Facts MIA In Right-Wing Media's Latest Benghazi Myth

Right-wing media figures distorted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's congressional testimony to attack President Obama over the response to the terror attack on the Benghazi consulate. In fact, Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey explained that the attack occurred in two waves separated by large blocks of time, and White House officials were engaged with military throughout the incident.

Conservative Media Figures Claim Obama Was MIA During Benghazi Attack

Fox's McFarland: “I Have Never Seen A President Step Away Like That When His People Were Under Attack.” Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland claimed “the president had nothing to do with this,” referring to Obama's response to the attack on Benghazi. She went on to claim that testimony from Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey showed that Obama was told about the attack and missing ambassador “and that was it. The President had nothing more to do with it.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 2/11/13]

Fox's Michael Goodwin: President Obama Was MIA On Benghazi. Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin wrote in a FoxNews.com op-ed that Obama engaged in a cover-up to hide not being involved during the attack. He claimed that Panetta's testimony proved Obama's “deceit”:

Finally, we have the answer, thanks to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. In his reluctant Senate testimony, he provided the missing piece of the puzzle: The commander in chief was MIA. The coverup was created to protect his absence. 

According to Panetta, President Obama checked in with his military team early on during the attack, then checked out for the rest of the night. The next day, we already knew, he blamed the video maker and flew to Las Vegas for a campaign event. [FoxNews.com, 2/11/13]

Wash. Examiner's Barone: President Obama “Wasn't Too Concerned” With Benghazi Because “His First Priority Was Winning Re-Election.” Washington Examiner senior political analyst Michael Barone claimed that Obama “wasn't curious about what was happening in Benghazi” and instead focused on his re-election campaign:

After the meeting, according to White House records, Obama did have a one-hour phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a phone call that Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol has called “non-urgent, politically useful.” 

But Obama apparently wasn't curious about what was happening in Benghazi. He wasn't too concerned either the next morning, when after the first murder of a U.S. ambassador in 33 years, he jetted off on a four-hour ride to a campaign event in Las Vegas. I don't think you have to be a Republican partisan to consider that unseemly.

Obama's odd response to the Benghazi attack and the efforts, surely choreographed by his White House, to attribute it to a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video, suggest that his first priority was winning re-election -- and that Benghazi was an irritant that must not be allowed to stand in the way. [Washington Examiner2/9/13]

Weekly Standard: Obama Absent Night Of Benghazi. The Weekly Standard selectively cropped a portion of Panetta's testimony in a blog to claim Obama was “absent” the night of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. After linking to the cropped video, the article claimed “Panetta says that the night of 9/11, he did not communicate with a single person at the White House.” [The Weekly Standard, 2/7/13 via Media Matters]

Fox's Hannity: President Obama “Was Virtually Absent On The Night That Four Americans Died” In Benghazi Attack. On the February 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed that Panetta testified that President Obama “was virtually absent on the night that four Americans died” in the Benghazi attack. During the segment, Hannity used a graphic of the attack with a picture of the president to claim he was “AWOL” :

[Fox News, Hannity2/7/13]

Wash. Post's Rubin: Panetta “Testified Today That The President Was Absent During The Benghazi, Libya Attacks.” In her February 7 post at The Washington Post's Right Turn blog, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin claimed that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified “that the president was absent during the Benghazi, Libya attacks”: 

And Benghazi -- you remember the story the mainstream media would not cover? -- has turned into a debacle. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified today that the president was absent during the Benghazi, Libya, attack(s) and neither he nor Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to anyone in the White House after briefly telling the president an attack was underway. [Washington Post2/7/13]

In Fact, Testimony By Gen. Dempsey Made Clear That Obama's Staff Was Fully Engaged Throughout The Attack

 Huffington Post: “The President Told Them To Deploy Forces As Quickly As Possible.” The Huffington Post reported that Panetta and Dempsey were meeting with President Obama when they learned of the attack and the president responded immediately:

Several committee Republicans pressed Panetta and Dempsey about their discussions with President Barack Obama on that fateful day and his level of involvement, suggesting that after the initial conversation the commander in chief was disengaged as Americans died. 

Panetta said he and Dempsey were meeting with Obama when they first learned of the Libya assault. He said the president told them to deploy forces as quickly as possible. [The Huffington Post, 2/7/13]

Gen. Martin Dempsey: Obama's Staff “Was Engaged With The National Military Command Center Pretty Constantly” Throughout The Attack. Dempsey testified during a February 7 congressional hearing that the president's staff was engaged with the military command center constantly during the attack, “which is the way it would normally work” (emphasis added):  

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): 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. [C-SPAN, 2/7/13, via Media Matters]

MIA Myth Based On Falsehood That The Benghazi Compound Was Under Sustained Attack 

Fox's Camerota: “The Attack Was Under Way” For Eight Hours. Fox & Friends Saturday co-host Alisyn Camerota said that while we knew that Obama and Panetta engaged in a half-hour conversation during the attack, “we don't know what else happened for the eight other hours that the attack was under way.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Saturday, 2/9/13, via Media Matters]

CNBC's Kudlow: “Benghazi Went On All Night Long, At Least Seven Hours.” CNBC host Larry Kudlow asserted that “Benghazi went on all night long, at least seven hours.” [CNBC, The Kudlow Report, 2/7/13, via Media Matters]

Fox's Wallace: “Attack Was Going On Over The Course Of Seven Hours.” On Fox News' Special Report, guest host Chris Wallace criticized “how little contact” officials had with Obama “while this attack was going on over the course of seven hours.” [Fox News, Special Report, 2/7/13, via Media Matters]

In Fact, Several Hours Passed Between Two Short Attacks

Gen. Dempsey: “It Was Two 20-Minute Battles Separated By About Six Hours.” Dempsey defended the military response to the attack in Benghazi, stating that there were two 20-minute attacks at the U.S. diplomatic facility, separated by six hours:

DEMPSEY: You know, it wasn't a seven-hour battle. It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect. And the nearest -- for example, the nearest aircraft -- armed aircraft, happened to be in Djibouti, the distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. There is some significant physics involved. And the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time. [CNN, State of the Union, 2/3/13]