Maddow's Approach to Covering Benghazi: What Would Pravda Do?

Hard to believe, but Rachel Maddow once engaged in something resembling journalism in response to the attack in Benghazi.

It came on her MSNBC show only two days after the jihadist onslaught that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last September, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Maddow described how security in Benghazi had deteriorated for months-- while she inadvertently damned the Obama administration for not providing adequate protection as conditions worsened.

But on the same show, Maddow reverted to form and vilified the person she deemed most worthy of condemnation -- GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his criticism of Obama's response to the Benghazi attack and storming of the US embassy in Cairo.

Efforts to determine what actually happened on that horrible night gained momentum last week with the testimony of three State Department officials before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. One of the three, Gregory Hicks, became the highest ranking American diplomat in Libya after Stevens was murdered. In fact, Hicks at the time served as deputy chief of mission, a job previously held by Stevens, and Stevens had appointed Hicks to this position.

In other words, Hicks cannot be ignored by anyone acting in good faith to determine the truth about the Benghazi attack. Which is why Maddow has gone out of her way to ignore him.

On Friday, Maddow went through conservative talking points on Benghazi and tried to dismantle them. One in particular was handled with signature deceit. "As for this one, as for why the military did not respond to stop the attack," Maddow said, "the military themselves has also answered that one. The then-secretary of defense answered that one back in February."

Maddow then showed a clip of Leon Panetta testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 7 and saying this -- "There was not enough time, given the speed of the attack, for armed military assets to respond."

Which a fully satisfied Maddow reinforced, much like an eager to please reporter at Pravda during the Brezhnev era -- "So that's why the military did not respond. They could not get there in time. So says the military." More important still, comrade, this year's glorious harvest was not slowed in the least.

But this is not what "the military" claimed in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack. "We quickly responded, as General (Martin) Dempsey (chairman of Joint Chiefs) said, in terms of deploying forces to the region," Panetta said at an Oct. 25 news briefing. "We had fast platoons in the region. We had ships that we deployed off of Libya. And we were prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that."

"But the basic principle here," Panetta added, "basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General (Carter) Ham (head of US military in Africa), General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."

Four months later, after Obama's re-election had been secured but nagging questions about Benghazi refusing to go away, Panetta was telling a different tale to skeptical members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There was this initial attack on the facility at Benghazi," Panetta testified. "Within an hour or so, that ended. And very frankly, we thought that was the end of what had occurred there. And we had no intelligence that a second attack would take place at the annex two miles away."

"Very frankly" did you say, Secretary Panetta? In other words, a mistake was made of monumental stupidity, the infantile assumption that terrorists, having struck once, were certain to pack up their machine gunes and grenade launchers and call it a night. Label me crazy if you will, but I'm more inclined to think that if terrorists have staged an attack, chances are fairly good they'll stage another. Say what you will about them, they often don't lack for persistence.

Ah, but there was "no intelligence" that a second attack would occur at the annex, seeing how the terrorists weren't chivalrous enough to provide a heads-up that they'd return for more. Actually, you did have intelligence that a second attack was likely if not imminent. That intelligence took the form of the initial attack only hours earlier and two miles away from another one of your diplomatic facilities. Good intel doesn't get much better than that.

Panetta provided further helpful clarification for the Senate. "The issue of whether or not you suddenly deploy, you know, a platoon or a team into an area still has to, you still have to determine whether or not the situation that's there requires the deployment of that force there," he said. "And frankly" -- once again with "frankly" -- "when we were told that the attack was over, you know, we immediately, you know, although we had the forces in place, we would have responded if something, you know, had indicated more, we had no intelligence to indicate that that was the case."

Translation: alas, the initial attack wasn't enough for us to determine we'd been attacked. It took the second attack to make this crystal clear to Panetta, that Americans were under siege in Libya and their lives imperiled. None of which was enough to prevent the president from getting much-needed slumber with a rigorous day of fundraising awaiting him in Las Vegas.

Back in October, Panetta lectured that it is a "basic principle" that "you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on." Fair enough. Another basic principle comes to mind -- when you climb into a boxing ring, don't assume your opponent will try to punch you only once.

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts