April 24, 2013

Fox on Benghazi: Too much? (Esam Omran al-Fetori / Reuters)

Seventeenth in an old and musty series about Fox News’s Oct. 26 story on Benghazi, Libya.

The last time the Erik Wemple Blog updated this months-long series, the headline read like this: “State Department report casts doubt on Fox News scoop.”

Now, another government report has dropped, and with it further doubts about a percussive Fox News scoop on last September’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. That report hit the Web Oct. 26 under the byline of Fox’s Jennifer Griffin. The story advanced the outrage-fueling contention that security officers in an annex near the embattled diplomatic compound somehow were kept back from providing quick and effective aid:

Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command — who also told the CIA operators twice to “stand down” rather than help the ambassador’s team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

The government took note. In a rare departure from protocol, U.S. intelligence officials held a briefing at which they released a timeline of Benghazi events — one that highlighted how security agents responded to requests for help from the compound within about 25 minutes. No “stand-down” orders were ever issued, they countered.

Scrambling to keep its scoop alive, Fox News posted another story, this time under the byline of Adam Housley. He wrote:

Both American and British sources say multiple roadblocks set up by fighters believed to be with Ansar al-Sharia were in place in Benghazi several hours before the 9:40 p.m. timeline and that communications also alluded to “heavily armed troops showing up with artillery.” Fox News was told by both American and British contacts who were in Benghazi that night that the CIA timeline rolled out this past week is only “loosely based on the truth” and “doesn’t quite add up.”

As previously discussed in this series, an unclassified report of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board tackled the whole notion of commotion prior to the Benghazi attack, noting that “there were no signs of anything unusual, including no roadblocks outside of the compound, and traffic flowed normally.”

So that’s how the State Department put things.

Now for the word from House Republicans. In a document titled “INTERIM PROGRESS REPORT for the Members of the House Republican Conference on the Events Surrounding the September 11, 2012 Terrorist Attacks in Benghazi, Libya,” five House committees take apart the minutiae of this much-disputed night.

The findings do not smile on Fox News’s reporting:

At appropriately 9:40 PM, dozens of armed men approached the Benghazi Mission and quickly breached the front gate, setting fire to the guard house and main diplomatic building. The attackers were members of extremist groups, including the Libya-based Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) and al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A State Department officer in the Benghazi Mission’s Tactical Operations Center (TOC) immediately notified the Annex, Embassy Tripoli, and State Department Headquarters that the Benghazi Mission was under attack and requested assistance. At no point did U.S. officials on the ground report a protest.

No mention of all that pre-attack activity alleged by Fox News.

Regarding the response of security personnel at the annex:

Within 25 minutes of the initial assault, a security team at the Annex was notified and departed for the Benghazi Mission. The security team tried unsuccessfully to secure heavy weapons from militia members encountered along the way, and the team faced some resistance, including gunfire, in getting to the Benghazi Mission. Over the course of the next hour, the Annex security team joined the Benghazi Mission team in searching for Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith. Together, the teams repelled sporadic gunfire and RPG fire while assembling all the remaining U.S. personnel at the facility.

Another passage of the report credits the response team for its work: “Even in the face of those obstacles, the Annex security team arrived, under enemy fire, within 25 minutes of the beginning of the initial assault.” That passage makes no mention of any “stand down” orders.

A story posted yesterday on FoxNews.com focuses on the report’s findings regarding the role of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton in considering security requests for diplomatic assets in Libya. It doesn’t address previous Fox News reporting that is contradicted by the report.

The Series So Far:

First: Media outlets fail to follow Fox News.

Second: Does Fox story stand up to government timeline?

Third: Geraldo blasts story line that government didn’t try to protect personnel

Fourth: Fox contributor decries politicization of Benghazi

Fifth: Fox News’s “laser” allegation: For real?

Sixth: CIA no-comments new blast from Fox News

Seventh: Why exclude Fox News from intelligence briefing?

Eighth: Fox News picks fight with State Department

Ninth: Fox getting excluded from briefings?

Tenth: Fox, Hannity and “real-time” video

Eleventh: Fox News invited to Benghazi briefing

Twelfth: What about those alleged Benghazi prisoners?

Thirteenth: Why didn’t Fox News ask the president about its own Benghazi reporting?

Fourteenth: Fox News Benghazi report gets some backup

Fifteenth: Fox News mangled huge Benghazi story

Sixteenth: State Department report casts doubt on Fox News scoop

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