Media critic

(Esam  Omran al-Fetori/Reuters)

CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson used her Twitter feed to raise a raft of unanswered questions about Benghazi. There was some great stuff in there, including:

  • “What time was Ambassador’s Stevens’ body recovered, what are the known details surrounding his disappearance and death, including where he/his body was taken/found/transported and by whom?”
  • “Who is/are the official(s) responsible for removing reference to al-Qaeda from the original CIA notes?”
  • “The Administration has stated there were no resources outside Libya that could arrive in Benghazi/N. Africa within 8 hrs on Sept. 11, 2012. Why wouldn’t there be and who would have made that decision to leave the area so open on the anniversary of 9/11? And Does this mean that the Administration would have used them if available?”

She also tweeted this: “After repeated contacts, a White House official has indicated they will not be answering these questions.”

This explosion of Twitter-based interrogation bore a element of reportorial savvy. Consider the timing: Attkisson’s tweets landed on Tuesday afternoon, just in time to prime members of Congress who would be questioning Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Senate and House hearings on Benghazi. She seemed to be telling Congress, without explicitly saying as much: Hey, they won’t respond to me — why don’t you folks give these questions a try?

Perhaps Congress’s Twitter access failed, because in two sessions yesterday, our nation’s politicians showed precisely why they’re politicians, not journalists. For months and months, the critics of the Obama administration thirsted for accountability from Secretary Clinton. She did sit for some interviews and claimed responsibility for Benghazi in the fall, but a congressional sit-down on the affairs of Sept. 11, 2012 had to wait till yesterday. Preview stories frequently used the term “grilling” to describe what awaited Clinton on the Hill. Boy, these lawmakers wanted this!

Modulate your expectations, America. Never again should anyone hope for fresh details and investigative vigor to emerge from a congressional hearing. On Fox News this afternoon, Bret Baier referenced “frustration that there was a lot of grandstanding and not a lot of pointed questions….Capitol Hill doesn’t seem to want to pursue it.”

Look at how closely Baier’s characterization follows the performance of Sen. Rand Paul at the hearing. Sure, he was tough-minded. Yes, he wanted answers. But take a look at the transcript, which suggests that what he really wanted was to talk:

One of the things that disappointed me most about the original 9/11 was no one was fired. We spent trillions of dollars, but there were a lot of human errors. These are judgment errors and the people who make judgment errors need to be replaced, fired, and no longer in a position of making these judgment calls.

So we have a review board. The review board finds 64 different things we could change. A lot of them are common sense and should be done. But the question is it’s a failure of leadership that they weren’t done in advance and four lives were cost because of this.

I’m glad that you’re accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president at the time, and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable.

The thing is is that, you know, we can understand that you’re not reading every cable. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware of the cable from the ambassador in Vienna that asked for $100,000 for an electrical charging station. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called “Make Chai Not War.”

But I think you might be able to understand and might be aware of the $80 million spent on a consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif that will never be built. I think it’s inexcusable that you did not know about this and that you did not read these cables. I would think by anybody’s estimation, Libya has to be have been one of the hottest of hot spots around the world. Not to know of the request for securities really I think cost these people their lives. Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, had someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job.

And the thing is is I don’t suspect you of bad motives. The review board said, “Well, these people weren’t willfully negligent.” I don’t think you were willfully. I don’t suspect your motives of wanting to serve your country, but it was a failure of leadership not to be involved. It was a failure of leadership not to know these things.

And so, I think it is good that you’re accepting responsibility because no one else is. And this is — there is a certain amount of culpability to the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I’m glad you’re accepting this.

Now, my question is: Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?

Wrapped into that monologue are five or ten potential questions. Paul eked out a single one (though he did pose some followups).

Other questions to Clinton ranged from the…TOUGH…

SEN. RON JOHNSON: Again we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact…

…to the MIDDLING….

SEN. JEFF FLAKE: With regard to the appearance of Dr. Rice on the morning shows, you mentioned that you did not select her. Were you consulted in that decision?

SEN. DICK DURBIN: How can we keep our commitment to be a leader in the world in the area of diplomacy, in state craft, to avoid the necessity of war if we don’t give the most basic resources to your department, which commands, as I understand it, about 1.5 percent of the federal budget.

…to the RISIBLE….

REP. AMI BERA: Secretary, how many cables did you say arrived every year to the State Department, 1.4 million? Can you tell me how long it takes you to read 1.4 million cables?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: And — and I would ask you today if you believe that we had a significant, substantial and strong security presence in Libya at that time? Because we want that for all of our ambassadors.

REP. GRACE MENG: I’m curious. In the past weeks, we’ve seen the French respond decisively to the situation in Mali. The African Union has fought well in Somalia. Do you see this as an advancement of multilateralism in combating Islamic extremism in the Mideast? In Africa? And what more can we ask from allies in that area?

DEL. ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA: And I wish, and my colleagues would understand, yes, we have logistical problems, yes, we have funding — but the fact that this people willingly did this, not only for their love of the leaders of the people of Libya, but because he was so proud to represent this great nation of ours. And I would like to ask you if you could elaborate just a little further what you meant by this, that Ambassador Stevens went to Benghazi, — knowing the dangers, knowing the dangers were there, he went still. Could you please comment on that?

Note that this three-way breakdown of questions tossed at Clinton is pyramid-shaped, with the tough ones—oh-so-rare—at the top of the structure and the laughably easy ones at bottom, plentiful.

Trash the media to your satisfaction, but next to these forces of accountability, the Erik Wemple Blog will take the likes of the Daily Beast, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the rest of the lot.