As Other Outlets Finally Take Libya Seriously, NYT Buries Hearings on A10 Under Dull Headline

October 10th, 2012 3:24 PM

As Congress holds hearings on the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the New York Times placed its partisan political story by Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt on page A10 under a neutral, purely political headline, "Before Hearings on Libya Attack, Charges of Playing Politics." The text box was mild: "An inquiry is expected to focus on potential intelligence failures."

The Washington Post at least put Benghazi on the front page, in a story by Anne Gearan under the critical but off-target headline "Deadly Benghazi Attack Could Mar Clinton Legacy" (as if Hillary Clinton's reputation is the key issue at stake, not the four Americans killed). NewsBuster Ken Shepherd critiqued Gearan's story.

ABC Jake Tapper focused on actual news about the attack in Libya instead of the partisan back and forth in Congress, reporting this exclusive Wednesday morning: "U.S. Security Official in Libya Tells Congressional Investigators About ‘Inappropriately Low’ Security at Benghazi Post."

By contrast, the Times's narrow focus on partisan sniping served to limit the damage to the Obama camp, even as revelations of the administration's dithering finally begin appearing in the press:

On the eve of the first Congressional hearing on the attack last month at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, members of the House committee investigating the assaults spent Tuesday accusing one another of exploiting the violence to score partisan political points.

The hearing, four weeks after the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, is expected to focus on any potential intelligence failures in assessing a growing militant threat in Benghazi and eastern Libya; possible security lapses at the mission; and whether the Obama administration underestimated the dangers posed by Al Qaeda’s franchise in northern Africa and other extremist groups in Libya.


Democrats and Republicans on the oversight committee traded similar accusations -- that the other party had shown scant interest in dealing with the broader issues of intelligence warnings and security matters, and had focused instead on trying to show that their party was better equipped to address volatile and shifting national security challenges.

“Never in all of my years in Congress have I seen such a startling and damaging series of partisan abuses,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “The Republicans are in full campaign mode, and it is a shame that they are resorting to such pettiness in what should be a serious and responsible investigation. We should be above that.”

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on national security issues, said the Democrats’ strategy was to “blame it on politics rather than addressing the nature of the issue.”

“They can blame it on politics,” Mr. Chaffetz said, “but we are concerned about the more than a hundred embassies and thousands of Americans abroad.”

Missing the forest for the trees, the Times devoted precious paragraphs merely relaying partisan Democratic complaints against the GOP:

Democrats accused the Republicans of preventing them from interviewing witnesses they plan to call at the hearing, including Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led the military security team in Tripoli. Colonel Wood has appeared on several national television programs in recent days and has said that he and other embassy officials unsuccessfully sought to extend his team’s tour at the embassy because of mounting security concerns.

A memorandum circulated by Democratic staff members of the panel said that Republicans concealed until last Thursday their plans to depart on the next day for an investigative trip to Libya and that “due to this inadequate notice, no Democratic members or staff were able to join.” A Congressional staff member provided a copy of the memo to The New York Times.

Schmidt and Schmitt left one of the biggest controversies of the terrorist attack for the last paragraph,and offered it up quite mildly:

Republicans have singled out Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, for criticism because she first attributed the attack to a spontaneous mob protest that spun out of control. Ms. Rice has fired back, saying that she relied solely on information from intelligence agencies and that the government’s understanding of what happened had evolved as more information became available.

Indeed, the State Department has since said there was no protest before the attack in Benghazi, though the administration has insisted for weeks that a video clip mocking Muhammad triggered the violence.