The Atlantic Explains How Media Outlets Should Report On Blatantly Partisan Benghazi Committee

An article in The Atlantic explained that mainstream journalists have been slow to realize that the Republican-led House Select Benghazi Committee was acting as an “oppo-research arm of the Republican National Committee” and suggests that journalists “view upcoming reports as you would others from partisan organizations with an unreliable track record.”

The October 13 article written by James Fallows points to the New York Times' recent article noting that the Benghazi Committee was mainly focused on Hillary Clinton's emails, not Benghazi, and that  “evidence to that effect has been mounting for months.” Fallows continued, stating, "[w]hile these stories were dribbling out, most notably with the completely false report that Hillary Clinton was the object of a criminal investigation, a claim that the Times trumpeted on its front page [...] through their commitment to 'neutrality', reporters had been taking sides all along." Fallows concludes by advising readers to “view upcoming [Benghazi committee] reports as you would others from partisan organizations with an unreliable track record, for instance James O'Keefe and his Project Veritas.”

It has taken mainstream journalism too long a time to catch up with the reality of the “Benghazi Committee,” run by Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. (He is from our beloved Greenville, in fact.) The reality is that the Republican staff and majority of the committee have made it function as an oppo-research arm of the Republican National Committee, far more interested in whatever it might dig up about or against Hillary Clinton than any remaining mysteries on the four Americans killed in Benghazi.  

Evidence to that effect has been mounting for months, and the case is comprehensively assembled in Sunday's big NYT take-out. This story really is worth reading in detail. (Update: As is this analysis just now by the Atlantic's own David Graham.)

Through their commitment to 'neutrality,' reporters had been taking sides all along.

The piquant aspect of this Times story is that the pattern it describes--a partisan-minded effort to find anything potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton, whether or not it has any connection to the Benghazi tragedy--got as far as it did largely through reliance on those old mainstream-media habits of mind, including at the NYT. By instinct reporters treat a congressional investigative committee as presumptively legitimate; and when they receive leaks from informed committee sources, as obviously has happened for many months, they (we) are honor-bound to protect their sources' identities.

But the good part of that old-school confidentiality commitment--making clear to our informants that we won't ever give up their names--has shaded over into a cynically exploitable part. The latest Times article makes clear in retrospect what I thought was evident all along: that the steady stream of leaks was coming either from Republican staffers or Republican committee members. But while these stories were dribbling out, most notably with the completely false report that Hillary Clinton was the object of a criminal investigation, a claim the Times trumpeted on its front page, reporters added no shading to suggest that these allegations were coming essentially from a partisan oppo-research group. To do so would have been to “take sides.” Yet as Kevin McCarthy inconveniently blurted out, through their commitment to “neutrality,” reporters had been taking sides all along.

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What's the next step in dealing with the Benghazi committee? For readers, it is to view upcoming reports as you would others from partisan organizations with an unreliable track record, for instance James O'Keefe and his Project Veritas. What they say could be true, but beware.

And for reporters, it is to recognize the way today's GOP has played on yesterday's reflexes within the press. And don't let it keep happening.