CBS News: Republicans Changed Benghazi Emails
A turn in the controversy over Benghazi that will likely defuse it as a major issue for many voters due to the old maxim “consider the source,” because it’s clear the motivation of the source. CBS News’ Major Garrett (formerly of Fox News) has reported that the ABC News “bombshell” emails about Benghazi, which turned out to be at variance with the actual emails, were changed by Republicans. CNN had earlier reported the big difference between the leaked information and the actual memos.
If you felt our politics smelled and increasingly has little to do about getting to the truth and more about doing whatever it takes to decimate the other side (even if truth becomes collateral damage) read this report and weep. Key chunks of it:
The Benghazi attack is a political controversy. Republicans claim the administration watered down the facts in talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for television appearances while Obama was running for re-election. Republicans on Capitol Hill claimed they found proof in White House emails that they leaked to reporters last week. It turns out some of the quotes were wrong.
Republicans have charged that the State Department under Hillary Clinton was trying to protect itself from criticism. The White House released the real emails late Wednesday. Here’s what we found when we compared them to the quotes that had been provided by Republicans.
One email was written by deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.
But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”
Republicans also provided what they said was a quote from an email written by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.
The Republican version quotes Nuland discussing, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”
The actual email from Nuland says: “The penultimate point could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”
There’s more so read it in full.
It’s important to note that reporters generally zealously protect their sources, but they do not like to feel burned or intentionally USED to put out false information. Sources that provide inaccurate or downright lying information then have a problem: they have low credibility with reporters and the credibility of the people they try to discredit in turn goes up.
Clearly, in this case ABC ran the original information and it was the first of three scandals to hit the Obama administration. But then the White House released a slew of emails and CNN noted the discrepancies. Garrett and CBS clearly decided that given the fact that false information was given out it was an important part of the story to specify who was giving the information out — since it was clearly false and clearly political.
Despite what partisans on both sides may think at times, professional news organizations unless they are offering an ideological product try to gather information and package it to news consumers as just that — accurate information.
How can this distorted, inaccurate information provided by Republicans come back to bit them? The National Journal’s Charlie Cook today tells GOPers that they’re be well advised not to grandstand and go haywire on Obama and better to undermine him quietly. He writes:
But as much as congressional Republicans are enjoying their schadenfreude, they would be well advised to think long and hard about their next steps. Even the most cursory look at opinion polls or focus groups reveals that the public is convinced we have an ineffectual and out-of-touch Congress that spends too much time backbiting, grandstanding, and Monday-morning quarterbacking while the country’s problems fester. Arguably, showboating for the cameras and holding hearings are what Congress does best; the temptation is unavoidable.
Republicans would be much wiser to pursue a third option: Dig up as much damaging information as they can about the Obama administration and leak it to reporters they know will write tough stories that won’t be traced back to the source. That way, the public won’t see the GOP as being obsessed with attacking the other side and playing gotcha at the expense of the big issues facing the country—the ones voters really care about.
This will be MUCH more difficult to “plant” now. How many editors are reporters are going to take at face value information Republicans on the hill offer them without carefully checking it out before again being burned? FEWER reporters (and editors) will be willing to take planted information at face value.
Here’s how this new development is playing elsewhere:
That doesn’t mean this is the last we’ve heard about the deadly September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, says The Associated Press’ Donna Cassata. “Eight months after the attack, the issue remains a political winner with the Republican base as conservatives have been ferocious in assailing Obama.” No fewer than five House committees are pursuing separate Benghazi inquiries, and they all pledge to hold hearings.
The next big show should be public testimony before Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, who led an independent review of what went wrong in Benghazi. And if the 100 emails the White House released didn’t work out, Republicans are unfazed. “Why not release all of the unclassified documents?” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).
Now that the White House has released 100-pages worth of emails between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency over how to craft post-Benghazi talking points, we know three things.
First, this White House has no clue how to handle a public relations crisis; it should have released those emails ages ago. Second, the more we learn, the clearer it is that there was no cover-up. Third, the Republicans in Congress don’t care about the truth of the matter. They’re going to keep attacking President Obama (to cause him pain right now), and Hillary Clinton’s State Department (to cause her pain if she runs in 2016).
On Wednesday, pretty much every dispassionate news organization reported that the newly released emails do not contain evidence of a scandal. President Obama’s national security team did not try to alter the talking points to shield Mr. Obama’s re-election chances.
So here’s what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week’s Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
But it was typical GOP overreach. To their surprise, the White House took Republicans up on their demand to make the entire email chain public, thus making it clear to the press that they had been burned. And now reporters are letting us all know who was behind it.
This has always been the Republican Party’s biggest risk with this stuff: that they don’t know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn’t have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it’s driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it’s time to start impeachment proceedings.
The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.
As I noted the other day, the email at the core of the Republican case that the White House ‘fixed’ the Benghazi talking points, in the immediate aftermath of the attack on our consulate, in order to edit out any reference to ‘terrorism,’ in a supposed effort to minimize public concern about the attack in the weeks before the 2012 election, is a fake.
The actual White House email, far from proving an attempt by the White House to “spin” Benghazi for political purposes, shows a White House concerned about getting the facts right.
CBS News said tonight that the false quotes “had been provided by Republicans,” and that “on Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes,” referring to then- White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.
CBS’ story online makes clear that they’re referring to “Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
Generally, once partisan, tendentious sources leak information that turns out to be wrong, nothing’s ever done about it. That’s for many reasons, some good or somewhat understandable, mostly bad. But on CBS Evening News tonight, Major Garrett did something I don’t feel like I’ve seen in a really long time or maybe ever on a network news cast. He basically said straight out: Republicans told us these were the quotes, that wasn’t true.