NYT Benghazi Bombshell: They Reported It Last Year Too

New York Times photo of Benghazi

The New York Times’ photo illustrating its new Benghazi report.

Judging by the reaction of many journalists, the main lesson of a major investigative piece  by David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times (12/29/13) into the attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was that Al-Qaeda was not responsible.

This contradicts the right-wing narrative that has held considerable sway in the press for the past year, which transformed the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens into a political scandal. As Meet the Press host David Gregory (12/29/13) declared at the top of his show, “A bombshell report in the New York Times could change the debate over the deadly attack.”

But careful readers should have known this for over a year. The very same Times journalist reported  a very similar story in real time. If more people had paid it sufficient attention at the time, the Republican scandal machine would have had a more difficult time getting traction.

In the new account, Kirkpatrick writes that there was

no evidence that Al-Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault…. Contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Kirkpatrick’s story makes clear that the narrative popular among Republican politicians like Darrell Issa–that Stevens died in a well-coordinated Al-Qaeda attack, and that the Obama White House attempted to hide this fact from the public, with Susan Rice telling a bogus story about a video in order to conceal a deadly act of terrorism–was almost entirely bogus.

Seeming to not want to take sides with the Obama White House, Kirkpatrick writes that Rice’s version of events was also flawed, mainly because the violence was not “spontaneous,” though had “had spontaneous elements.”

But it was the Issa narrative, pushed by so many right-wing pundits and politicians, that was amplified by the corporate media–who treated it as established fact that the attack had nothing to do with the anti-Islam narrative (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/18/12; FAIR Blog, 10/19/12).

Before the attack, Kirkpatrick notes, there had been attacks against Western targets in Benghazi–so it would not be impossible to imagine other attacks like the one that happened on September 11, 2012. And neither would it be far-fetched to think that people would express outrage over a video, apparently made in the United States, that would be considered deeply offensive to some Muslims. The idea that the attack must have had some Al-Qaeda link was never clear, and the new reporting suggests that leaders of the group played no role in executing the attack on the facility.

Some of this is noteworthy, to be sure–and it seriously undermines the right-wing storyline. But it isn’t particularly new. As I wrote on the FAIR Blog over a year ago (“Noise and Nonsense on Benghazi Attack,” 10/17/12), a piece in the Times written by Kirkpatrick and Steven Lee Myers published on September 13, 2012, had people at the scene saying they were attacking the US building in response to the video. As they reported then:

They were moved to attack the mission by anger over a 14-minute, American-made video that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s founder, as a villainous, homosexual and child-molesting buffoon. Their attack followed by just a few hours the storming of the compound surrounding the United States Embassy in Cairo by an unarmed mob protesting the same video.

The Times (10/16/12) would make much the same point about a month later, also explaining that people who were conflating Al-Qaeda with the group Ansar Al-Shariah–which is what many Republican critics seemed to be doing–were wrong to link the two groups.

So the Times‘ new reporting helps shed some light on a chaotic incident, and gives readers (among other things) considerable background into what US officials were thinking right before the attacks.  That is indeed important.

But journalists who treat this story as if it substantially changes what is known about the  Benghazi attack–like NBC‘s David Gregory, who declared that “this is a significant story because it changes the narrative”–are really just demonstrating that they weren’t paying very close attention to reporters they’re apparently reading very closely today. Had they paid more attention when it mattered, Benghazi would have been treated more like the non-scandal that it is.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.