Fox News helped give birth to the term “stand down” when it comes to the various controversies surrounding the Benghazi, Libya, attacks of Sept. 11, 2012. In a widely disseminated Oct. 26, 2012, investigative report on the tragic events that claimed the lives of four U.S. personnel, the network claimed that security operators at a CIA annex near the besieged U.S. diplomatic compound were told to “stand down” a couple of times before they disobeyed orders and rushed to help their countrymen. As the Benghazi issue mushroomed in the subsequent months, Fox News pushed the “stand down” story without relenting. Various reports have shown the allegations to be not only unsubstantiated, but false.
Fox News, however, isn’t a monolith, as Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace proved today. In a chat with Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House government oversight committee and a Benghazi go-getter, Wallace asked just how Issa managed to claim at a New Hampshire fundraiser that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had given a “stand down” order to then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler accorded that claim four Pinocchios.
After Wallace cited the flunked fact-check, Issa responded, “In this case, the secretary of state was responsible for this normalization policy that existed in Benghazi. Witnesses have told us that they asked for help. The president himself implied that he told Leon Panetta, then secretary of defense, to use what efforts they could, and what we know for a fact is not one aircraft, not one rescue of DoD, was launched to get there.”
Another level of scrutiny ensued, as Wallace pushed Issa to concede that he had no evidence of a Clinton-to-Panetta stand-down order.
Issa launched into a detailed explanation: “Well, the use in answering questions in a political fundraiser — that was in response to a question — the term ‘stand down’ was not used in an explicit way, but rather the failure to react, the fact that only State Department assets and only assets inside the country were ever used. That members of the armed forces — gun-carrying, trained people — were not allowed to get on the aircraft to go and attempt a rescue, those kinds of things, through State Department resources, represent a ‘stand down.’ Not maybe on the technical terms of ‘stand down, soldier,’ but on what the American people believe is a failure to respond when they could have.”
The remarks of the congressman imply that the distinction between an actual “stand down” order and something that he construes as a de facto “stand down” order can simply be elided in front of a general audience. And therein lies the problem with the entire “stand down” oeuvre. “Stand down” means something, and in the context of Benghazi, it means a scandalous and intentional effort by Obama administration officials to purposely steer U.S. personnel away from providing assistance. The meaning of the term came into play many times over the course of Benghazi coverage, in addition to the CIA annex situation. There was also a “stand down” allegation pertaining to a group of security operators under the command of Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, who was anxious to travel from Tripoli to Benghazi in the hours after the initial attack. Instead of high-tailing it to the hotspot, he was ordered to stay in Tripoli. Was that a “stand down” order? In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, Gibson said no:
I was not ordered to stand down. I was ordered to remain in place. “Stand down” implies that we cease all operations, cease all activities. We continued to support the team that was in Tripoli. We continued to maintain visibility of the events as they unfolded.
Which is to say, terms matter.
(h/t Raw Story)