Media critic

Twelfth in a series about Fox News’s Oct. 26 story on Benghazi, Libya.

Fox News’s now-famous Oct. 26 story on the tragedy of Benghazi carried this headline: “EXCLUSIVE: CIA operators were denied request for help during Benghazi attack, sources say.” Reaction to the story skewed toward the monster revelations in its first paragraph: namely, that the CIA chain of command had told security officials to “stand down” instead of jumping immediately to the assistance of a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11. The CIA, too, denied requests for military backup, according to the Fox News story.

Far, far less attention attached to a contention deep down in the Fox story:

According to a source on the ground at the time of the attack, the team inside the CIA annex had captured three Libyan attackers and was forced to hand them over to the Libyans. U.S. officials do not know what happened to those three attackers and whether they were released by the Libyan forces.

So the CIA had taken a few detainees. No big deal, right?

Right, until biographer Paula Broadwell came along. As news of her affair with CIA Director David Petraeus emerged, folks started mining the Broadwell public record. As first reported by, Broadwell had given some remarks at the University of Denver on Oct. 26, the same day of the Fox News piece that frames this sprawling series of posts. And Broadwell was up on the news; she took a question about Petraeus’s handling of Benghazi and steered her audience to Fox!

So the most recent news that came out was a Fox News report by Jennifer Griffin. I got it on a distribution list I’m on, and it has some pretty insightful stuff in it, if you want to look for it.

Among the folks pouncing on Broadwell’s Denver remarks were Fox News’s Griffin and Adam Housley. They published a story on Monday highlighting that Broadwell had repeated in Denver the fundamentals of the Oct. 26 piece:

Broadwell quoted the Fox News report when she said: “The facts that came out today were that the ground forces there at the CIA annex, which is different from the consulate, were requesting reinforcements.”

Talk about a Benghazi echo chamber!

Anyhow, the Griffin-Housley piece carefully pointed out the sensitive terrain on which Broadwell went beyond the Fox News Oct. 26 story:

Broadwell went on to explain more sensitive details from the Benghazi attacks, particularly concerning what the real cause might have been.

“Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually, um, had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.”

It’s unclear just where Broadwell had fetched the notion that prisoners had motivated the attackers. Add that speculation to the log of existing possible motivations, including protests over an anti-Muslim video and a simple terrorist assault.

Griffin and Housley then take the story yet further, asserting that “other prisoners” from Africa and the Middle East were also held at the Benghazi CIA facility.

In the CIA’s version of events, there’s absolutely no way that any prisoners could have prompted the attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi. Here’s the statement that the CIA gave to Fox:

The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.

The flimsiness of that denial is apparent to anyone who’s ever snooped around a scandal. Fox News, after all, never charged that the CIA was definitively in the “detention business,” just that there were some prisoners milling about in Benghazi. The Erik Wemple Blog asked the about the permeability of that statement and received this upgraded denial from a senior intelligence official: “These detention claims are categorically not true. Nobody was ever held at the annex before, during, or after the attacks.”

The rebuttal of the CIA-annex-prisoners strain of reporting gained a bit of strength yesterday, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that he didn’t think Broadwell’s claims about the prisoners were “true.

When asked whether the Fox-Broadwell contentions on CIA prisoners carried any merit, an attendee at a closed-door Senate briefing responded, “None. It’s completely fabricated. Senators were told that in no uncertain terms yesterday in closed session.”

Now for some rank speculation. The Fox News Oct. 26 piece notes that the CIA security officials “captured three Libyan attackers” in the course of the hostilities. Timelines issued by government officials don’t feature any such event. However, a senior intelligence official has indeed revealed that the CIA forces got assistance from three Libyan volunteer combatants who helped to repel the attackers that night. Could these be the same people?

In a press conference today on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain cited the static over CIA prisoners in Benghazi as grounds for further digging: “All these things are flying around,” he said. “That’s why we need an investigation.”

This series agrees, at least on the need to further investigate the Fox News Oct. 26 story. The hubbub surrounding the allegation on prisoners, after all, is just one data point on which Fox News is fighting with the CIA and other federal agencies. Others:

* Fox insists that the CIA told people to “stand down”; the CIA denies that.

* Fox insists that the CIA turned down requests for military assistance; government agencies deny that, saying they mobilized.

* Fox insists that CIA security operators had “lasered” the mortar positions of the Libyan enemy; intelligence officials deny that.

The series so far:

First: Media outlets fail to follow Fox News.

Second: Does Fox story stand up to government timeline?

Third: Geraldo blasts storyline 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