Column: Susan Rice and the Fact-Checker Farce

January 27th, 2021 6:00 AM

New White House press secretary Jen Psaki came to the briefing room on Tuesday with domestic policy adviser Susan Rice. This came two days after CNN’s Brian Stelter celebrated the “refreshing” arrival of “transparency and truth” at the briefings.  

Rice is best remembered in conservative circles for spewing falsehoods on five Sunday talk shows on September 16, 2012 – claiming the terrorist attacks on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans were a “spontaneous reaction” to an Islamophobic YouTube video, not a terrorist attack. “Protesters” showed up with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, but it was somehow “spontaneous.” CBS later reported Team Obama knew it was a terrorist attack on September 11, the day of the attacks.

Seeing Rice at the White House podium in 2021, a friend of mine suggested Rice has never been “fact-checked.” Well, that can’t be, I thought. Then I went to the PolitiFact website, which strangely had a Susan Rice page....but not a single “fact check” of Rice, even though PolitiFact was founded in 2007 and Rice worked for Obama from 2009 to 2017. They never put her on their tilted “Truth-O-Meter.”

It turns out PolitiFact gave Obama press secretary Jay Carney a “Mostly False” in 2013 for saying there was no effort to “play down” the terrorism angle in Rice’s interviews. But Rice evaded a rating.    

As they did for Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Cherokee ancestry, PolitiFact addressed Rice’s unmasking controversy in April 2017 with an “In Context” article (avoiding the Truth-O-Meter). They asked “Did Susan Rice lie about unmasking Trump associates?” On the PBS NewsHour, anchor Judy Woodruff asked Rice “whether Trump transition officials, including the president, may have been swept up in surveillance of foreigners at the end of the Obama administration?” Rice claimed “I know nothing about this.”

By then, Bloomberg reported Rice made requests to unmask Trump aides. Last May, we learned Rice sent an email to herself noting they had a White House meeting on January 5, 2017 to discuss unmasked surveillance of her successor Michael Flynn.

But PolitiFact’s Lauren Carroll couldn’t decide: “At this point, too little is known about the allegations against assess whether Rice’s March 22 comment... was truthful.”

The indecision is almost amusing: “looking at the PBS interview in its full context, it’s not 100 percent clear that Rice made an intentionally false statement, though she might have omitted relevant (and potentially classified) information.”

PolitiFact threw a “False” rating instead at Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, for claiming it was “unusual” for a National Security Adviser to make unmasking requests.

Then in August 2020, as Rice was mentioned as a potential running mate for Biden, PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson evaluated the Benghazi incident (no Truth-O-Meter). “Our review of transcripts found that Rice consistently emphasized the importance of the video,” he explained. “In fact, she told CBS’s Face the Nation that ‘we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.’” Then, Jacobson balanced it out with Rice claiming any criticism is "is dishonest, and it’s a distraction,” and “experts” beating around the bush, arguing that the false “talking points” weren’t hers.

In addition, Jacobson noted “Rice acknowledged to House investigators in September 2017 that she had unmasked Flynn and other Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York in late 2016.” Somehow Jacobson couldn’t find the space to compare this acknowledgement with Rice’s 2017 claim on PBS that she knew nothing.

PolitiFact has been protecting Susan Rice, not acting on behalf of “transparency and truth.”