Alex Koppelman takes a fresh look at the Benghazi affair this weekend and tries to come up with something outrageous about it. He doesn’t, really, until he gets to the very end. So what is it that he finds most outrageous? Not, it turns out, the poor security in Benghazi; nor the military response to the attacks; nor even the editing of the infamous talking points. Not really. He pinpoints the outrage much more precisely, and I think it’s instructive to read what he says:
This past November (after Election Day), White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
Remarkably, Carney is sticking with that line even now….This is an incredible thing for Carney to be saying. He’s playing semantic games, telling a roomful of journalists that the definition of editing we’ve all been using is wrong, that the only thing that matters is who’s actually working the keyboard. It’s not quite re-defining the word “is,” or the phrase “sexual relations,” but it’s not all that far off, either.
If Benghazi continues to have legs, it won’t be because Fox is hyping it. They’ve been hyping it for eight months now. It won’t be because the initial talking points were wrong. We’ve known that since the end of last September. It won’t be because there were military assets on the night of the attacks that could have been used but weren’t. This is the “stand down” conspiracy theory, which keeps morphing into something new whenever the old version is debunked, and it’s long since been thoroughly hashed out. It won’t be because references to al-Qaeda were removed from the final draft of the talking points. David Petraeus explained that last November. And it won’t be because we learned that the editing of the talking points involved some squabbling between State and CIA. Nobody over the age of five is surprised or scandalized by that.
No, it will be because the small group of reporters who are credentialed to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room feels aggrieved that the press secretary told them something to their faces that concealed a bit of unseemly bureaucratic squabbling. It doesn’t matter if the subject matter itself was important. In this case, it wasn’t: the nickel version is that the State Department objected to the CIA adding a sentence making sure everyone knew they had warned about possible attacks beforehand, a statement that was both gratuitous and off subject. But trivial or not, Carney misled the reporters in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room about this, and that makes it personal.
Never underestimate the power of a press corps that suddenly decides the story is personal. It may be a while before they let go of this.