You might already know that the new select committee tasked with investigating the Benghazi attacks and the government’s response beings today. If you’ve only been watching cable news, you might not know that there is anything left to investigate.
On Tuesday, MSNBC primed its viewers to reject the findings of this special committee. Each segment on the new committee oozed glibness which you’ve come to expect from the network’s hosts. Quite nearly creating singularity of smug irony, Al Sharpton invited Media Matters founder and Hillary Clinton phalanx David Brock on his program to explain why the GOP committee members were on a political witch-hunt to besmirch the former secretary’s character and record.
On Wednesday morning, CNN invited the ranking Democratic member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, on to express his problems with a committee that hasn’t even begun to hold hearings yet. To their credit, CNN noted that 61 percent of the public said in June that they don’t believe the administration has been wholly honest about the attacks. Cummings and the host argued over who was being more political – Republicans out to get Hillary or Democrats seeking to protect Hillary – but the viewer could be forgiven for believing that Democrats have a point: This is all old news.
Only Fox has been regularly covering the upcoming hearings and updating their viewers on the new details and recently uncovered revelations relating to the attacks which the committee will parse. Save Fox, none of the cable networks and no broadcast outlets have mentioned new revelations from former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell who told reporter Sharyl Attkisson that “close confidants” of Clintons removed documents relating to the Benghazi attacks before investigators had the opportunity to review them.
“Maxwell says that members of the select House committee on Benghazi have already deposed him on this weekend filing session, including both chair Trey Gowdy and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz told Attkisson that he is ‘100% confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue,’” Ed Morrissey wrote.
Is this so hard to believe? It is not like Clinton confidants do not have a history of boosting sensitive documents from federal facilities before investigators have had a chance to check them out.
Given that, it makes little sense for the press to continue to ignore these revelations. If they are going to come up in the committee proceedings, as seems possible, it makes sense for cable to prime their viewers even if the aim is (as it would be for outlets like MSNBC) to preemptively defuse the charge.
For some in the press, there is certainly a partisan desire to move on from the Benghazi attacks. They are inculcated with the notion, prevalent in the online left, that any continued interest in the unanswered questions relating to the Benghazi attack is a form of pathology among conservatives. Some refuse to give the GOP any oxygen to indulge in what they see as an unhealthy obsession with the subject.
There is, however, a more charitable way to see the media’s blackout on Maxwell’s allegations. From the perspective of the press, this is a movie they have seen before, and failing to thoroughly vet a Benghazi “bombshell” before reporting on it has serious consequences.
Slate’s Dave Weigel has a good explanation for why the press has been playing it extremely cautious (to the point of avoidance) with the latest Benghazi revelations:
There have been so many Benghazi Bombshells that the non-obsessive might naturally wind up confused. The March 2013 CNN report on CIA agents who were not talking? Bombshell. The April 2013 House report that portrayed Hillary Clinton’s State Department as incompetent? Bombshell. The May 2013 hearing at which three veterans of the State Department said they immediately classified the Sept. 11, 2012, events as an attack, by terrorists? Bombshell. This month’s Fox News special, in which three security contractors said they were told to “stand down”? Bombshell.
When CBS reporter Lara Logan broadcast an erroneous story about a man who supposedly was present in Benghazi on the night of the attacks, Weigel noted, she was suspended for seven months. Her program, 60 Minutes, was impugned and her career was mocked by those forces deeply invested in the narrative that any Benghazi investigation is the political equivalent of dumpster rummaging.
It is not unreasonable for reporters, producers, and editors concerned with their own careers to view Logan’s experience as a didactic tale.
Weigel went on to note that Maxwell’s claim is serious, so why has he been sitting on it since he was first granted interviews with House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committee members in May, 2013? “You could compare this to Watergate, but Maxwell, unlike the members of the Nixon administration asked for evidence, was no longer on the team and already giving interviews about how his former bosses screwed up,” he wrote. “Now, he says ‘he couldn’t help but wonder if the ARB—perhaps unknowingly—had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents.’ Why hold off on the ‘scrubbing’ until now?”
Skepticism is fair, but kneejerk dismissiveness is not. This flippancy is a tone which characterizes all Benghazi coverage on the center-left, and it would be foolish to think that this kind of pressure does not create a social desirability bias effect in the media. The combination of serious consequences for being wrong and unmitigated mockery from liberal outlets and reporters has made the journalistic establishment risk-averse when it comes to reporting on Benghazi. Does this excuse their failure to report on new details like Maxwell’s serious allegations? No, but it does explain it.
But too much caution can lead to paralysis. New details about the attack will likely emerge from these hearings, and the press will have to tackle them. The sad fact is that there are outstanding questions regarding the attack and America’s response to it, but the issue has been so thoroughly politicized it is an open question whether or not the American people will ever know the answers to them.