It makes a difference, Secretary Clinton

January 23, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

No competent wrap-up of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate testimony today can omit her clash with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The lawmaker drilled in on signals from the administration that the attacks on the Benghazi, Libya, diplomatic compound were connected to spontaneous protests over that famous anti-Islam video.

Johnson to Clinton: “We were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that — an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.”

Clinton to Johnson: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to prevent it from ever happening again.”

That exchange drives at one of the premier media issues of 2012: Did the press push the administration hard enough and early enough to sort out the explanation for the Benghazi attacks? Certainly the conservative media did, asking for more and more detail and criticizing mainstream outlets for not caring enough about discrepancies in the accounts of Obama administration principals.

No matter your view of the media’s role in Benghazi; no matter your take on whether U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice leveled with the country on the Sept. 16 talk shows; no matter your view of Fox News’s Benghazi campaign, it surely does make a difference whether it was “because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans.” It makes a difference to the media, the public, the government, everyone.

The trustworthiness of the administration’s version of events — even the early one — makes a difference. Whether it was hard-core terrorism or a spontaneous attack or something else — that makes a difference too, with strong implications for intelligence accountability. Goodness gracious, in her very own statement, Clinton herself even seems to acknowledge that it makes a difference, when she says, “It is our job to figure out what happened …”

At one point in the proceedings, Clinton stated, “Maybe we didn’t do a good enough job of explaining that we didn’t have a good picture.” Yes, that would have helped.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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Erik Wemple | January 23, 2013