Eighth in a series about Fox News’s Oct. 26 story on Benghazi, Libya.
Loyal readers of this Fox News series understand that cable’s leading news channel is slugging it out with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). An Oct. 26 Fox story by Jennifer Griffin, after all, alleged CIA incompetence bordering on cowardice in responding to the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. interests in Benghazi, Libya. On Nov. 1, a senior intelligence official lashed back at Fox, via a timeline that attempted to debunk Griffin’s claims.
Lashing begets lashing. On Saturday, Fox News’s Adam Housley published a story essentially re-committing Fox to its story of CIA lameness. The crux of this latest Fox story is an allegation that intelligence officials misstated the timeline of the events in Benghazi onthe night of Sept. 11.
That timeline, from last Thursday’s briefing, maintains that the call for assistance from the U.S. diplomatic compound to a CIA annex located about a mile away came in at 9:40 p.m. local time. It took security officials 25 minutes to leave the annex on a rescue mission, according to the official version of events.
The Fox News-Housley story counters that signs of trouble had arisen before that time frame. Have some text:
But according to multiple people on the ground that night, the ... 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.
So things are looking dicey in the early evening hours. Or are they? Precisely here is where Fox News’s reporting is undertaking a Greco-Roman wrestling match with another federal agency, this time the State Department.
A senior State Department official offered a Benghazi timeline back on Oct. 9, long before Benghazi timelines came into fashion. The official notes in a briefing that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens on Sept. 11 held his meetings on the site of the diplomatic compound because of security considerations. Here’s how the evening proceeded, according to the official:
About 7:30 in the evening, he has his last meeting. It is with a Turkish diplomat. And at — when the meeting is over, at 8:30 — he has all these meetings, by the way, in what I call Building C — when the meeting is over, he escorts the Turkish diplomat to the main gate. There is an agent there with them. They say goodbye. They’re out in a street in front of the compound. Everything is calm at 8:30 p.m. There’s nothing unusual. There has been nothing unusual during the day at all outside.
Fox News: A gathering storm.
State Department: Nothing unusual.
Whom to believe?
When asked about the discrepancy, a Defense Department official says, “We had no specific threat against these facilities” before the actual attack. A New York Times account published the day after the hostilities noted that “witnesses” — as well as State Department officials — concurred that the “attack began almost immediately after the protesters and the brigade arrived around 10 p.m.”
There’s an irony to Fox’s report of early-evening rumblings in and around Benghazi. Fox News was the platform of choice for commentators and news reports that strove to paint a picture of tranquillity around the diplomatic compound in the hours before the attack. That’s because they were out to puncture indications from Obama administration officials that the attack sprang from or was somehow associated with a protest or mass rowdiness at the compound over a hateful anti-Islamic video. It was a terrorist attack, critics alleged, and it came from highly motivated attackers, not from some spontaneous and unruly mob.
The coming months will surely produce more detail on the pre-attack conditions. Who knows — perhaps the Griffin-Housley version of the hostilities will withstand future disclosures. In the meantime, though, Fox News might consider explaining to its audience just how Ambassador Stevens missed all this unrest when he walked to the gate with the Turkish diplomat. And why the compound’s security goons allowed him to do so, if indeed “armed militia” were milling about.
The series so far: