Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi are taking advantage of the complexity surrounding the 2012 attacks by trying to pass off old details as “new revelations.” Reporters should be careful not to fall for their spin.
Among the “many new revelations” the Benghazi Select Committee Republicans claim to show in the press release accompanying their final report on the attacks is that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was preparing for a trip to Libya at the time of the attacks, and that as part of that trip Ambassador Chris Stevens wanted the Benghazi diplomatic facility to be made a permanent Consulate:
Emails indicate senior State Department officials, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin were preparing for a trip by the Secretary of State to Libya in October 2012. According to testimony, Chris Stevens wanted to have a “deliverable” for the Secretary for her trip to Libya, and that “deliverable” would be making the Mission in Benghazi a permanent Consulate.
In reality, former Deputy Chief of Mission to Libya Gregory Hicks detailed these facts in public testimony before the House Oversight Committee on May 8, 2013 (via Nexis, emphasis added):
REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Mr. Hicks, why was ambassador Stevens headed to Benghazi? There were a lot of concerns about him. There were a lot of security issues that Mr. Nordstrom had listed in numerous reports leading up to his trip there.
Why was the ambassador headed there?
HICKS: According to Chris, Secretary Clinton wanted Benghazi converted into a permanent constituent post.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): OK.
Did you tell the Accountability Review Board about Secretary Clinton's interest in establishing a permanent presence in Benghazi?
Because, ostensibly, wasn't that the reason that the ambassador was going to Benghazi?
HICKS: Yes, I did tell the Accountability Review Board that Secretary Clinton wanted the post made permanent. Ambassador Pickering looked surprised. He looked both ways on the -- to the members of the board, saying, “Does the 7th floor know about this?”
And another factor was our understanding that Secretary Clinton intended to visit Tripoli in December.
This isn’t the only case where Republicans are pushing out “new revelations” that have been previously reported, as Roll Call columnist and Hillary Clinton biographer Jonathan Allen noted:
The Benghazi story is extremely complex, and “bombshells” have often turned out to be reheated old news. Journalists should be careful not to be a conduit for Republicans efforts to turn such details into new scandals.
UPDATE: The Washington Post's Erik Wemple reports on one reason why initial stories on the Republican report have been so vulnerable to spin from GOP: Reporters from several outlets were given embargoed portions of the report, but under the terms of their agreement with the committee were barred from discussing it with Democrats until the embargo ended -- at 5 a.m. ET this morning. Wemple notes that this timeline made it impossible for reports to both be released in a timely fashion and include reasoned responses from sources other than the Republicans on the committee or their staff.
He concludes that this “should prompt all the participants to examine how they do business, especially considering that reporting on Benghazi has been marred in the past by highly consequential, skewed leaks,” but that that won't happen. From Wemple's post.:
The embargo against news organizations appears to have lifted around 5:00 a.m.; the report was released to the public at around 8:30 a.m.; Benghazi committee Democrats received a paper copy at 7:45 a.m. and a digital one at 8:00 a.m. What this all means is that organizations that received the early peek at sections of the report could check with their Clinton campaign and State Department sources around dawn. The problem: Those sources themselves likely didn’t have the report at that time.
Upshot: People at the Clinton campaign and the State Department played a great deal of catch-up today. Politico’s story on all of the alleged stonewalling, for instance, first hit the Internet without any specific rebuttal from the State Department itself, the target of much of Politico’s piece.
Embargoes have existed for years, so there’s nothing terribly new about this rash of silver-platter stories. And many Washington journalists have played ball with this awful institution — including the Erik Wemple Blog. The stories that today resulted from this journo-exclusive culture will surely do well in terms of pageviews and other Internet metrics. They won’t endure, however: Any 800-page report takes days, not hours under the harrowing rules of an embargo, to digest and properly vet. The notion that news organizations were trying to abridge the thing based on partial spoon-feeding and lightning-quick responses from the targets should prompt all the participants to examine how they do business, especially considering that reporting on Benghazi has been marred in the past by highly consequential, skewed leaks. Nothing of the sort, of course, will happen. In any case, the best stories on this report have yet to be published.
For more information, visit Benghazihoax.com