Fox Falsely Suggests WH “Changing The Story” On Libya Terrorism Investigation

Fox News is fabricating conflict between administration officials to accuse the White House of changing its story over whether attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya were related to international terrorism. But White House officials have been consistent in making clear that the administration is investigating whether those attacks are related to terrorism.

Fox Suggests White House “Changing The Story” On Libya Terrorism Investigation   

Fox's Carlson Suggests Ambassador Rice's Comments On Libya Attacks Contradicted WH Comments. During the September 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson suggested that the White House is not “sticking to [its] story” about the Libya attacks because U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice believed the Libya attacks were “not planned” and “spontaneous,” while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted that the FBI is investigating if the attacks were planned terrorism. From the show:

CARLSON: Let's talk about the other big topic that's been going on, which is, oh guess what's from the back burner now, back in the forefront? Foreign policy. And now the White House is getting asked questions. I was glad to see that they were pressed yesterday, at least about their Libya story. Because remember on Sunday, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on all the Sunday chat shows and said the episode in Libya was not a terrorist attack, it was not planned, it was part of just this uprising about this videotape. “Spontaneous” was the word that she used. Well yesterday the spokesperson for the president, Jay Carney, was pressed on whether or not they were still sticking to that story.

CARNEY (video clip): Based on the information, our initial information, and that includes all information, we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a pre-planned or premeditated attack. There is an ongoing investigation; the FBI is investigating and that investigation will follow the facts where ever they lead.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Well as of Monday they weren't on the ground, the FBI, because they said the conditions were too tenuous. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/19/12]

Fox Graphic: “WH Opens Door To Change Story On Libya” And “WH Backs Off Strong Denial Issued Sunday.” Fox graphics suggested that the White House was contradicting itself on whether or not attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya were acts of terror. During the segment, one of the on-screen graphics asked if the White House was “Changing The Story” on terrorism in their investigation:

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/19/12]

But Rice And Carney Both Pointed Out That Investigation Will Determine The Nature Of The Attacks

On Fox, Ambassador Susan Rice Noted “We Don't Want To Jump To Conclusions” Before Investigation Ends. During the September 16 edition of Fox News' Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked if the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a “pre-planned” attack by a terrorist organization." Ambassador Rice noted that early signs didn't point to a “premeditated attack”, but that the FBI is “obviously investigating this very closely” and that “we don't want to jump to conclusions before then”:

WALLACE: Let's talk about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi this week that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens. A top Libyan official now says that the attack on that consulate, on Tuesday, was quote, his words: “Pre-planned.” Al-Qaeda says the operation was revenge for our killing a top Al-Qaeda leader. 

RICE: Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the 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. 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.

But we don't see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack. Obviously, we will wait for the results of the investigation and we don't want to jump to conclusions before then. But I do think it's important for the American people to know our best current assessment. [Fox News, Fox News Sunday, 9/16/12]

U.S. Ambassador Rice: The FBI Investigation “Will Tell Us With Certainty What Transpired.” During her Sunday appearance on ABC's This Week, Rice noted that “our current best assessment” is that the Libya attack was not premeditated, but also explained that the FBI has started an investigation into the attack, which “will tell us with certainty what transpired”:

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, This Week, 9/16/12]

Rice And Carney's Statements Also Mirror State Department's Consistent Message

State Dept. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland: Rice “Made Clear ... That There Is An Ongoing FBI Investigation.” Commenting on Ambassador Rice's comments, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland noted that Rice was “very clear” about “what our initial assessment of what happened is” and that Rice “also made clear, as I had on Friday, that there is an ongoing FBI investigation.” [State Department, 9/17/12]

Nuland: FBI And Libyan Government “Are Going To Have A Full Investigation” Into Whether Libya Attack Was Terror Act. Nuland explained in a separate interview that the FBI and Libyan government have launched an investigation to determine whether the consulate attack was terrorism:

Four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya, were killed during the attack on its Consulate in Benghazi.

Washington so far has said that the protest was a result of an anti-Islam video made in the US, while some US lawmakers have said that the attack has the hallmark of that of al-Qaeda.

“I don't think we know enough. We are going to continue to assess. She (Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the UN) gave our preliminary assessment. We are going to have a full investigation now, and then we will be in a better position to put labels on things,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland yesterday.

She said the FBI and the Libyan government, besides carrying out independent investigations, are also mutually “cooperating” over the case.

“The investigation is obviously going to lead us to the appropriate conclusions about precisely what happened and how it happened,” Nuland said, pointing out that the US was “working well” with Libya in probing the attack. [Deccan Herald, 9/18/12]

AP: “The Obama Administration ... Is Investigating Whether The Assault On The U.S. Consulate In Libya Was A  Planned Terrorist Strike.” The Associated Press reported on September 13 that the FBI is investigating whether the attack was a terrorist attack or not:

The Obama administration, roiled by the first killing of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and not a spontaneous mob enraged over an anti-Islam YouTube video. [Associated Press, 9/13/12]

Media Matters research intern Brendan Karet contributed to this report.