After Editor's Lecture, New York Times Still Framing Benghazi Through Partisan Prism

May 10th, 2013 11:37 AM

New York Times reporter Mark Landler reported on the ongoing controversy over Benghazi on Friday, as House Republicans demanded the White House release what they consider an incriminating email showing officials knew Islamic terrorists were responsible for the attack, yet blamed an anti-Islamic Youtube video instead: "Benghazi Debate Focuses on Interpretation of Early E-Mail on Attackers."

House Republicans on Thursday intensified their criticism of the Obama administration for its handling of the assault on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, with Speaker John A. Boehner calling for the release of an e-mail that he said showed that State Department officials believed from the start that “Islamic terrorists” were linked to the attack but have declined to say so publicly.

Mr. Boehner’s demand, delivered the day after a dramatic hearing by a House committee, signaled that Republican leaders intend to continue portraying the attack as a major failure by the administration as well as a potentially effective issue against former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.

“The State Department would not allow our committees to keep copies of this e-mail when it was reviewed,” Mr. Boehner said. “I would call on the president to order the State Department to release this e-mail so that the American people can see it.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, read an excerpt from the e-mail, quoting what he said was a reference to the local militant group that carried out the attack, Ansar al-Shariah, as having links to “Islamic terrorists.”

But a copy of the e-mail reviewed by The New York Times indicates that A. Elizabeth Jones, the senior State Department official who wrote it, referred to “Islamic extremists,” not terrorists.

Landler couldn't break the paper's habit, criticized by the paper's own public editor, of treating it as a partisan issue.

For months, House Republicans have been pressing Mr. Boehner to take a more public stand on the matter, because it fires up the Republican base as lawmakers head into the midterm election cycle. Voters in the most conservative districts often raise the issue, giving the lawmakers fuel to bring back to the Capitol after weekends at home.

Friday's lead editorial took up the defense of the Obama administration, clear from the headline, "The Republicans' Benghazi Obsession." The editors craftily played up the elevated expectations of the hearing voiced by some Republicans to ignore the actual damaging revelations from Wednesday.

The hearing did not prove anything like an administration cover-up or other hysterical allegations of crimes equal to Watergate thatsome Republicans, such as Representative Steve King and Senator Lindsey Graham, have alleged. Republicans have held numerous hearings and briefings on Benghazi and are threatening to hold even more. It is a level of interest they did not show during George W. Bush’s administration when there were 64 attacks on American diplomatic targets or in the years they spent cutting back diplomatic security budgets.