Fox Covers Up a Benghazi Story

Ahmed Abu Khattala

Ahmed Abu Khattala

Why does Fox News fail to report that the suspect in the Benghazi attack captured Tuesday by the US  says the motive for the attack was an anti-Muslim internet video? For the answer to that, we have to take a few steps back.

That the internet video has been reported was the motive for the violence isn’t exactly breaking news. On the day after the September 11, 2012, attack, the New York Times reported:

Fighters involved in the assault, which was spearheaded by a Islamist brigade formed during last year’s uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, said in interviews during the battle that 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. 

A month later, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick (10/15/12) quoted several eyewitness telling a similar story:

To those on the ground, circumstances of the attack are hardly a mystery. Most of the attackers made no effort to hide their faces or identities, and during the assault some acknowledged to a Libyan journalist working for the New York Times that they belonged to the group. And their attack drew a crowd, some of whom cheered them on, some of whom just gawked, and some of whom later looted the compound. The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day.

Among those who identified the Internet video as the motive was a local construction worker and militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who several eyewitnesses (AP, 10/18/12; New York Times, 10/15/12) identified as the leader of the attacks. Abu Khattala denies involvement, but told CNN in May 2013 (aired 8/31/13 ) that he’d been at the scene observing and directing traffic.

Last Sunday, Abu Khattala was captured by US special forces in Benghazi as a suspect in the attacks. Two days later, the Times’ Kirkpatrick (6/17/14) published a profile of Khattala recounting his remarks about the attackers’ motives. Khattala also repeated his claim in an interview with New Yorker writer Mary Fitzgerald last April, published three days ago (6/18/14):

He also maintained that the violence in Benghazi that night grew out of a protest against a movie produced in the United States that lampooned Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, rather than being a planned action by militants. 

Since the attacks, even after Abu Khattala’s arrest, despite many prominent reports about him  and others citing the Internet video as the motive for the attacks, Fox News has never seen fit to mention his contention.

It’s not that they have a blind spot about Khattala, or just happened to miss the dozens of stories about him in other media. On the contrary, Fox News has aired 11 segments mentioning Khattala–six before his arrest, mostly wondering why he hasn’t ye been arrested (i.e., Fox News Sunday, 9/8/13); and five since his arrest, which are more concerned that Khattala will be tried in US courts, than they are with what might be learned about the details of the attack (e.g., Special Report, 6/18/14.)

So why no mention of the suspect’s stated motive now? Fox News has aired more than 2,000 segments on the Benghazi attacks. Like other right-wing media with the Benghazi bug, Fox News claims that the White House deceived the public by not immediately branding the incident an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attack, but instead claimed that it was a spontaneous reaction to the notorious internet video. The motive for the deception, goes the theory, was the White House’s desire not to remind voters that Al-Qaeda was still active two months before a US presidential elections (e.g., Special Report, 5/14/13.)

Indeed, the conspiracy-mongering got so out of control at one point that the Republicans, with Fox News at their backs, attempted to turn a State Department email mentioning that the anti-Muslim Internet video had caused incidents at a number of US embassies into a smoking gun–evidence, they said, that State Department was trying to repeat inaccurate talking points to be used on Sunday morning chat shows (e.g., Kelly File, 5/1/14). They were ultimately unsuccessful, as more level-headed media corrected the record (e.g., Slate, 4/30/14).

It’s all pretty far-fetched. The president did in fact call the attacks terrorism soon after they happened, and other embassies in the Muslim world were actually attacked. What this all seems to suggest is that Fox News won’t mention the significant evidence that the Internet video was behind the attacks because it is so deeply invested in the story of a White House conspiracy, and it’s too late to change the script. In other words, it’s not about journalism, it’s about politics.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.