Late Friday afternoon the spokesman for Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper Jr. released a statement in which the intelligence head tried to fall on the administration’s sword on the Libyan-consulate debacle. But the problem was that Clapper’s statement did not absolve the administration of repeatedly making false statements after intelligence agencies knew this was a planned al-Qaeda terrorist attack.

The Post’s Glenn Kessler got things started with a devastating timeline of the Libya events. Then Fox News’s Bret Baier put together an extremely useful video account of the sequence of events.

And the New York Times followed suit:

The Obama administration’s shifting accounts of the fatal attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, have left President Obama suddenly exposed on national security and foreign policy, a field where he had enjoyed a seemingly unassailable advantage over Mitt Romney in the presidential race.

After first describing the attack as a spontaneous demonstration run amok, administration officials now describe it as a terrorist act with possible involvement by Al Qaeda. The changing accounts prompted the spokesman for the nation’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., to issue a statement on Friday acknowledging that American intelligence agencies “revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.” . . . The Benghazi attack calls into question the accuracy of intelligence-gathering and whether vulnerable American personnel overseas are receiving adequate protection.”

In its own ticktock of events, the Times, like other outlets, makes clear that even if DNI was initially confused, the White House and other top officials continued to push the connection to the anti-Muslim film long after it was known that this was an orchestrated al-Qaeda assault.

No doubt the mainstream media were slow to get to this story, because they initially labeled the episode a “bad for Mitt Romney’s campaign” story. However, the real Libya story is only now unfolding. It will be impossible for the president to avoid scrutiny and for others to escape blame for what appears to be either the most inept response to a terrorist attack in memory or a clumsy effort to shove an intelligence failure under the rug so as to keep the president’s campaign on track.

If Obama is smart, he’ll get the entire story out quickly and completely. It’s never the screw-up that gets you, it’s always the cover-up. And Obama better come clean. Fast.