Benghazi hearings open in the House on Wednesday, and the New York Times printed a preview on page 16 of Wednesday's edition that downplayed any possible revelations about the Obama administration's reaction to the terrorist attack, which killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Testimony is expected by three State Department officials, led by U.S. diplomat Gregory Hicks, deputy mission chief in Tripoli, who said his pleas for military assistance were overruled.
Feeling reader pressure after the Washington Post led its Tuesday's edition by setting up the House hearings, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the issue on her blog Tuesday afternoon, posing a coverage question to Washington bureau chief (and former neoliberal economics reporter) David Leonhardt, who didn't anticipate hearing much new on Wednesday:
On December 18, in covering the aftermath of the official report on the terrorist raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the Associated Press reported in the first three paragraphs of its coverage that "Three State Department officials resigned under pressure," identifying those who had stepped down as "Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco."
It wasn't until the fourth paragraph that readers who got that far -- clearly a tiny percentage compared to those who saw the headline ("State Department security chief, 2 deputies, resign after damning Benghazi attack report") or only heard headline-based reports on broadcast outlets -- learned that "Some of the three may have the option of being reassigned to other duties." In other words, they might not be losing their jobs or even receive cuts in pay. At the New York Post this morning, Josh Margolin is reporting that the three identified by the AP plus one other person aren't being meaningfully punished in any sense:
Buried at the bottom of page A5 in the New York Times International section Thursday: "E-Mails Offer Glimpse at What U.S. Knew in First Hours After Attack in Libya." Intelligence reporter Eric Schmitt's text was as mild as his story's headline on the matter of the leaked emails, which proved the White House had intelligence suggesting the attacks in Libya were planned terrorism, not a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muhammad clip on YouTube, as the president maintained a full two weeks after the attacks.
Schmitt provided some cover for the president by suggesting a "lag between turning often contradictory and incomplete field reporting into a finished assessment" and showed the administration and intelligence officials "trying to put into context the e-mails sent by the State Department operations center...."
Is the New York Times engaging in some front-page pre-debate inoculation Monday on behalf of Obama regarding his administration's contradictory reaction to the Benghazi massacre? Reporter Eric Schmitt gave the administration the benefit of the doubt in its contradictory responses to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which it first blamed on a YouTube clip: "How the Gap Arose Between Talk and New Intelligence."
Schmitt forwarded fog-of-war-style excuses for the administration, but failed to mention Obama's United Nations speech on Sept. 25, a full two weeks after the attacks, in which the president still blamed the uprising on an anti-Mohammed YouTube clip.
As Congress holds hearings on the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the New York Times placed its partisan political story by Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt on page A10 under a neutral, purely political headline, "Before Hearings on Libya Attack, Charges of Playing Politics." The text box was mild: "An inquiry is expected to focus on potential intelligence failures."
The Washington Post at least put Benghazi on the front page, in a story by Anne Gearan under the critical but off-target headline "Deadly Benghazi Attack Could Mar Clinton Legacy" (as if Hillary Clinton's reputation is the key issue at stake, not the four Americans killed). NewsBuster Ken Shepherd critiqued Gearan's story.