November 13, 2012
Want to know why Congress is so disfunctional and the public is so divided?
Look at the news entertainment media.
Fox TV doesn't have a corner on fulmninations and name calling designed to bolster ratings.
Even the venerable Sunday morning news panels have become forums for "making news" at the expense of exploring the important issues of the day.
Case in point: the current controversy over comments UN Ambassador Susan Rice made about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Starting at the end and working back, it's pretty obvious that she is the victim of yellow journalism worthy of the Hearst tabloids in the days of the Spanish-American War.
In a story about Ms. Rice's possible nomination as Secretary of State, the New York Times notes that she "would face stiff resistance on Capitol Hill, where she has come under withering criticism from Republicans for asserting that the deadly attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, might have been a spontaneous protest rather than a terrorist attack."
That's absolutely correct -- many GOP lawmakers have accused Ms. Rice of claiming that the Benghazi attack might have been a spontaneous protest. They consider it part of an Administration plot to avoid admitting that terrorists are still at large, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Leaving aside the fact that no one in the Obama administration has claimed the terrorist threat is over, there's only one thing wrong with that assertion: Ms. Rice did not say the attack was a spontaneous protest and she didn't deny it was a terrorist attack.
Here's what she told Bob Schieffer of CBS's "Face the Nation" program:
"Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy-- --sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that-- in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent."
It's not elegantly phrased -- as Gov. Romney might say -- but it's pretty clear she said it appeared that a spontaneous protest was taken over by extremists.
Scheiffer asked if the attack had been planned and whether Al Queda had participated and, rather than denying either claim, she said, "Well, we'll have to find out that out. I mean I think it's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we'll have to determine."
You can read the transcript for yourself here.
If you do read it, pay close attention to the question, Schieffer then poses to Senator John McCain in a separate interview.
"Susan Rice says that the State Department thinks it is some sort of a spontaneous event," he said with a note of skepticism. "What-- what do you make of it?" Well, McCain naturally thought that was preposterous.
"Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration," he said. "That was an act of terror, and for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts."
Except this is one of those imaginary controversies that exists only in the minds of news entertainment jockeys who want to generate secondary headlines.
It pains me to count Bob Schieffer -- a man I have long admired -- among the ratings whores. He is one of the senior journalists who despair that our political system has become so dysfunctional. Look in the mirror, Bob.