How has the Obama administration influenced media coverage of Benghazi?


benghazi-massacre-blog-copyAs we approach the one year anniversary of the attacks on the embassy in Benghazi, we’re beginning to see that the biggest fallout may not be in the White House, the State Department, or the CIA in terms of the way things are done.  The biggest fallout may be in the American media, as illuminated by their coverage of the attack in Benghazi, for it may have exposed the way the media conducts it’s relationship with this administration that may not have been as apparent to those that haven’t been scrutinizing it.

The question President Barack Obama, his advisors, and his staff surely faced when entering the White House is how to keep the press completely favorable.  They had to know that over ninety percent of reporters were Democrat voters, and they knew that the 2008 election coverage they received was almost slavish, but they had to theorize that there would be some renegade reporters, outside of Fox News, that would experience some professional shame for their near-absolute favorable coverage of the administration.  At some point, they had to know that they would need a comprehensive strategy that dealt with these renegades.  This strategy, suggests Mediate reporter Noah Rothman, involves denying access to the president.

Some believe that the fact that the attack on the embassy in Benghazi has not been covered as extensively as it could’ve, and probably should’ve, been covered is evidence of the fact that this strategy has been wildly successful. Especially if the report from Colorado Conservative Examiner, Timothy Miller, is true.  Miller reports that “The CIA and the White House may have provided the weapons used to kill innocent Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in the raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.”  To bolster this claim, Miller cites findings from the Centre for Research on Globalization report from August 5, 2013:

The CIA was smuggling weapons from Libyan weapons depots to the Syrian rebels during the 2012 attack on the US embassy in Benghazi. According to a report by CNN, an unnamed source has leaked that the alleged cover-up of the circumstances around the attack is to hide the reality of the smuggling, which occurred before the escalation of the Syrian civil war. This shows that the CIA has been arming the Syrian rebels since at least September 2012. The agents were running the operation out of the Benghazi “annex,” which has been reported as a secret [safe-house] of the CIA in the city, not far from the embassy.{1}

If it’s true that the reason the administration hasn’t been more forthcoming is this heavy, the Benghazi scandal may not only trump the administration’s Fast and Furious scandal, it may trump the Iran Contra Scandal of the late 80’s, and it may even be worse when considering the fact that no Americans died in the Iran Contra affair.  To watch the media coverage it, however, we know what happened in the “tragedy” at Benghazi, according to what President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Victoria Nuland have told us.  Is the story newsworthy, according to the mainstream media?  It is, they would answer, and we reported what Obama, Clinton, and Nuland told us about it.

If the Bush administration engaged in a modus operandi, similar to Obama’s, the media would officially be declared berzerk at this point.  When the terrorist incident, at Benghazi, first occurred President Barack Obama decided that it would not be called an incident of terror.  He basically said that it was a tragedy, and that he would get to the bottom of it.  After doing that, the administration employed a delay tactic to get them over an imaginary bump that would lead them to a point where they could call it an “old news” story, then a partisan pursuit, and then a phony scandal.  In the interim, of course, the country never “got to the bottom of it”, we received little more than the false “movie” narrative that the administration advances, and after almost a year, no one has been arrested, or questioned, about an attack that left four Americans dead. The media simply advanced the administration’s “movie” narrative.

When, on the other hand, the Iran-Contra allegations of the late 80’s began to surface, President Ronald Reagan’s team reacted immediately.  The president, and his attorney general, wanted prompt and full disclosure on the matter.  As soon as Reagan’s Attorney General Ed Meese learned of the situation, he brought it to President Reagan, and they together publicly disclosed the details to a hysterical media on November 25, 1986.  Whether you think the Reagan team handled it appropriately, or that they provided full disclosure, it was their goal to come clean immediately, to avoid even the slightest whiff of a cover up.

Weeks after their public disclosure, the Reagan team appointed an Independent Counsel to determine whether anything illegal had occurred, and which individuals should be prosecuted if there were.  Those that lived in this era, remember how the wall-to-wall coverage this scandal received on evening news broadcasts, and that the hearing was broadcast all day long.  Those that lived in the era also remember seeing aggressive reporters chase Reagan, and his cabinet members, shouting questions at them, to frame it in a manner that suggested that the Reagan team were ducking questions.  Listen to any member of the media from that era, and you’ll hear them detail how proud they were of their attempts to get to the bottom of whatever happened.  They also wanted to know what Reagan knew, and when he knew it.  A line they co-opted from the Watergate scandal in an attempt to link the two and produce similar results.   Today, under Obama, it appears as if the media wants the exact opposite.{2} Read the excerpts of the media of this era, the era of Obama, and they’ll tell you that we don’t really know what happened in Benghazi, but trying to find out is a partisan effort.

Republicans are taking direct aim at (Hillary) Clinton,” said NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “The country’s most popular Democrat and a potential presidential candidate. 

In this particular quote, Mitchell doesn’t claim that Benghazi is a phony scandal, or “old news” story.  For this particular quote, Mitchell chooses the “partisan pursuit” Democrat talking points.  In choosing these talking points, it is obvious to even a marginally objective consumer, that getting to the truth of the attack on the embassy in Benghazi is not the driving force for this NBC News’ Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent.

A rational person, attempting to have a rational, non-partisan conversation with Ms. Mitchell might ask her who she believes Republicans should direct their questions to?  At the time of the Benghazi attack, Hillary Clinton was head of the State Department.  Suggesting that the questions that Republicans directed at Hillary were totally free of political concerns would be foolish, but to suggest that the Republicans shouldn’t ask any questions related to Benghazi, of the head of the State Department, for fear of the appearance of a “political undercurrent”, is equally as foolish.  To those that choose to view the Benghazi attack as a story of political attacks, as opposed to a terrorist attack that took the lives of four Americans, Ms. Mitchell line of thought is perfectly reasonable.

CNN recently put a dent in the comparatively sparse coverage of Benghazi, in a special report by Erin Burnett. This report ran on August 6, 2013, nearly one year removed from the incident.  Other than a total refutation of the Democrat talking point that there “wasn’t enough time to summon troops to protect the embassy” the report was relatively comprehensive.  The best refutation of this claim I’ve heard is: “How did you know how long this attack would last?”  CNN did, however, allow for Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to refute these talking points, but Chaffetz didn’t go into why they were so ridiculous.{3}

CNN’s report did attempt to report the story as largely an apolitical tragedy.  The attempted to humanize the story by interviewing the families of the recently deceased, and while this is admirable on many levels, it began to feel like a distraction when weighed against the other stories this attack unearths. If this report had been produced days after the initial attack, these interviews would’ve been entirely admirable, but at this point, nearly a year later, the story has grown so many political tentacles that the family members remembrances are now less than a third of the story, and CNN report probably spent a quarter of its time with the families.

The greater question is why did it take CNN almost a year to cover it?  Was there a concerted effort put forth to avoid producing such a story during an election year?  Is there a Slobbering Love Affair that the media has with Obama, as suggested by Bernard Goldberg, or did they genuinely believe that the Benghazi incident occurred as the administration reported it? Why wait almost a year, and appear to whole-heartedly believe the administration’s narrative in the interim?

The answer to those questions, suggests Noah Rothman at Mediate, may have a lot to do with the administration using the most pertinent tool at their disposal for influencing, and intimidating the media into favorable coverage, access to the president:

I would suggest it’s not an accident that those (in the media) who have been given a lot of access to the president have generally been AWOL when it comes to stories that might reflect poorly on him,” the source, who did not wish to be identified, continued.  “It’s the name of the game.  And it’s bad for everyone trying to do this job the right way.  Those reporters have reason to fear for their access to America’s executive branch. Some suspect that reporters who soft-pedal or underreport stories uncomfortable to the administration receive preferential access to White House officials.”

If you worry about access, you’re in the wrong business,” another insider with detailed information about how journalists and news networks react to reporting about Benghazi told Mediaite. “This shouldn’t be a consideration at all, but it is.”

If we all raised proper objections, they couldn’t do it to anybody,” this Mediaite source said of the White House’s efforts to block access to reporters who pursue stories they regard as inconvenient. “We’re really playing the government’s game.”{4}

It’s undeniable that the media didn’t always play the “government’s game” in the manner they do in the age of Obama.  It’s undeniable that this isn’t a gradual progression between the media and the sitting president of the day, as President Clinton received more favorable coverage than President George W. Bush did.  It’s also undeniable that this administration has been allowed an unprecedented ability to get their narratives out to the American public with limited criticism, and very little in the way of balanced, alternative views from the mainstream media. One would think that a group of professional reporters, by the very nature of their job, would eventually reach a point where they would rebel against such efforts to silence and intimidate them, but they don’t.  They don’t raise proper objections with enough of a voice to make any efforts at manipulation futile, and there have been relatively very few stories written about this threat of limited access to the media.  The answer to all of these questions, say some, is that the Obama administration is simply more masterful at controlling their press than any other administration to this point.  They say that the Obama administration has been masterful at staging leaks, conducting friendly interviews, using social media, and various other means of content creation.  It’s undeniable to some of us though, that the media, as a whole, has been complicit with a great percentage of this administration’s ability to master them.

{1} http://www.examiner.com/article/did-the-u-s-arm-those-who-murdered-ambassador-stevens

{2} http://spectator.org/archives/2012/11/02/media-bias-101-benghazi-vs-wat

{3}http://www.mediaite.com/tv/erin-burnett-on-cnns-truth-about-benghazi-special-a-reminder-that-there-has-got-to-be-answers/

{4}http://www.mediaite.com/tv/the-other-benghazi-scandal-journalists-worry-covering-the-attack-threatens-white-house-access/

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