CBS Libya ‘Factcheck’ Will Live in Infamy

CBS Evening News (10/17/12) provides another example of corporate media’s through-the-looking-glass  media “factchecking” of the Libya exchange at the second Obama/Romney debate (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/18/12). CBS‘s Jan Crawford set up the issue this way:

For weeks, Republicans have said the president’s reluctance to call the attacks terrorism is a sign his administration doesn’t have a competent national security policy. Last night, the president said he did call it an act of terror within 24 hours of the attacks. That is a new explanation, and it triggered a clash between the president, Romney and the debate moderator.

Note how the framing accepts the GOP’s version of reality: The “president’s reluctance to call the attacks terrorism” is presented as a fact that the Republicans are offering an interpretation of (that it’s a sign of incompetent policy), and the president’s now month-old remarks are identified as a “new explanation.”

CBS then played the debate exchange, followed by Obama’s actual Rose Garden statement (9/13/12):

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,
alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.

Then Crawford editorializes:

But with that statement, Mr. Obama didn’t directly say the Libya attack qualified as one of those acts of terror. Earlier in his remarks, he seemed to suggest the attacks instead were triggered by an anti-Muslim video.

Franklin Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan (National Archives)

FDR said the DATE would “live in infamy,” but he didn’t actually say the ATTACK was infamous.

It’s true that Obama didn’t say, “No act of terror, like the one in Benghazi, will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” One might just as easily observe that Franklin Roosevelt did not begin his famous speech, “December 7, 1941–a date that will live in infamy because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Perhaps Roosevelt was alluding to the assassination of Cicero on December 7, 43 BCE? Or Jesse James’ first bank robbery on December 7, 1869?

More than likely, though, Roosevelt expected us to assume that the date would live in infamy because of the Japanese attack, since that was the whole reason he was giving the speech in the first place.

The second part of that paragraph made the strangely common media argument that suggesting that the Benghazi violence was motivated by outrage over the Muhammad video (which is what the people who carried out the violence said when they were asked by the New York Times) implies that you think that the violence was not terrorism–as if terrorists can’t be outraged by a video, I guess. It’s not an argument that bears a lot of thinking about.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that for some reason it was considered a political liability to have claimed that the Benghazi attack was terrorism. In the debate, Romney accuses Obama of having called it an “act of terror,” and Obama denies it. Do you think CBS Evening News, or anyone else, would be running segments explaining that while Obama used the phrase in his statement about the attack, he didn’t explicitly say he was talking about the attack in that sentence? That would be no more peculiar than the segment CBS actually ran.

Crawford concluded:

Now, many Republicans say they think that Romney missed a real opportunity last night to forcefully challenge Crowley and the president over what they say, Scott, is a new timeline that just doesn’t square with the facts.

She began with Republican spin and ended up with Republican spin. At least she’s consistent.


About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.