It was December 2012, just a few months after terrorists attacked U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya. Sean Hannity of Fox News was continuing his extensive coverage of the attack, as well as his denunciations of what he viewed as less inquisitive media peers. “We will continue to follow the story that the mainstream media ignores. We have four dead Americans, including two SEALs and the first ambassador killed in 30 years. And, obviously, a cover-up. And we will get to the bottom of it,” he said.
The fiery Fox News host now has an ally in that noble pursuit. There’s a trial well underway at the D.C. federal courthouse in which Libyan Ahmed Abu Khattala stands accused of conspiracy to support terrorism, among other charges, in the September 2012 attacks that quickly became a divisive political issue in the United States, with then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, pilloried for various alleged acts of incompetence and deception.
Truth is dribbling out of the now-six-week-long trial. We’re discovering that the United States paid a Libyan informant $7 million to secure key information from Abu Khattala. The relationship between informant and suspect developed over many months and proved critical in assisting U.S. forces in capturing Abu Khattala. Under the pseudonym of Ali Majrisi, the informant spoke at trial of how Abu Khattala intended to kill “everyone there” at the Benghazi installation, a bloody ambition that extended to a rescue force that U.S. officials had sent that night from Tripoli. In other testimony, CIA officers detailed efforts to rescue U.S. personnel under attack in the Libyan city.
Good thing Fox News is there to finish the obsessive work it started, to provide a day-by-day narration of U.S. law enforcement bringing American justice to an alleged terrorist.
Um, actually: Those trial updates cited above come from Adam Goldman of the New York Times and Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post, both of whom have filed dispatches over the course of this lengthy trial. As for Fox News, there was this dispatch on the trial’s opening statements. There was this Associated Press story on FoxNews.com about the trial’s possible impact on proposals to send terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay. And another dispatch, also from the AP. Another dispatch, also from the AP. (There’s been other FoxNews.com coverage of charges against another suspect in the attacks, Mustafa al-Imam.)
Fox News, outsourcing its Benghazi reporting to the AP? This is the same AP, mind you, that former Fox News chief Roger Ailes disparaged years ago. “It tips left all the time now,” said Ailes, who was bounced from Fox News over sexual harassment claims in 2016 and died this year.
As far as TV coverage, a Nexis search for “Benghazi and Khattala” over the past three months yields just one small mention — four sentences — on the Oct. 2 edition of “Special Report with Bret Baier.” (Nexis covers mostly prime-time shows). If Fox News’s trial coverage were consistent with its previous volume, it would be doing hourly updates from the trial, live blogs and promos, plus round-the-clock commentary on its opinion shows.
Instead, we’re stuck with the “cover-up” gang, as Hannity might say. The New York Times’ Goldman says, “I think the New York Times and The Washington Post and the mainstream media recognized the importance of covering this trial. It was a devastating terrorist attack. Four American lives were lost. We should cover this for the public. So I’m a little surprised that other American media outlets aren’t covering this trial to provide their readers or viewers with real facts.”
The drop-off is stark and inexplicable. In the 20 months following the attacks, Fox News ran in excess of 1,000 segments on Benghazi, according to a September 2014 report by Media Matters. The focus remained intact even after that, spiking upon the release of the “13 Hours” book and movie — a compelling account from the security operators who saved many American lives that night. “This movie, if it’s really popular, is going to force [Hillary Clinton] to answer some questions,” said Steve Doocy on “Fox & Friends” about the movie, which premiered during the 2016 presidential primary season.
So, why would Fox News go nuts about a Benghazi movie in early 2016, yet yawn over a Benghazi trial in 2017? We here at the Erik Wemple Blog are stumped. Could it be that Fox News really didn’t care all that much about terrorism and American lives, after all? No way. Could it be that the Fox News Benghazi Editor has the flu or is on paternity leave? Could it be that all that Benghazi coverage strained resources at Fox News, which hauls $1.5 billion in profits? Could it be that something happened in the last year or so that diminished the urgency of the story?
Whatever the case, there’s still time. The trial is ongoing and may wrap later this month. “There’s still a chance for them to tell their viewers what happened in Benghazi in 2012,” says Goldman. “There are plenty of seats at the media room in the courthouse for Fox to set up.”
An inquiry to Fox News about its Benghazi trial coverage failed to fetch an on-the-record response.