There are ways to minimize the salience of the infamous White House Benghazi-related e-mail that surfaced last week. Press Secretary Jay Carney said it was not precisely about Benghazi, Libya. Others say it was consistent with intelligence reports just after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that claimed the lives of four American personnel. In an entertaining tilt this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” MSNBC host Alex Wagner ill-advisedly tested out a different defense, drawing this rebuke from host Joe Scarborough: “Don’t insult our intelligence on the set here!”


Some background: Freedom of Information Act hounds at Judicial Watch last week unearthed a Benghazi-related document that had not yet met with public scrutiny. It’s an e-mail White House official Ben Rhodes sent on the morning of Sept. 14, just two days before then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice made her famous, mistaken remarks on Sunday talk shows about how the Benghazi attacks were prompted by a video. The Rhodes e-mail, titled “PREP CALL with Susan,” addressed protests across the Middle East and advised Rice to mention a controversial video as the cause, as opposed to blaming them on a “broader failure of policy.”

That advice contradicted the longstanding White House contention that it didn’t politically influence the information that Rice took with her to the political talk shows, where the central topic was the Benghazi attacks. And it has helped prompt House Republicans to plan a select committee on Benghazi.

In an editorial on the actual scandal of Benghazi (its origins, that is), The Washington Post editorial board had this to say about the so-called smoking-gun e-mail: “What’s missing is any evidence that Mr. Rhodes or anyone else knew the facts of Benghazi to be other than what was initially reported by U.S. intelligence. In fact, while an authoritative version of the Benghazi assault is still missing, the account cannot be ruled out.”

When the topic came before Wagner on today’s “Morning Joe,” she pursued a holistic defense of the Rhodes e-mail, saying, “But if you re-read that e-mail. I mean, everyone has focused on one of the four talking points. The other three are totally benign and exactly what you would expect from the White House. The fourth one, I think, is open to interpretation. There’s a lot of litigation that will continue about that, but for this to launch a thousand ships. . . .” (For a look at those talking points, click here).

Scarborough: “Where’s the ambiguity?” After some more riffing, the host asked Wagner, “Don’t insult our intelligence on the set here! When they’re telling Susan Rice to talk about a videotape, you’re saying that doesn’t go to the heart of the matter?”

Then Wagner came up with an inexplicable response: “I believe that the No. 1 talking point on that e-mail was our job is to keep Americans safe. We will not waver in that.”

Scarborough countered, with not a modicum of sarcasm: “Fantastic. I’ll wave that flag.

As to why the Rhodes e-mail didn’t surface until Judicial Watch fought for it in a FOIA lawsuit, Wagner conceded it was a “legitimate question.” That was generous.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.