If Anne Gearan ever gets tired of pretending to be an objective journalist, she might have a promising future in Hillary Clinton's PR shop. The Washington Post staff writer -- who last October fretted that the "Deadly Benghazi Attacks Could Mar Clinton['s] Legacy" -- delivered readers a masterful work of puffery in her 24-paragraph January 24 story on the previous day's Benghazi hearings, headlined "Clinton delivers forceful defense on Benghazi."
It seems the Benghazi terrorist attack will not in fact mar Clinton's "legacy," not if Gearan has anything to say about it. Let's start with her opening paragraphs (emphasis mine):
In what probably was her final major public appearance as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton spent Wednesday delivering a forceful defense of the Obama administration’s response to the killings of four Americans in Libya last year and praising the commitment of the United States’ diplomats.
Clinton, who returned to work this month after suffering a concussion and blood clot in early December, spent six hours testifying and answering questions. She started at 9 a.m. before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ended after 5 p.m. with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Her long-awaited testimony provided little in the way of new information about the attack in Benghazi. But confronting her critics and delivering a spirited defense of the administration’s response was essential to the effort to put the tragedy behind her as she leaves a job for which she has received wide praise and contemplates a possible presidential run in 2016.
First off, the four Americans were not merely killed, they were assassinated by terrorists. Indeed, Ambassador Stevens was the first U.S. diplomat to be killed in action since the Carter administration. Gearan's word choice softens the blow. To Gearan, this is a "tragedy" that the secretary is trying to put "behind her" in front of a "possible presidential run."
The skeptical reader might also inquire how exactly Clinton gave a "forceful defense" when Gearan admits that her testimony shed little light, yielding little "new information about the attack in Benghazi."
But no matter, Gearan's aim was not to shed light on what Clinton knew and when she knew it, but rather to bolster Clinton's image (emphasis mine):
At times, the usually composed Clinton was emotional, choking up as she described meeting the caskets of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed in the assault on a diplomatic outpost on Sept. 11. Occasionally her patience wore thin. After one Republican pressed her on the administration’s shifting explanations for the attack — which it initially described as the result of a protest — she pounded the table.
“What difference, at this point, does it make?” Clinton demanded. “It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”
She reiterated that she takes responsibility for what an independent investigation called security lapses and systemic failures within the State Department. But she rejected all suggestions by Republicans that there had been a cover-up in the aftermath of the assault on the temporary post and a nearby annex used by the CIA. She also said she never saw requests by Stevens and others for more security.
Of course, Libya was and remains a country with a tenable political climate at best. One would think that the Secretary of State would be keenly interested in any cables from Libya -- or anywhere in northern Africa for that matter -- pertaining to the need for additional diplomatic security. Yet Clinton admitted she never saw requests for additional security, which raises the troubling question of whether this points to gross negligence if not incompetence on Clinton's part.
Gearan continued her dogged defense of the former first lady and potential 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful:
Controversy over the Benghazi attack has dogged the administration for months. Republicans’ accusations that U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice gave a misleading description of the events leading up to the assault resulted in her withdrawing from consideration to replace Clinton, opening the door for the nomination of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
An investigation by an Accountability Review Board appointed by the State Department faulted the department for security shortcomings and not heeding warnings about the dangers in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya. The board recommended broad changes in security and a review of the way the department spends money and Congress provides it.
Clinton pledged to adopt all 29 recommendations from the review board, saying that many already are being implemented. But she insisted that diplomats must be able to travel and work in dangerous places to do their jobs.
Of course, the review board was internal to the State Department and laid no direct blame on Clinton, where the buck is supposed to stop. It's hard to imagine that if Benghazi happened under the Bush administration with say Condoleezza Rice at the helm at Foggy Bottom that Gearan would afford the secretary of state such deference.
Gearan did quote some of Clinton's Republican critics, but set it up to make the Republicans appear petty and partisan, while Democrats were portrayed as polite and focused on improving diplomatic security:
The promises did not satisfy her toughest critics. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called it “outrageous” that the secretary was not interviewed by the investigators who conducted the independent review.
“I was not asked to speak,” Clinton said, adding that she would have done so if the investigators had thought it important.
For the most part, questions from Democrats were prefaced with praise for Clinton’s tenure as secretary and focused on ways to improve diplomatic security. Republicans were harsher. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) accused Clinton of “national security malpractice” for not better protecting the post where Stevens was killed. “You let the consulate become a death trap,” he said.
Even under sometimes tough questioning, Clinton visibly lost her temper only during the exchange with Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.) when he accused Rice of “purposely misleading the American public” about events leading up to the Benghazi attack. Five days after the assault, Rice said in television interviews that it grew out a spontaneous protest, not a planned terrorist operation. The administration later reversed that view.
Slamming the table and staring at Johnson, Clinton said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information.”
A few paragraphs later, Gearan wound down her article by quoting Clinton at length, ending with the secretary's emotional recollection of her receiving the caskets of the dead Americans at Joint Base Andrews (emphasis mine):
“We are in a new reality. We are trying to make sense of changes that nobody had predicted but which we’re going to have to live with,” she said. “Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s avoid turning everything into a political football.”
Clinton’s voice broke as she described receiving the caskets of the Americans at Joint Base Andrews a few days after the attack.
“For me, this is not just a matter of policy. It’s personal,” she said, choking up. “I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.”
Back in October, Gearan, along with colleague Scott Wilson, similarly rushed to the defense of President Obama by waging an attack on Mitt Romney over how his "missteps" in criticizing the president over Libya might hurt his campaign.
As my colleague Tim Graham noted on October 18:
In Thursday's Washington Post, reporters Scott Wilson and Anne Gearan really should have had their story labeled "commentary" or at least "news analysis." Or perhaps "journalistic crystal-ball-rubbing." It had the Obama-defending headline "Romney’s missteps on Libya may hurt criticism of Obama’s foreign policy." Not "Obama's missteps on Libya may help Romney criticism."
The story began: "A series of missteps by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in criticizing President Obama’s account of the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, might make it harder for him to continue using the incident as the heart of his wider complaint about the incumbent’s foreign policy record."
The Posties and other reporters love to use this "may" and "might" language to channel their wishful thinking, often to project that Democrats are about to win decisively. They added, "The presidential debate Tuesday, however, again showed the perils that Romney faces in using the Libya attack to go after the president’s leadership abroad."
To the Post, Obama didn't make a "misstep" by spending weeks claiming the attack on Libya came from an anti-Muslim video -- not as long as the words "acts of terror" can be found in his September 12 statement. The Post story also avoids the small "misstep" of Obama's optics -- leaving for a Las Vegas event shortly after learning our ambassador had been killed. Instead, the Post put all the controversy on Romney[.]
Seven days later, Post editors buried a story by Gearan on Benghazi emails on page A9, while publishing a puff piece on Obama's counterintelligence advisor John Brennan on the front page. As I noted on October 25:
This morning the Washington Post website announced that the paper had decided to endorse President Barack Obama for reelection. That endorsement should hit the print edition tomorrow. But make no mistake, endorsing the president is not the only cover the paper is granting the president. Witness the Post's treatment of the latest, damning development in the Benghazi fiasco.
Post editors buried a news story on the Benghazi State Department emails on page A9, assigning it a rather boring headline -- "E-mails show State named militant group on night of Libya attack" -- and a staff writer, Anne Gearan, who previously wrote a piece consumed with concern about Hillary Clinton's tarnished legacy post-Benghazi. By contrast, Post editors placed on the front page a 74-paragraph profile of Obama's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, headlined "Brennan reshaped anti-terror strategy: CIA veteran emerges at core of effort to cement process for lethal action."
In other words, the Post devoted a positive story about an Obama advisor's efforts to kill terrorists on the front page, but shuffled a story damaging to the Obama administration deeper within the paper.
Post editors knew what they were getting when they gave yesterday's assignment to Gearan, but like the broadcast media networks, they are interested not so much at getting to the bottom of Benghazi but using yesterday's hearings as an occasion to bolster Secretary Clinton politically.