New York Times intelligence reporter Scott Shane's mock Q&A in Thursday's edition, "What Happened in Libya? Clearing Up a Fierce Dispute," served to shield President Obama from criticism on how his administration described the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, misleadingly emphasizing that Obama "referred to the attack as an 'act of terror' twice" in two days. Shane omitted that Obama and his administration proceeded to blame the attacks on spontaneous protests over a YouTube video, with Obama himself doing so several times in a September 26 speech to the United Nations.
Shane is worried that "what happened in the attack, and disputes over who said what about it, have left many people confused." (Is "confused" code for "criticizing the Obama administration"?) He's the latest Times reporter to insist that Obama "applied the 'terror' label to the attack" in his Rose Garden address on September 12, while admitting "the reference was indirect." The Times' s own managing editors would quibble with that assessment.
The dispute over how the Obama administration has characterized the lethal attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last month boiled over once again in the debate on Tuesday night between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But questions about what happened in the attack, and disputes over who said what about it, have left many people confused. Here are some of the facts as they are now known:
Q: When did Mr. Obama first talk about the attack on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as terrorism?
A: Mr. Obama applied the “terror” label to the attack in his first public statement on the events in Benghazi, delivered in the Rose Garden at the White House at 10:43 a.m. on Sept. 12, though the reference was indirect. “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,” he said. “Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
Q: Was that the only time Mr. Obama used the “terror” label?
A: No. The next day, Sept. 13, in a campaign appearance in Las Vegas, he used similar language. “And we want to send a message all around the world -- anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America,” he said.
Q: If the president referred to the attack as an “act of terror” twice in those two days, why has there been such a controversy over what Republicans call the administration’s deep reluctance to label the attack terrorism?
A: The “act of terror” references attracted relatively little notice at the time, and later they appeared to have been forgotten even by some administration officials. In the vice-presidential debate, for instance, Representative Paul D. Ryan declared, “It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not directly contradict the charge. What attracted more attention was a series of statements by administration officials, notably Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, that appeared to link the Benghazi attack to a protest against a crude anti-Islam video made in the United States that was circulating on the Web.
Shane skipped ahead to when the administration finally got its story straight.
Q: When did administration officials begin consistently to use the “terrorism” label?
A: On Sept. 19, Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said about the killings in Benghazi during a Senate hearing, “Yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.” The next day, asked about Mr. Olsen’s testimony, Mr. Carney declared, “It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
MRC president Brent Bozell issued a news release with facts Shane downplayed or omitted:
...If Obama was correct that on Day 1 he said it was a terrorist attack, why did his UN ambassador say on five different national interviews that it was a YouTube video that was responsible, and who put her up to it? If he saw this as a terrorist attack from the very beginning, why did the president himself blame it on a video six times during a UN speech?