Media Embrace Obama’s Controversial Picks for National Security Team
By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
The mainstream media have embraced President Obama’s recent national security team picks either by omitting key information about the nominee or, in the case of Susan Rice, by miscasting the controversy as one of Republican outrage, rather than lies about Benghazi. Republican partisans aren’t the only ones outraged about Benghazi and the lies told thereafter: lots of average Americans are too.
Following the September 11th attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya last year, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday morning talk shows to forward the Administration’s narrative about the attacks, saying that they were spontaneous, fomented by a small group of extremists in response to an anti-Islamic video. Here, for example, is what she said on Meet the Press: “But putting together the best information that we have available to us today—our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo—almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.”
These statements were later proven to be false, hurting both the Administration’s and Rice’s credibility.
Rice has been rewarded for her behavior by succeeding Tom Donilon as national security advisor to the President, a position that is not confirmed by Congress. The New York Times called it Obama’s “defiant selection.” Former Harvard professor Samantha Power has been nominated to replace Rice as United Nations Ambassador. (Power is the wife of former regulatory czar Cass Sunstein.)
Alexis Simendinger of RealClearPolitics said that “President Obama has again practically baited congressional Republicans to wail about his appointees, betting that congressional overreach might put his administration on higher ground after weeks of scandal distractions and legislative fallbacks.”
Rice is being rewarded for her loyalty to the President at the expense of integrity and loyalty to the truth. “Either she knew what really happened and deliberately lied to the American people or she was a mere actress who read the script she was given and didn’t know enough to question whether the words she spoke were accurate,” asserted K.T. McFarland, a former national security staffer for three Republican presidents, writing for FoxNews.com.
The New York Times tells a different story. “Ms. Rice, using talking points drafted by the C.I.A., said the assault appeared to be a protest gone awry rather than a premeditated terrorist attack,” writes Mark Landler for the Times (emphasis added). “That proved incorrect, and though Ms. Rice cautioned that the account could change with further intelligence, Republicans accused her of sanitizing the truth for political reasons.” The Times should at least broaden their criticism criteria to include conservatives, and not just Republicans. But this furthers The New York Times’—and the mainstream media’s—rhetoric that the current controversies are just Republican-manufactured and, thus, the American people should look the other way at these politically-manufactured firestorms.
CBS News has also emphasized that this is a “Republican” objection to Rice’s new post and prior actions. “Members of the GOP seized on her remarks to suggest the administration was misleading the public about the nature of the attack,” wrote Stephanie Condon. “Guided by CIA-drafted talking points, Rice said the attacks stemmed from spontaneous protests, which was wrong.”
Not only were Rice’s comments wrong, but it is disingenuous for CBS and The New York Times to lay the problem at the feet of the CIA without mentioning that the CIA talking points were revised a dozen times before they were finalized, with input from the State Department. The White House’s Jay Carney still maintains that the changes made to the CIA talking points were “non-substantive,” but an ABC News report shows otherwise. Carney has also said that Rice did not downplay the role that al Qaeda played in the attack on the embassy, an assertion that Politifact has rated “Mostly False.”
“ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack,” reported Jonathan Karl for ABC News. “White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.”
“The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.” Contrary to Jay Carney’s characterization, these were clearly substantive changes.
Conversely, The Atlantic maintains that “…Rice was only laying out the intelligence community’s own summary in TV interviews last fall when she infamously attributed the deaths of Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 to ‘spontaneous’ protests.”
“The emails revealed that both the CIA and State Department had, without dispute, kept that description in their so-called ‘talking points,’ and that Rice had nothing to do with the main debate between the two agencies over how to describe the incident,” wrote Michael Hirsh for The Atlantic. In other words, don’t shoot the messenger. Does Hirsh really believe that Rice was that naïve?
We have previously documented the various and contradictory explanations given by members of the Administration, and the fact that President Obama said at a press conference on November 14 that Rice’s presentation was “based on intelligence that she had received,” and that it was done “at the request of the White House.” What is clear is that they all knew from early on that the attack in Benghazi did not start as a spontaneous demonstration, and that the video had nothing to do with it.
While Rice’s controversial remarks are well known, Samantha Power’s are less public. In fact, there was little reference to her hostile views toward Israel, and few, if any outlets, considered her nomination as controversial. (Fox News is an exception.) NBC News, in a spotlight on Power, called her “an unrelenting human rights advocate who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, sometimes to a fault.” The article quotes Laura Pitter, “a lawyer and counterterrorism adviser for Human Rights Watch,” as saying that Power “is brilliant,” and that she “can’t think of a better candidate for the position she’s been nominated for.”
At least the NBC piece pointed its readers to a strongly argued dissent. “That opinion isn’t shared by writers at conservative web magazine American Thinker, who have been writing harsh critiques of Power since 2008, arguing that Power is a ‘notorious critic of Israel,’” wrote Elizabeth Chuck.
In fact, Ed Lasky, writing for the American Thinker, pointed out that Power has said she believes there is a powerful constituency in the United States favoring Israel and she is willing to alienate this constituency. “America’s important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive,” said Power in an interview on the Harvard Kennedy School’s website. And, in 2008, she wrote for Time Magazine that “The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration’s allegations about the advanced state of Iran’s weapons program-allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate.”
“Does Power actually believe that the NIE put to rest concerns about the Iranian nuclear program?” asked Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky back in 2008 for the American Thinker (emphasis in original). “It is not at all hard to imagine her having a senior foreign policy role in an Obama administration, perhaps as US Ambassador to the United Nations, an organization she views warmly,” they presciently wrote. “The problem for those who favor a strong US-Israel relationship is that Power seems obsessed with Israel, and in a negative way.”
“Susan E. Rice, named by Obama Wednesday to succeed Tom Donilon as national security adviser, and Samantha Power, nominated to follow Rice as U.N. ambassador, will have the opportunity to provide an answer as the administration reviews its policy in Syria, winds down the war in Afghanistan and seeks to stop Iran’s uranium-enrichment program,” notes The Washington Post.
Investor’s Business Daily reminds us that Power, “the longtime influential Obama foreign policy adviser who had to quit officially advising his 2008 campaign when she infamously called Clinton a ‘monster,’ is the most well-known proponent of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P—the idea that those who wear the U.S. uniform should pretend to be serving a ‘United World’ rather than the Stars and Stripes.”
Power’s record, and her past statements and writings about Israel and the Palestinians, are brilliantly laid out by Melanie Phillips, the British journalist and author of World Turned Upside Down, the subject of an AIM interview in 2010. Phillips says that Power’s appointment validates a prediction she had made: that if re-elected, “in a second term, [Obama] would promote to the front rank those who were so extreme and so dangerous to the well-being of America and the civilised world that in his first term, so as not to frighten the horses, he would keep them in the lower ranks out of sight.”
She added that Power “is the living embodiment of the way in which ‘human rights’ have morphed into their absolute opposite, and instead of providing a protection against tyranny have been turned into the anvil upon which freedom and justice are being smashed.”
With Susan Rice’s appointment, she may be able to avoid further direct scrutiny from Congress, and her loyalty has been rewarded. Let’s hope that Congress takes its time examining Samantha Power’s record and see how well she can stand the scrutiny.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.