President Obama is playing the media and, in turn, the American people for fools on the Libya scandal. Reporters and columnists who carried his water have been hung out to dry. The White House cover story — namely that CIA got it all wrong and the White House (in urging us to believe the murder of four Americans was the result of a video riot gone bad) was telling us what it knew, when it knew — has been severely undercut. Three e-mails sent to the White House within two hours of the attack identify it as a terrorist operation and inform the White House that local jihadists with al-Qaeda connections claimed responsibility. Reuters reminds us:

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi assault, which President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials ultimately acknowledged was a “terrorist” attack carried out by militants with suspected links to al Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers.

Administration spokesmen, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing an unclassified assessment prepared by the CIA, maintained for days that the attacks likely were a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film

This was false. And we know now the White House knew better. Three separate e-mails were sent to the White House on Sept. 11:

The first email, timed at 4:05 p.m. Washington time — or 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time, 20-30 minutes after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission allegedly began — carried the subject line “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack” and the notation “SBU”, meaning “Sensitive But Unclassified.”

The text said the State Department’s regional security office had reported that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was “under attack. Embassy in Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.”

The message continued: “Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four ... personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.”

A second email, headed “Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi” and timed 4:54 p.m. Washington time, said that the Embassy in Tripoli had reported that “the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi had stopped and the compound had been cleared.” It said a “response team” was at the site attempting to locate missing personnel.

A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”

The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”

Yet the president and his advisers repeatedly told us the attack was spontaneous reaction to the anti-Muslim video and that it lacked information suggesting it was a terrorist assault.

If the media were the honest advocates of the public’s right to know, they’d demand that the president present himself to answer their questions. If they were intent on doing their job, then every Obama surrogate who goes on TV or radio or submits to an online or print media would be grilled as well. Given what we now know, how could media outlets (in formal endorsements or otherwise) suggest voters can entrust him with the presidency for four more years when the possibility remains, and indeed has heightened, that we were intentionally misled? It’s preposterous for the president to avoid answering questions, and even more preposterous for the media to accept his refusal to answer questions as simply par for the course.

It has been obvious for some time that the president has nothing but contempt for the media. He chides them for the 24/7 news cycle. He lambastes them for critical coverage. And he has snubbed serious news programs in favor of fluff program where he will be freed from the obligation to answer hard questions. And in his most recent stunt, he had an off-the-record pre-endorsement telephone conversation with the Des Moines Register’s publisher and editor.after turning down an in-person meeting with the paper’s editorial board. (The White Hosue relented today, agreeing to allow his conversation to be released.)

Letting the president get away with this evasion routine is now more than mere evidence of media bias. The media’s passivity puts the country at risk in electing someone who may have been intentionally out to bamboozle the public or alternatively couldn’t be bothered to focus on the details of a terrorist attack of this importance. Media reticence in this regard signals to this and every future president that the national media are patsies.

Perhaps the next president will decide never to do serious news shows and never allow the access to him that is essential to allow the American people to hold him accountable for his conduct. If Obama gets away without ever having to account for his conduct in a major national security scandal before an election, there really is never any need for any president to submit to questions that might be embarrassing, inconvenient or revealing.

The media, already disdained and distrusted by a large segment of the population, might as well hang a “kick me” sign around their neck if they harrumph but then go meekly about their business for the next two weeks. Really, if they aren’t going to defend the public’s right to know, what good are they?