Conservative media are pushing selectively cropped footage of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey as evidence that President Obama was “AWOL” the night of the Benghazi attack. In reality, Panetta and Dempsey emphasized that Obama's involvement was appropriate and that the White House was kept “well-informed” throughout the night.
After outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before Congress on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, The Weekly Standard selectively cropped a portion of his testimony and blogged that Panetta found Obama to be “absent” the night of the assault. The Weekly Standard's attack on Obama subsequently made the conservative media rounds to Fox Nation, The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and Fox News.
In its post titled “Panetta: Obama Absent Night of Benghazi,” where this smear seemingly originated, The Weekly Standard highlighted Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) questions to Panetta as proof of Obama's absence:
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications with him that night?
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications - did he ever call you that night to say, “How are things going? What's going on? Where's the consulate?”
PANETTA: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost - we were aware that that information went to the White House.
AYOTTE: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
AYOTTE: No one else called you to say, “How are things going?”
Fox's Special Report also aired portions of Panetta's testimony, cut to suggest Obama was uninterested in the attack unfolding in Benghazi:
But both The Weekly Standard and Fox News' video cuts off just as Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was also testifying, corrected Ayotte as to the White House's focus the night of the Benghazi attack. Gen. Dempsey attested to the fact that although Obama did not personally follow up with him, Obama's staff was engaged “pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.” The transcript below is bolded where the Weekly Standard clip ends:
AYOTTE: But just to be clear, that night he didn't ask you what assets we had available and how quickly they could respond and how quickly we could help those people there --
PANETTA: No. I think the biggest problem that night, Senator, is that nobody knew really what was going on there.
AYOTTE: And there was no follow up during the night, at least from the White House directly?
PANETTA: No. No, there wasn't.
DEMPSEY: I would, if I could just, to correct one thing. I wouldn't say there was no follow-up from the White House. There was no follow-up, to my knowledge, with the president. But his staff was engaged with the national military command center pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.
AYOTTE: But no direct communication from him?
DEMPSEY: Not on my part, no.
Notably, Panetta also testified to the fact that Obama was in contact with military officials and was “well-informed” during the attack on our consulate, another part of the testimony that was ignored by conservative media. Special Report aired a portion of Sen. Lindsey Graham's questioning, but cut off Panetta's defense of Obama. As the Associated Press reported:
In one testy exchange, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questioned whether Panetta spoke again to Obama after that first meeting. The Pentagon chief said no but that the White House was in touch with military officials and aware of what was happening.
“During the eight-hour period, did he show any curiosity?” Graham asked.
Panetta said there was no question the president was concerned about American lives. Exasperated with Graham's interruptions, Panetta said forcefully, “The president is well-informed about what is going on; make no mistake about it.”
The day after the Benghazi attack, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized in a press gaggle that Obama “is monitoring the situation in the region.” Carney went on, “He has had several meetings already this morning in addition to, as you saw, the statements he gave and the visit he made to the State Department. He is making phone calls, including those that I read out to you, and will be regularly updated throughout the day and evening and tomorrow on developments.”
Earlier this week, Fox cropped footage of an interview Panetta and Gen. Dempsey gave to CNN, again to question the administration's response to the Benghazi attack.