You know the old legal aphorism? "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table." That came to mind watching Bill O’Reilly rail against the New York Times in an effort to discredit their Benghazi investigation that was extremely damaging to Fox News’ year-long claims. Fortunately, for truth lovers, media critic Howard Kurtz showed some rare spine and integrity and smacked down some of O’Reilly’s bloviating but good.
O'Reilly's flawed attacks on the Times' report
In case you missed it, the Times recently published a lengthy, detailed and extremely persuasive investigation into last year's attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. The Times demolished many of Fox News’ talking points, such as the accusation that the Obama administration claimed that an anti-Islamic video fueled the attack as an effort to cover up what was “really” an Al Qaeda terror attack just before the 2012 presidential election.
Rather than show some journalistic integrity and admit that its Benghazi coverage has been flawed, Fox is doubling down and attacking the Times. Last night, the big gun, Bill O’Reilly, did his part with some major chest thumping and table pounding during his Talking Points commentary. FoxNews.com gave the video (below) the cynical title, “The straight story about the murders in Benghazi.”
The Times concluded that there is no evidence – no evidence! – that Al Qaeda was involved in the murders and an anti-Muslim video, promoted by a Florida preacher, did ignite the fuse of violence as the Obama administration initially stated.
Well, since we’re supposed to be talking “straight story” here, let me pause to point out that that’s not exactly what the Times concluded. The Times said that Al Qaeda had no formal role in the assault and that the video was a major factor in, not the sole cause of the attack:
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
…In this case, a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, according to numerous Libyans present at the time. American officials briefed on the American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect. Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies. But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person C.I.A. station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation.
In an editorial about the article, the Times’ Editorial Board elaborated:
Americans are often careless with the term “Al Qaeda,” which strictly speaking means the core extremist group, founded by Osama bin Laden, that is based in Pakistan and bent on global jihad.
Republicans, Democrats and others often conflate purely local extremist groups, or regional affiliates, with Al Qaeda’s international network.
In other words, the Times was leaving open the possibility that the attackers – and specifically Abu Khattala – had some loose connections with Al Qaeda. But it was drawing a bright line between that and an attack masterminded by Al Qaeda.
Apparently, that was too fine a point for O’Reilly. With seeming even-handedness, he said, “The New York Times rightly claims that an anti-American group called Ansar Al-Sharia was behind the attack.” Then, he attacked the Times for saying Ansar Al-Sharia, was “not affiliated” with Al Qaeda. “The evidence says otherwise,” O’Reilly accused.
O'Reilly wrong about the Times report again
The Times called Abu Khattala an “ally” of Ansar Al-Sharia. And it reported that pickup trucks belonging to the group had been left at the scene of the attack. But the Times also said that trucks belonging to “all the other big militias ostensibly allied with the government” were there, too. And the paper made clear the likelihood that the alliance with Ansar Al-Sharia was informal at best:
Mohammed Ali al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Shariah, told The Washington Post that he disapproved of attacking Western diplomats, but he added, “If it had been our attack on the U.S. Consulate, we would have flattened it.”
If there was one thing glaring in the Times report, it's how murky the situation in Benghazi was. But not to O’Reilly. He quoted an August 2012 report from the Pentagon that said Ansar Al-Sharia “has increasingly embodied Al-Qaeda’s presence in Libya” and then snarled, “The Times does not mention – does not mention! – the Pentagon’s assessment in its article.” He added:
An amazing lapse of reportage and a HUGE mistake if the paper wants its readers to believe it is covering hard news in a fair way. There is simply no excuse for not including the Pentagon’s point of view.
Well, we’ll put aside the hilarious irony of anyone at Fox complaining about bias in news coverage in order to make the point that a) even if the Pentagon’s assessment is correct, that does not automatically disprove the Times’ reporting that found no direct, formal involvement of Al Qaeda and b) even if the Times should have mentioned that connection, it in no way materially discredits the rest of its report, which was based on on-the-ground sources. In fact, there were no armed forces in Benghazi at the time – which O’Reilly almost surely knows because it’s one of the big GOP gripes.
O'Reilly gets it wrong yet again
O’Reilly also dismissed the Times claim that the attack did “not appear to have been meticulously planned” with his assertion:
For more than two hours, dozens of Islamic thugs used rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons to assault the U.S. Mission compound in Benghazi. Militants were seen on video cameras casing the mission before the attack and they hid themselves until opening fire.
They also attacked a CIA compound a half mile away using mortars, and The New York Times says the attack was not planned. Are you kidding me?
Now, I realize that a great veteran armchair general like O’Reilly can probably know more from his studio in New York than the team of Times reporters who did the actual investigating. But even so, he missed a crucial point. The paper did not say the attack was not planned. It said:
The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.
Still, O’Reilly sneered that the word “meticulously” was “the paper’s fallback” and declared that “pure bull.” Then General O’Reilly declared that “the coordinated violence eliminates the videotape as a spontaneous driver of the murders, eliminates that.”
After swiping at the Times for its 2008 presidential campaign coverage, O’Reilly alleged that the paper “has become deeply invested in changing America into a secular progressive country” whose “primary goal” is to “help progressive groups and politicians.” Therefore, O’Reilly concluded, “the motivation for the way this investigation was framed” was to erase any “hurt” that “the lingering Benghazi situation” may cause Hillary Clinton in her presidential run.
O'Reilly ignores criticisms Times did make about U.S. mistakes in Benghazi
What O’Reilly didn’t mention? Hillary Clinton was never mentioned in the Times report. Oh, and it also left open plenty of questions about the failures that led to the attack. From the Times editorial:
The report is a reminder that the Benghazi tragedy represents a gross intelligence failure, something that has largely been overlooked in the public debate. A team of at least 20 people from the Central Intelligence Agency, including highly skilled commandos, was operating out of an unmarked compound about a half-mile southeast of the American mission when the attack occurred. Yet, despite the C.I.A. presence and Ambassador Stevens’s expertise on Libya, “there was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests,” a State Department investigation found.
The sad thing is that O’Reilly and his fellow Foxies seem more interested in advancing their own agenda than in picking up and expanding upon the information revealed by the Times. O’Reilly can pound the table all he wants but any discerning viewer should see his theatrics for what they are: bull.
It’s somewhat rewarding to see Howard Kurtz smack down O’Reilly immediately following his Talking Points. Kurtz said:
You’re sophisticated enough to know, Bill, that even though the Times has a very liberal editorial page that you don’t have your Cairo bureau chief spend months on a story… in order to help a likely presidential candidate two years from now. It’s not the way newsrooms work.
Kurtz also pointed out that the report does not make either the administration or Hillary Clinton look good. And even O’Reilly pal Bernard Goldberg backed up Kurtz’ assessment of the Times’ process.
O’Reilly insisted, “I think I shredded that article here …on this program and I stand by what we did.”
But he was obviously crestfallen.
Good points. If Fox really cared about what happened and why, they’d be demanding to know why the Pentagon, the CIA and Stevens formed relations with “Al Qaeda” in the first place rather than putting all their focus on screaming about a (fake) cover up.
FOX has manufactured yet another Benghazi conspiracy theory (NYT creating cover for Hillary Clinton) and totally overlooked Kirkpatrick’s criticism of the State Dept., and specifically the CIA. This leaves us to no other conclusion then they are trying to detract from the premise of the article. Even Noah Rotham (leans conservative) @ Mediaite blogged the other day blasting a Fox & Friends segment criticizing Kirkpatrick. Glad to see Kurtz and Goldberg taking a stand against Papa Bear O’Reilly.
The critics are totally ignoring Kirkpatrick’s evidence about the complexity of Al-Qaeda’s connections to other militia groups in Benghazi. If the Pentagon is so insistent that Libya Asar al-Shariah is connected to Al Qaeda, then why on earth did the US Military and the CIA let Ambassador Stevens form bonds with Islamist militia commanders who were in contact with Asar al-Shariah? One of these commanders who was in Tripoli at the time of the attack told NYT that he believed some of his men had participated.
The useless, overpaid senior producers and producers plan to use the Benghazi story against Hillary Clinton, if she decides to run for president.
The cast of characters in this ploy will include former Grand Theft Auto Issa (his new name), the aging Hannocchio the RINO, Barbie Megyn, Lizzie, Goofy Doocy, Billy, and other mouthpieces.
NOTE TO BILLY
Hmm..the New York Times claiming your foolish book, “Killing Jesus” was a bestseller must be a lie too.
Compare and/or contrast that number to the approximately 3000 Americans died because of Dubya’s failure to bother reading a Presidential Daily Briefing while he was on that “much-needed vacation” (a mere 6 1/2 months after being inaugurated). Would Bill like to remind his audience as to how much of an investigation the (Republicon-controlled) Congress did into who bore responsibility for THAT loss of life? And then maybe Bill should remind his audience of how many more Americans died as a result of Dubya’s little invasion of Iraq (a country which had NOTHING to do with 9/11 nor were any of its citizens part of the whole operation, compared to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—perhaps Lebanon as well, IMS).
I do continue to wonder why, back then, Bill and the rest of FoxNoise weren’t as keen in devoting hundreds of hours of airtime in covering Dubya’s failure to be proactive in regards to 9/11 or devoting hundreds of hours demanding the White House explain its failure? Could it have anything to do with the little letters, “G,” “O,” and “P?”
I particularly enjoyed the bits where he tried to play it as though Kirkpatrick is somehow afraid of him. Right. O’Reilly has never been able to distinguish between someone having no use for him, and someone suddenly being terrified of him.
Carole, thank you! I worked very hard on this and it probably won’t get half the eyeballs as a Sarah Palin post, so I appreciate the props. You are right about the CIA intel. In my original draft I noted that the investigation found that one reason the CIA was caught off guard about the attack is because it was TOO focused on Al Qaeda but I was trying to cut down on an overly long post as it was.
The irony is that Fox and the GOP could have used the “too focused on Al Qaeda to see new threats” against Obama in 2012 but it was so busy grabbing at straws they cooked their own goose! OTOH, I would not be surprised if some Fox troll will now go running to their BFF Rep. Mike Rogers to tweak the attack line, assuming anyone would believe it at this point.
“The Benghazi-based C.I.A. team had briefed Mr. McFarland and Mr. Stevens as recently as the day before the attack. But the American intelligence efforts in Libya concentrated on the agendas of the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to Al Qaeda, several officials who received the briefings said. Like virtually all briefings over that period, the one that day made no mention of Mr. Abu Khattala, Ansar al-Shariah or the video ridiculing Islam…”
Here’s another quote saying that the CIA team was very fixated on Al Qaeda. If that was the case, and if this attack was connected to Al Qaeda, then you would think the CIA operatives would have been able to intercept the militias and ask for back-up. Right?
“The fixation on Al Qaeda might have distracted experts from more imminent threats. Those now look like intelligence failures.” ~Kirkpatrick
Here is one more “ah ha” moment from the article pertaining to the CIA team:
“In addition to buying up weapons spilled out during the revolt, the team was assigned to gather intelligence about anti-Western terrorists and the big militia leaders. But there were hundreds of small brigades, affiliations were fluid and overlapping, and the agents often found themselves turning to Mr. Stevens for advice because he seemed to know the militia leaders better than any other American expert.”
The GOP has done a very good job of shutting down any investigation on the role of the CIA outpost. I’m not a big Milbank fan, but here is one article we need to go back and reflect on, now.