Tonight at 10, Fox News host Bret Baier will host a special titled “FOX NEWS REPORTING: 13 Hours in Benghazi,” a production that will revisit much-discredited reporting by Fox News in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks. On Oct. 26, 2012, days before the presidential contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney, Fox News alleged that security operators at a CIA annex near the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi were told twice to “stand down.”
In the nearly two years since, report after report has shredded this contention, as outlined in an interminable Erik Wemple Blog series. Just a sampling of refutations includes a Senate intelligence committee report, which “found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party,” and a House intelligence committee report, which reached similar conclusions. Media Matters has compiled others.
Another viewpoint on this official-document consensus comes from a new book on which the Baier report is based: “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” written by Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff along with the “Annex Security Team” — essentially CIA contractors. The book provides a great deal of detail on the hectic moments on the night of the attacks. For instance, it describes the environment shortly after the CIA annex received a panicked call for help from the diplomatic installation, which was less than a mile away:
Within five minutes of Alec Henderson’s first mayday call from the Compound, Tanto, D.B., Rone, Tig, and Jack were jocked up and assembled outside Building C. They talked among themselves, asking each other if anyone knew how many Americans were on the Compound and what kind of weapons were there. The answer: seven Americans with light weapons. From the gunfire and explosions they continued to hear, and from the reports of perhaps several dozen attackers, the operators knew that they’d be dealing with what Tanto called “a substantial force.”
Zuckoff & Co. mine the wait for official authorization for maximum literary impact: “The more time the attackers had to dig in, the more likely they’d secure the Compound perimeter and organize defensive positions, at least until they achieved their objectives.”
After more waiting, the security operators heard again from the diplomatic mission: “If you guys do not get here, we’re going to die,” said a diplomatic security agent, as the book reports. “That was all it took. Roughly twenty minutes, possibly more, had elapsed since the operators had first mustered at Building C. They were long past ready to go.” Four U.S. personnel, including then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, died in the clash.
Does the “13 Hours” version of events overthrow the official government narrative? Not dramatically. Officialdom, including a State Department report, concedes that the CIA leader in charge of the security operators insisted on a “brief delay” in order to secure support from friendly local militia — a strategy that didn’t pan out.
Government reports are austere things, big bundles of text presented as truth. Contrast that to what Fox News is prepared to show in its Benghazi special, which is a person-to-person chat with the fellows who were actually “jocked up” on that terrible night. Fox News has done a little preview of the special that depicts Baier hunched over a table with three security guys. It looks good.
Teeing up the special, Baier told O’Reilly: “For all this talk about ‘stand down,’ these guys say, definitively, it happened. They were ready to go to respond to these calls for help from the diplomatic facility. They were at the CIA annex. They were ready to go and almost 30 minutes later, they finally broke ranks and went on their own.”
The Post’s Charles Lane in a Fox News appearance last night attempted to knife through the entire controversy: “There is a difference between waiting and waiting for no good reason, and, even worse, waiting because you were told, ‘We don’t care what happens to the ambassador.'”