Who saw what? (Esam Omran al-Fetori/Reuters)

Anonymous sources are boring for us print journalists. We just say the person cannot be identified and keep writing.

For television producers, though, anonymous sources can be
a ball. They can be put in a dark corner; their faces can be obscured; their voices can be altered; they can wear little disguises and the like.

Fox News deployed some such techniques this week in a three-part series featuring a “special operator” bearing allegedly “exclusive” information on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. assets and personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

The description of this person’s involvement in Benghazi was every bit as shady as his facial features. Here’s a quick rundown of how Fox News reporter Adam Housley depicted this very “special operator”:

One description:

Only a few dozen people in the world know what happened that night and Fox News spoke exclusively with a special operator who watched the events unfold and has debriefed those who are part of the response.

Another:

Fox News spoke exclusively with this special operator who watched the events unfold in real time and has debriefed those who were part of the response. He remains anonymous for his safety and has decided to talk because he says he and others connected with the September 11th attacks of Benghazi are frustrated with the excuses, lies and lack of a military response since Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

And another:

Our source, who was monitoring the events in Benghazi in real time, reveals the lack of reaction by the U.S. State Department, Pentagon and the White House on the night four Americans were killed.

Not a lot to go on there, as an investigator might say. On Wednesday night, Bill O’Reilly issued a bit more information on just how this “special operator” gathered his information:

As you may know, Fox News has broken a story by talking with a military person who, apparently, watched the assassination in Benghazi, Libya, perhaps via satellite.

Bold text added to highlight an interesting detail regarding Benghazi and video.

As the Erik Wemple Blog has reported previously, surveillance of the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi is a complex story. The installation came under attack at around 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2012. According to various officials, the only videotape of that assault was generated by security footage at the installation. Here’s what an administration official told the Erik Wemple Blog a while back:

“The Benghazi compound had a CCTV [closed-circuit television] system. Meaning, a system of cameras on the compound. Those cameras could be monitored from the [Tactical Operations Center, TOC], which is one of the structures on the compound.. . . Those images could not be seen anywhere outside the TOC, let alone outside Benghazi. The footage from those cameras is recorded and stored for a period. The footage from the attack was not in USG [U.S. government] hands until later in September.”

Following the attack on the Benghazi compound, the U.S. government moved quickly to situate a surveillance drone capable of transmitting real-time video of the goings-on. As the Defense Department has stated, however, that drone didn’t arrive at the scene until more than an hour after the attack started—around 11:10 p.m., according to the Defense Department. Shortly thereafter, security forces evacuated surviving U.S. personnel from the compound.

Therefore: Watching the initial attack via satellite, in real time, was technologically impossible. As then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a congressional hearing in January, “There was no monitor, there was no real time.”

The Benghazi disaster didn’t end with that first assault on the compound. A second offensive hit a nearby CIA annex in the wee hours of Sept. 12. By that time, drone surveillance assets were well positioned and making available video to very select U.S. government personnel. It’s possible that Fox News’s “special operator” somehow managed to see that feed.

Fox News’s attempts to protect its source are admirable. Yet the credibility and contributions of this source hinge on what he saw in “real time.” Specifying precisely what he glimpsed might have better served the Fox News viewer.

 

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