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

Eighteenth in an old-but-suddenly-revived series about Fox News’s Oct. 26 story on Benghazi, Libya.

Over three nights earlier this week, Fox News’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” presented a special report on Benghazi. The three-parter went high on theatricality, with Fox News correspondent Adam Housley interviewing an unnamed and unrecognizable “special operator” who “watched the events unfold and has debriefed those who are part of the response.” A killer source, in other words.

In his wrap-up of the series on Wednesday night, Housley made clear that this “special operator” is the first to have placed himself in front of a camera to share his views and recollections. It was highly watchable television, right smack in the mold of a Roger Ailes product.

The executive summary of the series consists of the following:

No. 1: The U.S. military could well have responded to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The initial assault began at about 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time on Sept. 11, 2012, and a second attack on a CIA annex nearby unfolded more than seven hours later. Said the source to Fox News: “We had the ability to load out, get on birds, and fly there at a minimum stage. C-110 [military aircraft] had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in four to six hours from their European theater to react.”

A Foreign Policy post takes issue with that assessment.

No. 2: “Multiple sources” told Fox News that U.S. authorities have “identified the mastermind of the Benghazi attack who was still in Libya and walks free.” The “special operator” noted: “We basically don’t want to upset anybody. And the problem is, if Ambassador Stevens’ family knew that we were sitting on information about the people who killed their son, their brother, and we could look them as a government in the face, then we’re messing up. We’re messing up.”

Fox News aired that allegation on Tuesday night. Later in the week, the FBI released photos of three individuals it is seeking to contact in connection with the Benghazi attacks. The network delighted in the temporal proximity between reportage and governmental action: “The FBI said in a statement on whether their decision was a result of Fox News reporting, ‘Absolutely not. Our plan to publicize these photos was in the works for weeks and the decision to post these this morning was already made long before your producer found it necessary to even call us.’”

No. 3: The entities entrusted with responding to the Benghazi attacks — CIA, State, Defense and the White House — messed up, leaving the people on the ground with little support.

The rants of this “special operator” coincide with a Washington hubbub over preparations to allow Benghazi whistleblowers to tell their stories before Congress. On Tuesday, Fox News’s Ed Henry asked President Obama to address allegations from Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing that such whistleblowers were being threatened and blocked in connection with their status. The president said he was “not familiar” with that whole scene. It now appears as if the whistleblowers will have an opportunity to tell their tales.

Well: They’d better muster better, juicier information than Fox News’s “special operator.” Despite delivering compelling TV, this anonymous and shrouded individual’s master critique of Benghazi departs little from takedowns that have aired many times before, including and especially on Fox News.

And there’s another disappointment in this series. It largely steered clear of the towering revelations in Fox News’s Oct. 26 report on Benghazi. That exclusive, by reporter Jennifer Griffin, shook the country’s intelligence establishment with allegations that security folks eager to spring into action at the diplomatic installation were twice told to “stand down.”

Here’s the relevant text from that piece:

Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to “stand down.”

So they “ignored” those orders and rushed to help, according to the Fox News story.

We heard nothing about “standing down” from the “special operator” this week, even though the three-part series focused on the government’s response to the attacks. However, the series did appear to address a claim in the Oct. 26 report that requests from the CIA annex for backup were denied by the CIA chain of command. According to the shrouded source, there were various security folks in Tripoli who were never deployed to Benghazi that night. A group from Tripoli did mobilize, though Housley reports that those folks “took matters into their own hands” and “commandeered” a jet to fly to Benghazi.

For that reportage, Housley appears to be resting on the testimony of his shrouded source. Countering that depiction is an official report of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which says this: “Within hours, Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi.” Quite a difference between “commandeer” and “charter.”

After Griffin’s “stand down” story hit the Internet in October, U.S. intelligence officials organized a briefing and issued a timeline alleging that security forces had responded in just over 20 minutes to the call for help from the compound. Thus challenged, Fox News issued another report charging that, in fact, trouble had been swirling around the compound for hours before the official time of the attack, around 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time. In the words of that Nov. 3 story:

According to the CIA, the first calls for assistance came at 9:40 p.m. local time from a senior State Department official at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, to the CIA annex about a mile away.

But according to multiple people on the ground that night, the Blue Mountain Security manager, who was in charge of the local force hired to guard the consulate perimeter, made calls on both two-way radios and cell phones to colleagues in Benghazi warning of problems at least an hour earlier. Those calls allegedly went to local security contractors who say that the CIA annex was also notified much earlier than 9:40 p.m. U.S. military intelligence also told Fox News that armed militia was gathering up to three hours before the attack began.

Yet in this week’s three-part series, Housley failed to reference that alleged tempest. Here’s how he summed things up in Tuesday night’s segment:

The attack began about 9:30 p.m. on September 11th, 2012 at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi and culminated roughly seven hours later at a second location, a CIA annex about one mile away.

No mention of that “armed milita” gathering before the attack.

Who knows what’s going on here. Fox News didn’t respond to requests for comment. A possibility is that Fox News is bailing on its explosive Oct. 26 exclusive and its Nov. 3 followup. An effort to either restate the reporting or retract it would surely help the Erik Wemple Blog, a dedicated Fox News watcher. Otherwise, critics might conclude that the previous Benghazi reporting was just a series of exaggerations planted on the airwaves in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

Let’s hope the whistleblowers clear everything up.

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

Seventeenth: Report from House Republicans challenges Fox News scoop.

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