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Nothing to see here. Government took the attack seriously. Reasonable disagreements about how to respond to mayhem in the Middle East.

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell is entitled to draw those interpretations from yesterday’s House oversight committee hearing on Benghazi. And, indeed, the proceedings didn’t require any massive edits to official timelines provided in the fall by the State Department, the Pentagon and others, even though they did raise a number of important issues.

What O’Donnell isn’t entitled to, however, is a misleading omission. In framing the hearing as proof that all was well, O’Donnell issued this abridgment of the testimony of Gregory Hicks, the earnest State Department official who was deputy chief of mission on the night of Benghazi. O’Donnell argued:

But a whistleblower tells you something from inside an organization that the organization doesn’t want you to know. I watched the hearing hoping to learn something that the government didn’t want me to know. And the Republicans had the hearing hoping to find out something that Hillary Clinton didn’t want you to know. And here`s what their star witness had to say about Hillary Clinton.

TESTIMONY OF GREGORY HICKS: At about 2:00 p.m. — 2:00 am, sorry, the Secretary called — Secretary of State Clinton called me, and along with her senior staff were all on the phone. And she asked me what was going on. And I briefed her on the developments.

Bolded text added to highlight technically correct yet poorly contextualized statement. Sure, Hicks did have that to say about Hillary Clinton.

That wasn’t the only time in the hearing that the topic of Hillary Clinton came before Hicks, however. It happened again later in the session, when the House committee played a video clip of Clinton at a January congressional hearing. She was answering a question about the administration’s early accounts of the motivations behind the Benghazi attack — did it really have anything to do with a protest over that anti-Islam video, as some administration officials had suggested? Clinton responded famously, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

A rather large difference, Hicks suggested when asked about that Clinton outburst. He cited two main reasons:

1) On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows to address the origins of the attacks. In an appearance on “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer, she was preceded by an interview with Mohamed Yousef Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress. When asked to characterize the attack, Magariaf was unequivocal: “preplanned, predetermined,” he said. And when it was Rice’s turn to characterize things, she said this: “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what — it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.” Soon after, she added, “extremist elements” joined the throng.

That plain contradiction, argued Hicks, left Magariaf “insulted in front of his own people, in front of the world.” It damaged his credibility.

2) Nor was the upshot simply a political problem for the Libyan president. The diplomatic friction caused by the YouTube video theory, said Hicks, “negatively affected our ability to get the FBI team quickly to Benghazi.” That project, he said, dragged on for 18 days.

Now: There may be reason to question Hicks’ linkage between the Rice-Magariaf trouble and the FBI’s delay. After all, Magariaf expressed caution on that matter in his interview with Schieffer:

SCHIEFFER: Will it be safe for the FBI investigators from the United States to come in, or are you advising them to stay away for a while?

EL-MAGARIAF: Maybe it is better for them to stay for a little while, for a little while. But until we — we do what we have to do ourselves. But, again, will be a need for their presence to help further the investigation. And, I mean, any hasty action I think is not welcomed.

Whatever the ins and outs of the FBI’s access troubles, Hicks used facts and analysis to skewer Clinton in an open hearing. The way O’Donnell recounted things, that simply never happened. Let’s hope his viewers have a diverse media diet.

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