“Congratulations to USA Today,” thundered Fox news host Bill O’Reilly on last night’s version of “The O’Reilly Factor.”
What had the newspaper done to deserve such credit? It had placed the latest Benghazi, Libya, story on its front page. And in some precincts, especially Fox News, that Benghazi story is a huge one: Via e-mails secured by Judicial Watch under a State Department Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, we learn that White House official Ben Rhodes cited the following as a “goal” for the administration in explaining the Benghazi attack: “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
That e-mail went out on Sept. 14; two days later, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows to claim that the Benghazi attacks, which claimed the lives of four U.S. personnel, were inspired by protests over an anti-Islamic video. Republicans have charged that Rice’s statements were all politics, an attempt to explain away a terrorist attack in the middle of an election in which President Obama was touting his anti-terrorism credentials.
The White House has responded to this critique consistently from the day it surfaced: The information that Rice dispensed at the Sunday shows reflected the government’s intelligence assessment at the time — even though “multiple streams of intelligence” indicated otherwise.
In his riff on the issue, O’Reilly slights The Post for placing this story on Page A17. He’s probably not pleased with this conclusion in that story, either: “Ultimately, the new e-mails do little more than buttress what has been known for a year about the immediate communication among the Obama team as it rushed to cobble together talking points from the information it had to feed to Rice, who was only asked late in the day Friday to be the White House mouthpiece.” Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reached this conclusion: “The Rhodes email offers the clearest evidence to date that the talking points read by Susan Rice two days later on Sunday talk shows were indeed directed by the White House.”
The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, noted O’Reilly, made “no mention” of the Rhodes thing in their Wednesday editions. “None,” ripped the host, who also criticized the network news shows and MSNBC for not going with it. “Proof that the American press is dishonest.”
Overheated words on Benghazi are standard on Fox News. This story needn’t have preoccupied the front pages of all U.S. dailies. Yet O’Reilly is hitting on something here. Congress and news organizations have been pursuing all available documents regarding Benghazi for a long time now. This Daily Beast piece notes that the Judicial Watch documents didn’t get released to the House Government Oversight committee until two weeks ago, “despite requests from the committee for such material that date back to August 2013.”
Why did it take so long for the contents of this particular e-mail to surface?
That question alone is enough to fill some news coverage. Yesterday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fielded an inquiry about the tardiness of the Rhodes e-mail and responded like this:
MR. CARNEY: That’s an excellent question. Because all of the documents — the thousands and thousands of pages of documents, including e-mails around the creation of the Benghazi talking points, which were amply reported on — were about Benghazi. And this document, as I said, was explicitly not about Benghazi, but about the general dynamic in the Arab — or in the Muslim world at the time.
Indeed, the Rhodes e-mail addresses the “protests” that had sprung up around the Middle East that week — in fact, news coverage from the time went big on the unrest. Even so, Carney’s contention merits a challenge. Have a look at Judicial Watch’s June 2013 FOIA lawsuit. As the complaint makes clear, Judicial Watch in October 2012 sought the following documents from the State Department:
1) Copies of any updates and/or talking points given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency concerning, regarding, or related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
2) Any and all records or communications concerning, regarding, or related to the talking points or updates on the Benghazi attack given to Ambassador Rice by the White House or any federal agency.
It was in response to this request — and the subsequent lawsuit — that Judicial Watch secured the Rhodes e-mail. That simple cause-and-effect renders Carney’s argument about the e-mail’s non-Benghaziness a bit shaky. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says, “Carney’s statement yesterday that it wasn’t a Benghazi document is ludicrous because this document was given to us in response to a FOIA lawsuit for the Benghazi talking points.”