It was just ten days ago that Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard reported “fresh evidence emerged that senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults” last September on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Hayes' report was based on email exchanges described in a politicized report issued by House Republicans along with a timeline detailing when the emails were sent and the names of two of the participants provided most likely by Republican sources on Capitol Hill. Jonathan Karl of ABC News would later write a similar piece after receiving summaries of those emails, likely from a similar source. Never mind that this conversation is in itself a sideshow from the real question of the actual mistakes that led to the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi as laid out in the Accountability Review Board report. The DC media quickly swarmed into the sort of feeding frenzy phenomenon native to Washington. Finally, after months of fruitless effort to uncover evidence of an attempt by the administration to politicize the Benghazi talking points, the right thought they had proof to justify their conspiracies.
Fast forward a few days and the email conversations between those editing the talking points are available for public view. And as it turns out the perceptions drawn by Hayes and Karl did not match reality.
References to Al Qaeda were struck not for political reasons but to avoid interfering with the FBI's investigation into the perpetrators. And references to demonstrations outside the embassy were not added by political officials but in fact by the Central Intelligence Agency, relying on the information it had at the time.
Now there is no evidence Hayes or Karl knew the full context of the emails and intentionally omitted exculpatory evidence. Instead they reported misleading information likely passed on to them by their sources, most probably Republican staffers on Capitol Hill.
From the moment Mitt Romney issued his press release attacking President Obama for “sympathize[ing] with those who waged the attacks” while CIA and State Department staff in Benghazi were still in danger, conservatives have attempted to use the terrorist attack in Benghazi for political advantage..
Nobody would suggest that the Republican committee chairman, most notably House Oversight chair Darrell Issa, are disinterested prosecutors simply seeking the truth. It therefore should be no surprise that information they have been provided would be selectively edited to conform to their ideological crusade.
It was Hayes who “made a career out of pretending Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league to attack the United States.” His assertions in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq were based on the same shoddy and ideological blindness that exemplified his Benghazi reporting.
Well after the Defense Intelligence Agency had dismissed the notion that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were working together, Hayes claimed in The Weekly Standard that government sources told him that evidence of this partnership was “detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources.”
His reporting was ultimately cited by Vice President Dick Cheney as evidence of the linkage between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Ultimately Hayes wrote a book highlighting his false reporting titled The Connection: How Al Qaeda's Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.
Writing in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose observed that “Hayes cannot bear to let his pet theory fall by the wayside, whether it is borne out by the facts or not” and compared The Connection to “the Dr. Seuss classic 'McElligot's Pool,' whose youthful protagonist refuses to accept that his favorite fishing hole contains no fish.”
Poor reviews aside, throughout the decade Cheney and Hayes shared a symbiotic relationship. As late as 2005 the reporter was still defending the Vice President's claim that 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence, even though Cheney had continued to make such claims long after such a link had been debunked.
It was Hayes who worked to smear Joe Wilson, claiming “virtually everything” the former Ambassador reported about a lack of evidence that Iraq has sought uranium from Niger “was false.”
Ultimately Hayes would be rewarded with the access to write a hagiography of the former Vice President.
With his former benefactor no longer in government, Hayes is now enjoying the help of a new source on Capitol Hill. A willingness to accept half-truths and incomplete information at The Weekly Standard combined with his Fox News perch makes him an ideal vessel to launder lies into the media. That is the role he has served on the Benghazi talking points story. The question is whether the rest of the media will catch on.