On Thursday night, when UN Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration to be Secretary of State, the nation’s broadcast network struggled again with the facts: Rice lied on five Sunday shows in stark contrast with reality that there was no premeditated terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Instead, they insisted the truth was only something Republicans claimed.
Take NPR anchor Audie Cornish: “Rice had long been a leading contender to succeed Hillary Clinton who has said she would like to step down early next year. But a chorus of Republican senators who believe Rice misled the nation about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya made clear they would fight her nomination.” They believe she misled?? Cornish wasn't alone:
There was PBS NewsHour anchor Hari Sreenivasan: “Rice has come under criticism from congressional Republicans for not immediately calling the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a terrorist action. In her letter, Rice wrote: 'The position of secretary of state should never be politicized. I'm saddened that we have reached this point.'"
On the CBS Evening News, Rice was merely challenged on her accuracy:
BILL PLANTE: Republicans challenged Rice's explanation of the September 11th attack on the U.S mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Five days after that attack Rice appeared on "Face the Nation."
SUSAN RICE: We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
PLANTE: Republicans led by John McCain charged that the administration already knew that it was a planned terrorist attack.
MCCAIN: It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect.
On ABC's World News, the usually straight-shooting Jake Tapper seemed entranced by the same denying-the-obvious talking points, as if he was ABC's version of Susan Rice:
DIANE SAWYER: We begin with breaking news. The woman who withstood ferocious fire from political opponents in Washington today said enough. Susan Rice, the ambassador to the UN, so embattled over the tragedy in Benghazi said she will not go through a bruising nomination fight to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
JAKE TAPPER: ...Just weeks ago, Rice, a tough and smart rising star in the Obama administration, was the President's top choice to serve as the next secretary of state. But she drew a lightning storm of Republican criticism for repeating talking points from the intelligence committee that seemed to critics to downplay the terrorist attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. (He included a soundbite of McCain saying her information was “incorrect.”)
"Seemed to critics to downplay the terrorist attack"!? She didn't downplay a terrorist attack, she DENIED there was a terrorist attack. The next morning on Good Morning America, Tapper put on Rice’s lie and still fudged it.
RICE: In fact, what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated response.
JAKE TAPPER: Five days after those attacks, Rice went on the Sunday shows, repeating talking points from the intelligence community that critics said downplayed the terrorist attack in the weeks leading up to the election.
SUSAN RICE: I didn't mislead. I didn't misrepresent. I did the best with the information that the United States government had at the time.
JAKE TAPPER: Democrats point out that Republicans didn't have such a difficult time with a different national security adviser named Rice, who had different inaccurate talking points from the intelligence community. Of course, that was Condoleezza Rice talking about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. That was a different time.
On NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was boasting about his exclusive interview with Rice. They tried to avoid the obvious five-network lie angle. Williams asked Rice: "Why was it you that, Sunday morning, of all the people in government? Why the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations answering questions about the attack in Benghazi?"
It wasn't "Why did you lie?" It was "Why did they send you to lie?"
Then NBC's Andrea Mitchell painted Rice's friends as a bit dim: "Susan Rice's many defenders, Brian, are trying to figure out how Republicans managed to deny the president his top choice for secretary of state without benefit of a nomination or a hearing." There was that lying-on-five-network-Sunday-shows thing....
Then Mitchell blamed McCain as seeking retribution:
ANDREA MITCHELL: Rice`s trouble began with those Sunday show appearances in September on Benghazi, what looked like a job audition to become secretary of state.
SUSAN RICE: What happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.
MITCHELL: Her comments were based on CIA talking points that proved wrong. It was a terror attack, not a protest. Republicans accused Rice of twisting the facts to play politics. The president dramatically defended her.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.
MITCHELL: But Rice was in limbo, not officially nominated but being buried under an avalanche of leaks.
RICE: I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary.
MITCHELL: Rice`s request to meet with the Republican critics backfired horribly.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Bottom line, I`m more disturbed now than I was before.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn`t get.
MITCHELL: For John McCain, many say, it was personal. Rice had derided his Iraq policy during the 2008 campaign.
I looked at CNN's Situation Room and Anderson Cooper 360, but both focused on the politics of what happens next, and neither recounted the inaccurate Sunday-show interviews.