NYT Sends 'Largely Unscathed' Hillary on Victory Lap Over Benghazi Report Vindication

June 30th, 2016 10:33 AM

In the wake of Congress's official report on the Benghazi massacre, the front page of the New York Times Wednesday eagerly absolved Hillary Clinton of any fault in the attack in Libya that killed four Americans: “Benghazi Panel Finds No Misdeeds by Clinton.”

The paper’s inside-the-paper analysis by Mark Landler and Amy Chozick found further vindication, not addressing Hillary Clinton’s moral culpability in the attack but merely treating it as a partisan victory for the Democratic Party’s nominee, just one more hurdle to get past on the way to the presidency: “An 800-Page Report Down, and a Server of Emails to Go.”

The Times treated Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi scandal – perhaps truly past tense, as there was no follow up in Thursday’s paper -- much the same way the media at large treated her husband’s Whitewater scandal – as virtual vindication, with much of the coverage centering on how Republicans had wasted years and money in their obsession over the scandal for years and still come up with nothing. The paper has spent years dismissing the Benghazi hearings as merely political gamesmanship on the part of Hillary-hating, election-obsessed Republicans, a tactic that left it open to criticism from its own Public Editor, to no avail.

From Wednesday's edition:

With the release on Tuesday of the committee’s final report -- a compendious document that offers a handful of new details but nothing that will alter the conventional narrative about the events of Sept. 11, 2012 -- the emails now loom as the last chapter of the Benghazi saga that could still harm Mrs. Clinton’s presidential ambitions.


Still, the lack of any significant new disclosures in the 800-page House report amounts to another hurdle Mrs. Clinton has cleared in her long ordeal over the attack in Benghazi, Libya. Like her eight hours of testimony before the committee in October, the report served mainly to underscore how exhaustively the episode has been mined by Mrs. Clinton’s foes.

Republicans are not likely to stop using Benghazi as a political cudgel. Since 2012, they have turned it into a referendum on Mrs. Clinton’s judgment and honesty, saying she had neglected the security of her diplomats, misrepresented the attack’s cause and took part in a politically motivated campaign to play down its seriousness.

But after nearly four years and eight congressional investigations, Mrs. Clinton emerged largely unscathed.


But much of the report scrutinized issues outside Mrs. Clinton’s immediate purview, like the readiness of the Pentagon to respond to the attack on the diplomatic installation and the reliability of the intelligence about the level of threat facing the diplomats in Benghazi.

Mrs. Clinton seized on the report as an opportunity to draw a line under the episode.


Neither of these failures directly implicated Mrs. Clinton -- and her campaign was quick to condemn the whole exercise as a political witch hunt. Hours after the report was released, the campaign posted a video with Mr. Gowdy conceding that Congress was not very good at running nonpartisan investigations, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, conceding that this effort was meant to hurt Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers.


Republicans, however, kept up their attacks, despite the committee’s findings. Michael Cohen, an adviser to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, posted an image on Twitter of Mrs. Clinton with a headline that accused her of murdering an ambassador.

The story ended on a cliffhanger:

For Mrs. Clinton, the long-term implications of her email practices are not yet clear.

Whatever those implications are, rest assured the Times will be there ready to spin the scandal away from the Democratic nominee.

On the same page, Eric Schmitt thought the report, which has been criticized by many on the right for its lack of investigative depth, was actually too harsh on the Obama White House and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Fact Checking House Panel’s Conclusions on Benghazi.”

Schmitt quickly emphasized: “The Republican-led committee found no evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state.” Then Schmitt went on to “fact checking” five of the report’s findings.

Finding: Despite President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost eight hours after the attacks began. -- Part 1, Pages 106, 141

This criticism is not particularly new. Senior Pentagon officials have consistently said that they were constrained by the “tyranny of time and distance” -- that is, that the military could not have sent troops or planes in time to have made a difference. The report and Republican critics have always countered that had the White House and Pentagon acted more swiftly, they might have mitigated the later attack on the compound’s C.I.A. annex. But it is unclear what forces might have made a difference there.

Finding: A Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team sat on a plane in Rota, Spain, for three hours, and its members changed in and out of their uniforms four times. -- Part 1, Page 154

This sounds like dithering that might have cost American lives. But the uniform swaps reflect the chaos and confusion in sorting out what was going on in Benghazi, and whether American forces should arrive identifiable as United States military personnel or be less noticeable in civilian clothes...

Finding: The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff typically would have participated in the White House meeting, but did not attend because he went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries. -- Part 1, Page 107

This suggests that the Obama administration was not treating the crisis seriously. But the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., was not a critical player in the drama....

The remaining two findings Schmitt cited, involving inadequate security for diplomats and intelligence failures in Benghazi, apparently passed muster with Schmitt.

In a 2012 report, Schmitt made fog-of-war excuses for Obama’s reactions after Benghazi, in which the president continued to falsely blame an anti-Islam video posted on YouTube for the Benghazi attack, even two weeks afterward.

A National Review editorial found the report “disappointing” because of Obama administration stonewalling, but nonetheless concluded that it "is a devastating account of staggering dereliction of duty and deception by the president and his top subordinates. Front and center in every phase of this disgraceful episode is Mrs. Clinton, whose appalling judgment and character flaws are amply illustrated in its pages.”

You won’t find a hint of that angle in the New York Times.