Who Started The Benghazi “Real-Time” Video Falsehood?

Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched “real-time” video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: “There was no monitor, there was no real time.” As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis. But the “real-time” video falsehood did not start with the Fox News host. In fact, one of the first mentions -- perhaps the first -- of the spurious Benghazi video was on Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog.

The whole story starts with an October 10, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that hearing, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, had this exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), describing how she followed via telephone the developments in the Benghazi attack as they were happening:

LANKFORD: Mrs. Lamb, can you clarify for me, where -- where were you working September 11? Were you in the Washington area -- were -- in the main facility there?

LAMB: Yes sir. I was in the D.S. Command center on the evening of the event.

LANKFORD: You -- you -- you note that in your testimony that you were in the Diplomatic Security Command Center and then you make this statement, “I could follow what was happening almost in real time.”

LAMB: That's correct.

LANKFORD: So once they hit the button in Benghazi, you're alerted, it says you could have. Did you follow what was happening in real time at that point?

LAMB: Sir, what was happening is they were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back.

LANKFORD: But you're -- but you're tracking it back and forth what's going on.

LAMB: Yes absolutely. [Transcript via Nexis, emphasis added]

That night on Fox News' Hannity, Liz Cheney seized on Lamb's testimony, but characterized it correctly:

CHENEY: Today, we learned from Charlene Lamb under oath that she followed, you know, the diplomatic security official, that she followed what was going on, minute by minute. She was following it in real time. So the administration knew in real time, there wasn't a mob, they knew in real time that this was a well-coordinated attack. They knew in real time that it involved heavy weaponry, this was clearly a terrorist attack and the American people have clearly, as you've said, been lied to.

The following morning, October 11, Jennifer Rubin posted a video of Cheney's Hannity appearance in a post headlined “Real-time Libya: Who knew what, when?” In that post, Rubin claimed (citing no other sources) that Lamb had watched a “real-time video” of the attack -- something neither Lamb nor Cheney had said:

Seriously, something doesn't make sense. Do we think no one else ever got the benefit of that information that mid-level bureaucrat Charlene Lamb had? This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone (the White House, the public, the media) wanted to know what happened in Benghazi. So why not look at the real-time video? Why not ask Lamb what she saw and heard?

That next day, October 12, CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow wrote in his syndicated column that “State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time.” [emphasis in original] Later that night on Fox News, Hannity made his first reference to “real time video” of the attack: “The president knew within 24 hours what the truth was, and what I am told, they actually saw this in real-time. There is a video, real-time, of everything that went down in Benghazi.”

From that point forward, Hannity flogged away at the State Department for “watching” the attack unfold “real time,” repeating it almost every day as it spread to other corners of the conservative media. Wemple debunked the allegation in November, citing a State Department official's denial that anyone at State “had the ability to watch either of the attacks in real time.” According to an administration official quoted in Wemple's report, the Benghazi compound had closed-circuit video surveillance that could not be monitored from outside the facility. 

From the October 15 edition of Hannity (via Nexis):

HANNITY: Also, this is the problem they have with their story. It's falling apart because they said that this was spontaneous, a mob uprising, but we had somebody at the State Department watching in real time.

October 16 (via Nexis):

FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOV. JOHN SUNUNU: The White House has to hear their embassy had a breech in security. I don't know this it was a separate report to the president or just in his president's daily brief. But I cannot imagine that that was not sent to the president.

HANNITY: Governor, they were watching this from the State Department in real time.


HANNITY: Yes. They knew that night. Libyan president told us the next day.

October 18 (via Nexis):

FOX NEWS HOST DANA PERINO: Not only that, but an American citizen for a probation violation about a video. They blamed him for deaths of four Americans. They blamed a video-maker that turns out not to be true, and turns out they knew it wasn't true.

HANNITY: Wait a minute. There's a 50-minute tape of this -- what happened this night. It's available. The State Department watched it in real time. I've confirmed tonight, I can say 100 percent that tape exists and a transcript of them is available.

As Wemple documented, Hannity is still repeating this false claim despite receiving “definitive, on-the-record refutation” from Secretary Clinton.