Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
I haven’t written anything about the Benghazi non-scandal because, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, that dog won’t hunt. What happened there can be summarized thoroughly and accurately with a single sentence: A group of extremists attacked an American consulate, killing four Americans, and, in the immediate aftermath, the Obama Administration wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Period. The end.
Of course, it was a tragedy, and tragedies demand answers. So, despite the fact that far fewer attacks on embassies and consulates have occurred on Pres. Obama’s watch than during any of the seven previous administrations–including the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and two Bush administrations, during which more than 100 such attacks occurred, exactly none of which garnered any outrage — it’s entirely appropriate that responsible grownups should ask what went wrong in Benghazi.
Unfortunately, responsible grownups aren’t asking those questions. Instead, Congressional Republicans and the talking heads at Fox News are. Still, after months of caterwauling and hyping bogus conspiracy theories about Pres. Obama’s missteps in Benghazi, we’ve learned this much: The Administration spent a lot of time trying to figure out how precisely to explain what happened to a hypercritical media who parse and twist and obscure every word the Administration utters. An obstructionist opposition party that’s predisposed to believe the worst, most farfetched paranoid fantasies about the nation’s first black president, and in the process of doing so . . . they apparently edited a memo.
This would be all well and good if it had stayed within the confines of Fox News and its echo-chambers, but, oddly, it did not. Instead, the more discredited the Benghazi conspiracy theories became, the more other media outlets felt an obligation not merely to look into the matter, but to accept the framing of the tinfoil-hat wearing right-wing fringe.
Until, finally, this happened: On Friday, NPR’s Alan Greenblatt published a story with a title that would surely win a gold medal in the Condescension Olympics, if there were such a thing: “Benghazi Schools Obama In The Politics Of Scandal.” But wait, it’s worse than that.
In Goldblatt’s piece, we learn none of the facts underlying either the attack itself or the Administration’s reaction to the attack. Instead, we learn that Republicans’ “claims are now gaining traction in the media,” and that last week’s congressional hearings “fostered a sense among reporters that there was indeed substance to the allegations of wrongdoing.” But let’s not talk about what that “wrongdoing” may or may not have been, or whether or not there’s a scintilla of evidence to support those “allegations.” Instead, let’s talk about what an Ivy League professor/media critic thinks:
The media’s interest has grown,” says Brendan Nyhan, a government professor at Dartmouth College and a media critic. “That seems to be a function of both the documents the congressional investigation has been able to unearth as well as Hillary Clinton’s relevance to this story and its potential implications for 2016.
Ultimately, Greenblatt concludes–as if this is actual journalism–that the moral of the story is this: The Administration “Fail[ed] Public Relations.” No, I’m not kidding. Four Americans died and the right is dancing on their graves. But this is what matters to Mr. Greenblatt:
There’s been some criticism of the administration about security failures at Benghazi, but much more attention has been paid to the questions of whether officials sought to fudge the story and spin it for political purposes.
Most of the controversy, after all, has been about how the administration framed talking points, which are themselves tools for public relations.
The essential truth about Greenblatt’s piece is that there’s no actual reporting there. He doesn’t cite facts, he just talks about how reporters feel — and not even how reporters feel about the facts, but about the words the Administration used in the midst of a crisis when the precise details of what happened were still coming in. So Greenblatt’s piece has no more value, as journalism, than a private conversation between two media insiders at a cocktail party thrown by media insiders.
The ultimate irony, however, is that this is precisely why the Obama Administration has to waste so much time writing and editing and rewriting its every announcement until it’s phrased just so. Because the media (and the opposition party, of course) ultimately aren’t interested in facts; they’re only interested in spin. They’re obsessively looking for mistakes — not mistakes of policy, but mistakes of diction, of public relations, of superficial appearances–so that they can pounce and say: Aha! Journalism!
So it really boils down to this: Hyperactive scandal-junkies in the media who care only about the words the Administration uses and how it “frames” issues — as opposed to actual facts, because getting at the facts is hard work, dammit.
[Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images via NPR]