3 Failed Attempts By Right-Wing Media To Dismiss The Facts Of NY Times' Benghazi Report

Right-wing media were quick to discount a report from The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick that debunked favored conservative claims, but the outlets offered scant evidence to contest Kirkpatrick's findings. Instead, they resorted to questioning the Times' actions during the attack, baselessly claiming that the paper “whitewash[ed]” Hillary Clinton's culpability, and scouring outdated reporting to hype a tenuous Al Qaeda connection.

NY Times Report Deflates Right-Wing Benghazi Myths

NY Times: “A Deadly Mix In Benghazi Debunks Oft-Repeated Right-Wing Myths. On December 28, a six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick debunked right-wing claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack. Kirkpatrick cited evidence gained from “months of investigation” and “extensive interviews” with those who had direct knowledge of incident, including a “Libyan journalist working for The New York Times” who was near the site of the attack (emphasis added):

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.


There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet. [The New York Times, 12/28/13]

Kirkpatrick: NY Times Had A Reporter “On The Scene” Of Benghazi Attack. In a December 30 tweet, Kirkpatrick reaffirmed the fact that that one of his sources was “a reporter on the scene talking to the attackers during the attack”:

[Twitter.com, 12/30/13]

Right-Wing Media Claim Times Reporter's Reference To Source In Benghazi Undercuts His Report, Gives Paper “Bloody Hands”

Fox's Hasselbeck: Kirkpatrick's Tweet About Reporter On The Scene In Benghazi Contradicts His Initial Report. Fox host Elisabeth Hasselbeck attacked Kirkpatrick during the January 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, claiming that his December 30 tweet saying that the Times “had a reporter on the scene talking to the attackers during the attack- still invaluable” contradicted Kirkpatrick's earlier report. Even as co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy noted that that Kirkpatrick's had detailed new information on the attackers and their associations, all three hosts denied the fact that the Times report included information from the local Libyan reporter or discussed the identity of the attackers, and Kilmeade questioned the source's role on the ground:

HASSELBECK: Well, Americans were killed, including our ambassador, Chris Stevens. And David Kirkpatrick's -- the latest assertions via Twitter contradict a report that went out earlier in The New York Times, I mean, making so many question what actually happened here. He had this direct tweet, it looks like, saying that "we had a reporter on the scene talking to reporter on the scene talking to the attackers during the attack -- still invaluable. Tons of questions came after that, certainly.

KILMEADE: Well, yeah. The reporter was of Libyan descent, and he evidently was there and even talked about who was at the gate and what they were telling him. And the question that comes to mind is, OK, if you had a reporter at the scene and you know Americans are in danger and you're working for The New York Times, did you, I don't know, have a sat phone, number one? Number two, did you use that sat phone call to call in help or announce what was happening?

DOOCY: Sure, because we haven't heard a thing about that. Clearly, what they're saying is somebody that works for The New York Times knows the identity of the people who murdered our Americans. That's kind of a headline. Have you seen that headline in The New York Times?

HASSELBECK: Yeah, where was that?

DOOCY: No. You haven't seen it. But all we know is, no Al Qaeda involved and that video had something to do with it, according to The New York Times. But, you know what, it has been widely pooh-poohed since they came out with it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/2/14 (emphasis added)]

Jim Hoft: NY Times Has “Bloody Hands.” On January 1, Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft responded to Kirkpatrick's December 30 tweet by claiming that the revelation that the Times had an on-the-ground source meant the paper had “blood on its hands”:

[Twitter, 1/1/14, 1/1/14]

But Times Report Clearly Cited A Source On The Ground ...

Kirkpatrick's Tweet About Source On The Ground Parrots His Times Report. Rather than contradicting the account published in the Times, Kirkpatrick's December 30 tweet reading “we had a reporter on the scene talking to the attackers during the attack” repeats the story he told in his December 28 report. He wrote (emphasis added):

There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet. [The New York Times, 12/28/13]

... And Journalism Experts Dismissed Criticism That Reporter Should Have Helped During Attack As “Bizarre”

Director Of Education And Outreach For Medill National Security Journalism Initiative: “It Is Not A Reporter's Job To Call The Authorities.” Josh Meyer, director of education and outreach for the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative and a former Los Angeles Times national security reporter who has reported from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, said of Kilmeade's comments, “When you're in the middle of a riot or an attack like that, first of all, it is not a reporter's job to call the authorities and he would have to assume the authorities know about it. It seems so bizarre.” [Josh Meyer, Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, via Media Matters]

Executive Director Of The Overseas Press Club: “It Is Not Their Job To Call In The Ambulances.” Sonya Fry, executive director of the Overseas Press Club, refuted the claim that journalists are responsible for calling in emergency personnel. “The job is to be an eyewitness and report on what they see, sometimes the consequences of that are that help arrives. It is not their job to call in the ambulances,” she said. “Their job is to report. It is a sad state of affairs that people don't understand what journalists do these days.” [Sonya Fry, Overseas Press Club, via Media Matters]

Veteran McClatchy Reporter: “As A Reporter On The Scene, I Don't Think You Have A Direct Line To President Obama.” After viewing Kilmeade's comments on the New York Times series, Matt Schofield, a McClatchy reporter who has covered conflicts in Iraq and Israel, wondered who Kilmeade wanted the Times reporter to call in for help. “Call who? As a reporter on the scene, I don't think you have a direct line to Obama.” [Matt Schofield, McClatchy News, via Media Matters]

Right-Wing Media Accused Times Of Publishing Report As A “Whitewash” For Hillary Clinton

National Review: Times “Has Done Its Best” To Protect Clinton From Criticism. A National Review Online editorial described the New York Times' reporting as “strange but unsurprising,” claiming that the Times “has done its best” to insulate Hillary Clinton from criticism over the attack.  [National Review Online, 12/31/13]

Daily Caller: Conservatives See Clinton Connection In NY Times “Revisionist Account” Of Benghazi. On December 30, the right-wing news site The Daily Caller labeled the Times' reporting “revisionist” and parroted claims from “conservatives” who are “accusing the New York Times of publishing its article denying that al-Qaida had a role in the lethal terrorist attack for 'political reasons' -- specifically to give a helping hand to 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.” [The Daily Caller, 12/30/13]

Laura Ingraham: Times Report “Was A Whitewash For Hillary Clinton.” On the January 1 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, host and Fox figure Laura Ingraham claimed that the Times report was a “whitewash for Hillary Clinton.” She asked, “What can it be other than an agenda?” [Courtside Entertainment, The Laura Ingraham Show, 1/2/14]

But The Times Never Even Mentioned Clinton In Its Report

The Times' Report Never Mentioned Clinton. Kirkpatrick's Benghazi report never mentioned then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an odd choice if the intent was to defend her role in the incident. [The New York Times, 12/28/13]

Paper Issued Statement Denouncing Criticism That Report Was Linked To Clinton.  As Talking Points Memo noted on December 30:

A New York Times editor on Monday dismissed the criticism that the newspaper's months-long investigation into the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya was intended to clear a path for a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

“Since I will have more to say about which candidate we will endorse in 2016 than any other editor at the Times, let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton. We haven't chosen anyone,” wrote editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal. [Talking Points Memo, 12/30/13]

Right-Wing Media Ignored New Account To Insist On An Al Qaeda Connection

National Review: 2012 Reporting Shows Al Qaeda Was “Almost Surely” Involved. A National Review Online editorial disputed the Times' conclusion that neither Al Qaeda nor any other national terrorist group was behind the Benghazi attacks by making vague claims about an October 2012 New York Times article. The editors claimed it had asserted “evidence that al-Qaeda-linked groups, such as the Egypt-based Jamal network, almost surely did have a role in the assault.” [National Review Online, 12/31/13]

Fox's Kilmeade: “Anyone With Competency” Knows That “Ansar Al-Shariah Takes [Al Qaeda's] Template. On the December 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade alleged that there was a clear Al Qaeda link to the Benghazi attacks, saying, ”Anyone with competency in the war on terror -- which we're still in -- knows that Ansar al-Shariah takes their [Al Qaeda's] template and then gets their funding, and they continue to have a loose association." [Fox News, Fox & Friends1/2/14]

Conservative Outlets Rely On Sweeping, Inaccurate Al Qaeda Definition

NY Times: Insistence That Al Qaeda Was Behind Benghazi Reveals Carelessness With Al Qaeda Definition. A Times editorial explained that critics of Kirkpatrick's report who insist Al Qaeda was involved are conflating local extremist groups with the international terrorist network. From the Times:

Americans are often careless with the term “Al Qaeda,” which strictly speaking means the core extremist group, founded by Osama bin Laden, that is based in Pakistan and bent on global jihad.

Republicans, Democrats and others often conflate purely local extremist groups, or regional affiliates, with Al Qaeda's international network. That prevents understanding the motivations of each group, making each seem like a direct, immediate threat to the United States and thus confusing decision-making. [The New York Times, 12/30/13]

New Yorker's Davidson: Labeling Everyone Al Qaeda Muddles Understanding Of Extremist Groups. The New Yorker's Amy Davidson pointed out in a December 30 blog post that Kirkpatrick's critics in the conservative media ignore evidence about the complexity of Al Qaeda's connections to allied groups, and that these critics' insistence could lead to tragic real-world results:

Not every angry Muslim, not even every angry Sunni Muslim, is part of Al Qaeda. Using the name so generically and broadly is a deliberate decision not to understand who our enemies are, or to care -- if they don't like us, they are Al Qaeda, and we can stop listening.

And how, then, are we supposed to know who our friends are? Insisting that any Muslim who attacks us is Al Qaeda also means that, when we are standing around handing out guns to strangers -- something we do a little too often -- we'll assume that those who don't strike us as Al Qaeda types won't attack us. (This, indeed, is what seems to have happened in Benghazi, according to Kirkpatrick: American diplomats expected that the friendly men who had benefited from our air support and were open to the West would give them a heads-up before any attack.) Re-labelling them as Al Qaeda afterward is not really helpful.

The other problem with calling anyone and anything Al Qaeda is that the term's real meaning -- the terrorist network behind the 9/11 attacks -- is used to justify so much. Don't worry about drone strikes: those are just directed at Al Qaeda. Same with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay: Do you really want to let people tied to Al Qaeda go? And why object to what the N.S.A. collects and listens to and reads, when they are trying to stop Al Qaeda? But who are the drones hitting, and who are we spying on? Could it be anyone? [The New Yorker, 12/30/13]