The e-mail obtained by Tapper was sent by Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes just after 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, just as the White House was trying to nail down the talking points that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice would use on five Sunday talk shows two days later. In those appearances, Rice made mention of an anti-Islam video in explaining the provenance of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks — a narrative that later collapsed as officials made clear it was a straight-up terrorist attack.
The central drama in the editing of the talking points revolved around the State Department, which had expressed its concern about language that the CIA had pumped into the document. In recent weeks, the Weekly Standard and ABC News have reported that the White House responded favorably to State’s concerns.
Tapper’s story takes on those reports:
ABC News reported that Rhodes wrote: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.” The Weekly Standard reported that Rhodes “responded to the group, explaining that Nuland had raised valid concerns and advising that the issues would be resolved at a meeting of the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee the following morning.”Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.
CNN vs. ABC News and the Weekly Standard — what a great day for a media critic.
E-mails are such fun. People who send them so rarely seem aware that they could some day come to light. There are no embarrassments here, however: Rhodes’s missive appears to be a careful and neutral attempt at leading an unruly set of agencies on a matter of high public concern.
Earlier this year, Washington learned the difference between someone abridging an e-mail and viewing the entire text of an e-mail. In an interview with Politico reporters, Bob Woodward described an e-mail from a White House aide, which Politico interpreted as “a veiled threat.” When the entire e-mail later emerged, few saw any threat, veiled or patent.
CNN’s release of the Rhodes e-mail won’t roil the Benghazi issue. Regardless of the interagency allegiances of Rhodes, the talking points underwent a shrinking act that resulted in bogus information getting blasted out to millions of people less than a week after the attacks.
UPDATE: A spokesman for ABC News says, “Assuming the email cited by Jake Tapper is accurate, it is consistent with the summary quoted by Jon Karl.”