talking points, take them as gospel, and go, "These are where we stand." And say you got the intel community, this is what the intel community gave you, when a week ago, we heard from the former CIA director who said, "I thought it was Al Qaeda within 24 hours. I wrote it down there."

DOOCY: Right.

KILMEADE: "Someone edited it out." The national intelligence director said, "I never touched it." And then he said, "Oh those? I touched it." Essentially, politics enters into the fray. So if she goes out there and says, "Yeah, I went by this paper." Well, what kind of secretary of state goes by this paper and doesn't use all her plethora of contacts to find out what the real story is?

DOOCY: Exactly. And keep in mind, she -- in addition to the unclassified talking points, she also had access to the classified information, so she knew what really was happening. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/27/12]

Fox's Herridge: "It Seems Clear Ambassador Rice Could Not Adequately Explain Her Statements About Benghazi." Following Rice's meeting with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Fox News' Catherine Herridge said that "it seems clear Ambassador Rice could not adequately explain her statements about Benghazi given that she had access to both classified and unclassified information." [Fox News, Happening Now, 11/27/12]

FACT: References To Al Qaeda Were Removed To Protect National Security ...

NY Times: Petraeus Told Lawmakers References To Specific Terrorist Groups Were Removed From Unclassified Talking Points For Security Reasons. The New York Times reported that in his November 16 congressional testimony, former CIA director David Petraeus told lawmakers that the names of terrorist groups suspected in the Benghazi attack "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." From the Times:

David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.

Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, 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.

The article also noted that Petraeus reportedly said that after the references to the specific terrorist groups were removed and replaced with the less specific word "extremists," "the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it." [The New York Times, 11/16/12]

... And Conservative Media Have Previously Attacked The Obama Admin. For Allegedly Leaking Classified Intel

Fox Skipped Investigations To Declare Obama Admin. Guilty Of Leaking Classified Information. Conservative media hyped accusations that the administration gave classified information to filmmakers, even though the group that released the initial documents given to the filmmakers made no such claim. Similarly, Fox News figures declared the Obama administration guilty of leaking classified national security information to the media, despite the fact that investigations into the allegations had just begun. [Media Matters, 5/24/12, 6/9/12

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