WaPo: Three Pinocchios for WH spin on Benghazi e-mails

posted at 9:21 am on May 21, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

It’s no surprise to Hot Air readers that the spin from the Left and the White House on the Benghazi e-mails collapses on even cursory scrutiny.  The spin, which was that the GOP had “doctored” the e-mails through “misquotes” that unfairly blamed the State Department for trying to protect itself from criticism over a lack of preparation, got dismantled by Jazz over the weekend.  No one had claimed they were “quotes” in the first place, and when reading through the e-mail chain released belatedly by the White House, it became clear that State was demanding wholesale changes to the CIA’s bullet points for self-preservation.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker, weighed in on this spin after White House strategist Dan Pfeiffer used it in his full Ginsburg on Sunday, giving Pfeiffer and his bosses three Pinocchios for misleading attacks on the reporters and the Republican note-takers. In particular, Kessler slams them for claiming that the full e-mails exonerated State when in fact they do just the opposite — and implicate the White House in the attempt to manipulate the talking points for political advantage:

When the White House last week released all of its e-mails, it became clear that Rhodes was responding at the tail end of a series of e-mail exchanges that largely discussed the State Department concerns.

In other words, the summary would have been fairly close if the commas had been removed and replaced with brackets: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities [including those of the State Department] and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.” …

Moreover, the full disclosure of e-mails makes it clear that White House officials were concerned about the State Department’s objections.

Referring to then deputy national security adviser (and now White House chief of staff), White House press officer Tommy Vietor wrote at 6:21 p.m.:   “Denis [McDonough] would also like to make sure the highlighted portions are fully coordinated with the State Department in the event they get inquiries.”  (He’s referring to sections in the draft that mention Ansar al-Sharia and to prior terror warnings in Benghazi — both of which were removed in the final draft.)

There is also the comment at 9:14 p.m. by a CIA official: “The State Department had major reservations with much or most of the document. We revised the document with those concerns in mind.”

Kessler concludes:

[T]he reporters involved have indicated they were told by their sources that these were summaries, taken from notes of e-mails that could not be kept. The fact that slightly different versions of the e-mails were reported by different journalists suggests there were different note-takers as well.

Indeed, Republicans would have been foolish to seriously doctor e-mails that the White House at any moment could have released (and eventually did). Clearly, of course, Republicans would put their own spin on what the e-mails meant, as they did in the House report. Given that the e-mails were almost certain to leak once they were sent to Capitol Hill, it’s a wonder the White House did not proactively release them earlier.

The burden of proof lies with the accuser. Despite Pfeiffer’s claim of political skullduggery, we see little evidence that much was at play here besides imprecise wordsmithing or editing errors by journalists.

Will those media outlets that played along with the White House spin reconsider their post-release reporting?   It depends on how seriously they take fact-checking by the Washington Post.  So far, even the Washington Post hasn’t taken it seriously enough to correct its May 19th story on the IRS, despite using canards that Kessler himself had already give four Pinocchios.

And once again, let’s ask: How did we go from the FBI concluding AQ involvement in the Benghazi attack on page 57 of the e-mail string to having no mention of organized terrorism at all in the talking points?

Update: Jim Geraghty gets the Headline of the Day: Washington Post Forced to Begin Using its Strategic Pinocchio Reserve.

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