Today’s House oversight committee hearing on Benghazi had a cool title: “Recognizing Courage; Exposing Failure.”
Another way to phrase it might be “The Fox News Bombshell Hearing on Benghazi.” Cable’s leading news network, after all, helped break bureaucratic gridlock for lawyers representing the whistleblowers at the hearing. It broke news on what sort of testimony would emerge at the hearing. And it spent a goodly portion of this morning teeing up the hearing, like a Super Bowl pregame show.
As it turns out, Fox News’s focus on the hearing was well-calibrated, considering how spellbinding was the testimony of star witness Gregory Hicks.
Yet it bears examining just how Fox News’s reporting on Benghazi fared in the hearing that it all but sponsored. For now, the Erik Wemple Blog will limit its analysis to the allegedly “commandeered” jet.
Some background: Last week, Fox News’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” aired a three-part “exclusive” on Benghazi featuring the testimony of an anonymous and shrouded “special operator.” This source provided some helpful perspective on the events of that night, along with an allegation that hadn’t yet been aired.
Official accounts of Benghazi reported that around midnight a crew of seven security officials set out from Tripoli to Benghazi to support the embattled personnel. The report of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) said that “Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi.”
Fox News’s tripartite exclusive put a different spin on things. Based on the account of its anonymous “special operator,” Fox News reporter Adam Housley alleged that this security crew was sort of going rogue:
He also says that as the attack began, there were at least 15 special forces and highly skilled State Department security staff available in the capital Tripoli who were not dispatched, even though they were trained as a quick response force. Meantime, a group of American reinforcements also in Tripoli, which included the CIA’s global response agent, Glen Doherty, and about seven others took matters into their own hands, a little-known fact that also contradicts the version of events in the State Department report. The team commandeered a small jet and flew to Benghazi to help try and secure the CIA annex still under fire.
What did whistleblower Hicks have to say about this phase of events? From his testimony today: “I was talking to the government of Libya, reporting to the State Department operations center and also talking to the annex chief. I also discussed with the annex chief about mobilizing a Tripoli response team and agreed that we would move forward with chartering a plane,” Hicks said.
That’s on-the-record testimony from someone right smack in the middle of things in Tripoli on the night of the embassy attacks in Benghazi. So if we are to believe that Hicks was busy authorizing a plane to make the trip to Benghazi, just how did that security crew take things into their own hands?
Now let’s take this scenario a step further. If we are to believe Fox News’s contention that the security officials in Tripoli were acting on their own — in possible defiance of orders from limp leadership — we must conclude that the person calling the shots that night was indecisive and disinclined to project American force.
Yet we know who was in charge that night. It was Hicks himself, who started the evening as deputy chief of mission and ended the night as chief of mission, on account of the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Here are the things for which Hicks has quickly become a prominent name in Washington: Asking the Defense Department to send fighter jets over Benghazi so as to intimidate the attackers and requesting that a group of Special Forces personnel be allowed to get on a C-130 flight to Benghazi in the early morning hours only to be told that they didn’t have authorization to do so.
A Special Forces commander later told Hicks, in an anecdote that Hicks himself is fond of recounting: “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than someone in the military.”