CNN Anchor's Benghazi Spin: 'What Administration' 'Doesn't Try to Control the Message'?

On Sunday's 6 p.m. Newsroom, CNN's Don Lemon made a shockingly generous excuse for the Obama administration's talking points on Benghazi that were edited a dozen times to the point of inaccuracy.

"[T]he accusation is that the Obama administration in some way tried to change the talking points or water them down. And my question is, and I really – I'm being honest about this, what administration, Ana, doesn't try to control the message no matter what it is?" Lemon asked. He also framed the accusations against the administration as "partisan," ignoring whether or not they were also true.

"It's obvious that someone mishandled something. It's obvious, but it is looking pretty partisan when you look at all of the talking points that are being used," Lemon fretted. He also used the administration's talking point that the focus needs to be on the future and not on what happened just after the attacks.

"But the more important thing is keeping people safe and keeping them from dying in the future. But it doesn't appear to be where this is going, Maria," he complained of the investigations.  

Lemon also framed the GOP argument as a whacky conspiracy theory that the White House allowed the attacks to happen: "What administration – not that I'm defending the Obama administration, but what administration – the Bush administration, Nixon, anybody – wants American people to die on their watch? I just – I don't see it."

"But nobody is saying that, Don," GOP strategist Ana Navarro shot back. "I understand that, I understand that," Lemon answered. Then why did he ask the question in the first place?

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on May 12 on CNN Newsroom at 6:15 p.m. EDT:

DON LEMON: Eight months after the Benghazi attacks, critics say the White House is still being dishonest. The Obama administration is under new pressure after an e-mail chain revealed this week showed how talking points got edited and watered down by multiple agencies. Some Republicans say the White House needs to come clean.

(Video Clip)

Sen. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): I'd call it a cover up. I would call it a cover up in the extent that there was willful removal of information which was obvious. It was obvious.

Rep. DARRYL ISSA (D-Calif.): The American people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month.

This was a terrorist attack from the get-go.

They were in fact covering up an easy attack that succeeded that was from the get-go really about a terrorist attack. It was never about a video.

(End Video Clip)

Let's bring in our political panel now, Republican strategist and CNN analyst, Ana Navarro, joins me from Miami. Democratic strategist and CNN analyst Maria Cardona joins me from Washington.

So, Ana, cover-up -- that's a pretty strong accusation. Do you think the White House is guilty of a cover-up on Benghazi?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN analyst: I don't know. I'd like to know. I think at the very least, Don, very serious mistakes were made. I think at the very worst, it was intentional and it was a cover-up.

But at this point, we don't know the answer. Regardless of what the answer is, we need to get to the bottom of it because, look, there's four dead Americans. And more than that, there's thousands of Americans serving in diplomatic posts all over this – the world, in some very dangerous places. And if mistakes were made, if it was intentional or not, we need to know what those mistakes were so that those people's lives can be in a better place, can be more secure in the future. It's about that for me. It's not about politics.

LEMON: Yeah, but it seems to be about politics. I mean, and I think that you're right on on this. I think that the more important thing – it's terrible that people died. But the more important thing is keeping people safe and keeping them from dying in the future. But it doesn't appear to be where this is going, Maria. Do you disagree with that?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN analyst: No, I think that's exactly right. And to Ana's point, look, four Americans died. And that's why when this first happened, Secretary Clinton took full responsibility for this, and she said very clearly that the buck stops with her. It's why there was a rigorous review by the Accountability Review Board, who by the way did find that there was egregious mistakes and that's why they recommended implementing 29 new ways of doing things.

And the -- and the State Department actually did that. But what is the point here, Don, is that it is now political and it doesn't seem like Republicans are focused on trying to get to the bottom of this. The criminal investigation with the FBI to find the perpetrators, let's do that.

LEMON: It's obvious that someone mishandled something. It's obvious, but it is looking pretty partisan when you look at all of the talking points that are being used. And let me ask – let me ask this question, because the accusation is that the Obama administration in some way tried to change the talking points or water them down. And my question is, and I really – I'm being honest about this, what administration, Ana, doesn't try to control the message no matter what it is?

NAVARRO: I think every administration tries to control the message, but one thing is controlling the message and one thing is scrubbing e-mails 12 times to the point where they are completely false and misleading. What we learned this week from the people on the ground in Tripoli is that they knew from the get-go that this was a terror attack while we were being told here in the United States by this administration and its representatives that it was about a video. And we were told that for days and days and days.

(Crosstalk)

LEMON: So you're saying the CIA was bullied by the administration? You think the CIA was bullied by the administration?  

NAVARRO: Say that again? I don't know. Those are the answers precisely that we need to find out. The election is over. President Obama won. Now, let's get to the bottom of this so that we can keep Americans safe in the future and so that people that should be held accountable are.

LEMON: Okay, Maria, just real quickly because I want to move on to the IRS, do you think tht the CIA was bullied by the administration?

CARDONA: No, I don't, and David Petraeus has said that – he actually cleared what the talking points ended up saying. Were the talking points wrong? Absolutely. And when we realized exactly what happened, then the administration said so. There was no cover-up here. Is it a clumsy process? Yes. Is it tortured? Yes. I have been in that process under the Clinton administration and it's not pretty.

LEMON: What administration – not that I'm defending the Obama administration, but what administration – the Bush administration, Nixon, anybody – wants American people to die on their watch? I just – I don't see it.

CARDONA: That's right, nobody.

LEMON: Okay. Let's move on now to the next topic.

NAVARRO: But nobody is saying that, Don.

LEMON: I understand that, I understand that, but – and I know it was handled clumsily. But if you look at it just as a civilian, someone who's not in the political process, obviously, something was done wrong, but it's also very partisan, it seems, to most Americans who are looking at it.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014