Just how bad is the media's track record this election season? On Monday, CNN's Anderson Cooper led his show with a manufactured Mitt Romney controversy instead of news that the U.S. may have had advance warning on deadly terrorist attacks.
Here's how Cooper started his show: "On Libya, late word on what American diplomats may have been told about the threat from Muslim extremists, terrorists, just three days before the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi. We're going to have that, but first, what could be a campaign blockbuster, what Mitt Romney said to big money donors about President Obama voters when he didn't think cameras were rolling."
That's right, a possible fatal national security blunder took a backseat to a campaign soundbite leaked by liberal magazine Mother Jones. And Cooper hyped the dire consequences for Mitt Romney, quoting Daily Beast columnist and former Bush consultant Mark McKinnon saying the remark could be "potentially crippling" for Romney.
Cooper later remarked on the Libya terrorist attack, "It sounds like if they [the U.S. embassy] were warned three days before, that's pretty damning, no?" Yet this potentially "damning" story involving national security and the deaths of American diplomats was not deemed as newsworthy as a Republican campaign gaffe.
A brief transcript of the segment, which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on September 18 at 7:59 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin tonight with breaking news on two fronts tonight. On Libya, late word on what American diplomats may have been told about the threat from Muslim extremists, terrorists, just three days before the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi. We're going to have that, but first, what could be a campaign blockbuster, when Mitt Romney said to big money donors about President Obama voters when he didn't think cameras were rolling. A camera was rolling, though, and Mother Jones magazine got the video. Here's a portion of it.
MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential candidate: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right. There are 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has the responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it. But that's – that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this President no matter what. And I mean the President starts off with 48, 49 – he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax."
(End Video Clip)
COOPER: Now we got these quotes from Mother Jones magazine, which obviously has a political slant. The Romney campaign has not denied the substance of what's in the tapes. In the tape, you hear Mitt Romney saying, "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them." He also joked that he'd have a better shot if his father, George Romney, the former governor of Michigan and automotive – head of an automotive company had been Mexican. The question now, does the playing of this tape hurt or help his chances?
COOPER: More breaking news now. The attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens might not -- or, I should say, might have been, or excuse me, might not have been preventable, but it should have been foreseeable, according to our reporting.
Our reporting from inside Libya seems to indicate that Libyan officials believe that the extremist threat was growing and say they directly warned American diplomats about it. Now this is new video, the commotion outside the Benghazi consulate where friendly Libyans had just discovered a badly wounded Ambassador Stevens in a room inside.
There are frames that we're not showing of the ambassador still apparently breathing, being taken from the scene to a hospital. Clearly it was a tragedy, but was it a foreseeable and therefore a possibly preventable one? So far the U.S. government's line is that the Benghazi murders were probably a spontaneous, not premeditated reaction to that anti-Muslim video on YouTube.
COOPER: Arwa, you've been talking to eyewitnesses on the ground there. I understand one eyewitness heard an extremist talk about hitting a second location. Is that true? Have you heard that? And what does that tell you?
ARWA DAMON, CNN senior international correspondent: First of all, we do know that a second location was attacked. That second location was supposed to be the safe house where embassy personnel were evacuated to. This other eyewitness, a young man, arrived on the scene saying that he saw at least two dozen bearded men, part of a known extremist militia here, he said, just on the outskirts, just outside the consulate compound.
They briefly detained him because they said that he did not share their same ideology. And during the few hours that he was in detention he said he heard him talking about the attack on the compound, celebrating it, and then talking about needing to get ready to go out and attack a second compound.
All of this, of course, raising the question as to whether or not this was a pre-planned assault as some members, senior members of the Libyan government are claiming or whether or not it was quite simply a demonstration that turned violent.
COOPER: Arwa, you're hearing that the U.S. should've known about this, that they were warned in advance?
DAMON: Libyan officials are telling us that they were talking to the U.S., telling them, warning them about this growing extremist threat and flat-out admitting that they could not control these extremist militias, actually asking the Americans for help in doing that.
And I spoke to some military officials who say that just three days before the attack took place, they had a meeting with senior employees from the consulate itself where they were talking about this rising threat against western interests. And again, highlighting the point that they themselves could not control these militias, these gangs that roam with pretty much pure impunity. And the ambassador himself was aware of the growing security threat, as well, Anderson.
COOPER: And yet, I mean, his own security detail seemed very small, no?
DAMON: The front line of the compound, if you will, was Libyan guards, but they don't have weapons, they only have walkie-talkies. There are some armed individuals inside, Westerners, we are being told. The U.S., of course, not disclosing that kind of information. But it most certainly is not the kind of security measures that one would imagine would be put in to place in a country where the U.S. is well aware in itself monitoring al Qaeda-affiliated extremist camps in the desert not too far from the city of Benghazi itself.
COOPER: And let me just be clear about it. You're saying that Libyan officials had meetings with U.S. officials inside Libya, warning of potential threats?
DAMON: Libyan officials in Benghazi, military officials that are members of one of the more powerful brigades and battalions, met with officials from the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi three days before the attack took place, they're telling us. This was a meeting that was supposed to be centering around business and the economy. But they are saying that they told the Americans, wait, we can't even be talking about the economy, about bringing Western companies into Libya, especially into Benghazi, because this threat from extremist militias, is growing.
We at this point in time do not have the capabilities to be able to control them or to protect Western interests. And they were asking, as they have been for months, Anderson, the Americans for help in controlling these extremist elements because they know what the consequences are going to be if they become even more powerful than they already are.
COOPER: Fran Townsend, what do you make of it? I mean it sounds like if they were warned three days before, that's pretty damning, no?