Media critic

The damaged U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. (Mohammad Hannon/Associated Press)

A senior U.S. intelligence official gave a briefing Thursday on the fine points of the CIA’s response to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks. The purpose of that briefing appears to have been single-barreled: to refute an Oct. 26 Fox News report by Jennifer Griffin that alleged all manner of CIA incompetence and virtual cowardice in defending a U.S. military installation in Benghazi. News organizations including The Washington Post and the New York Times were looped in on what amounted to an attempt to counter-program a Fox News story.

Guess what news outlet wasn’t front and center? On Friday evening, Fox News anchor Bret Baier had this to say:

This as the CIA brought reporters in to brief them on their timeline, after our reporting about what happened in the early hours after the attack started. We were not invited to that briefing.

Bolded text added to highlight tension between news organization and intelligence agency. A Fox story from Sunday also struck the exclusion theme.

An inquiry to Fox News failed to retrieve a response, a silence that accords with the outlet’s long-standing policy vis-a-vis the Erik Wemple Blog. Also declining comment is the CIA, which has no long-standing policy vis-a-vis the Erik Wemple Blog.

The absence of official input invites speculation. Here are two possible reasons why Fox News wouldn’t have been looped in:

1) Cognitive Dissonance. With its Oct. 26 story, Fox News had already given its version of events in Benghazi on Sept. 11. Why include the network in the briefing, then, when it appeared to already had its mind made up? Another way of looking at this same dynamic is that the briefing’s hosts didn’t want someone whose questions could challenge their version of events.

2) Strained Relations. Scroll back to Friday, Oct. 26. At 8:18 a.m., the Twitter feed for Fox News Politics issues an “exclusive” notification:

EXCLUSIVE: CIA operators were denied request for help during Benghazi attack, sources say

— Fox News Politics (@foxnewspolitics) October 26, 2012

That’s a bombshell, an absolute killer story. The details by now could be recited by any loyal Fox viewer: The CIA chain of command turned down requests for military assistance and also told security combatants twice to “stand down” rather than jump directly into action to defend a U.S. diplomatic installation.

It wasn’t until 4:54 p.m. that same day that the CIA issued this e-mail:

In response to the Fox news report, on the record from CIA

The following is available on the record from me as CIA spokesperson:

“We can say with confidence that the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi. Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. In fact, it is important to remember how many lives were saved by courageous Americans who put their own safety at risk that night—and that some of those selfless Americans gave their lives in the effort to rescue their comrades.”

Jennifer Youngblood

CIA Office of Public Affairs

Note that first line: The CIA issued a statement “in response” to the Fox report, hours after that report debuted. The implication here is that the Fox story didn’t carry the statement to begin with, though it’s difficult to verify such an omission from looking at the current version of the story; it doesn’t include any notations indicating that it has been updated.

The timing of the story and the CIA statement raise the possibility that Fox News blind-sided CIA headquarters, publishing its story without first allowing the agency a chance to comment. Such a turn of events could explain Fox’s absence from Thursday’s briefing.

Whatever the backstory, Fox News has been banging away at the Benghazi story 24-7 ever since Sept. 12. It should have been included in the briefing.

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