By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
Susan Rice is perhaps best known for her role in the Benghazi, Libya attacks, after which she went on five Sunday talk shows to explain to the American people that, indeed, these terrorist attacks were birthed out of spontaneous protests in reaction to a YouTube video that had inflamed the Islamic world at the time. Both assumptions were proven to be false, and Rice was accused of purposefully misleading the American people. Since then, some in the media have claimed that Rice received a “bad rap”—and that at issue was a rivalry between various departments within the government.
Last weekend, in a puff piece which should make the Obama administration blush at its coziness, CBS’s “60 Minutes” featured Susan Rice and attempted to cast her as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reborn—a stillborn Secretary of State who CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl called the “quarterback of American foreign policy” in her role as National Security Advisor to the President. Clearly Stahl meant that as a compliment, and perhaps a dig at Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been clocking the miles.
The segment just adds inaccuracies onto the falsehoods perpetuated by the show’s last segment on Benghazi, this time tilting politically in favor of the administration. (Not that they mentioned President Obama or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even once in the aforementioned retracted story).
Stahl repeatedly highlighted Susan Rice’s vital work for the Obama administration, and her “missed opportunity” to become Secretary of State. In fact, Stahl went so far as to say to Rice at the end of the piece that “You know, if you hadn’t done [those Sunday talk show appearances], I’d be calling you ‘Madame Secretary.’” That assumes she would have been confirmed by the Senate.
Other notable aspects of the piece, besides likening Rice to Henry Kissinger, included visiting a soccer game with her daughter, and noting the interracial aspect of her marriage. (Her husband used to work as an executive producer at ABC News. Does this have anything to do with why ABC News said it was the White House’s, State Department’s, and CIA’s fault that the message got screwed up to the American people—anyone but Rice’s fault?)
According to NPR, Susan Rice also now “works closely” with Ben Rhodes, brother to CBS News president David Rhodes, who was “instrumental in changing the talking points in September 2012.” Did this relationship affect how the CBS “60 Minutes” team approached Rice?
“I don’t have time to think about a false controversy,” said Susan Rice on the show when asked about her Sunday talk show performances on Benghazi. Neither, apparently, does the Obama administration, which keeps identifying Benghazi as a “phony scandal.”
It is worth pointing out that Rice was preceded that Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation by Libyan National Congress President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf. He blamed the attacks on foreigners and said that the attacks were 1) perpetrated by extremists, 2) run by foreigners, and 3) “preplanned…predetermined.” Host Bob Schieffer directly asked Rice what she thought of El-Magariaf’s comments and she stuck to her talking points.
“Madam Ambassador, [El-Magariaf] says this is something that has been in the planning stages for months,” said Schieffer to Rice. “I understand you have been saying that you think it was spontaneous? Are we not on the same page here?”
Should she have known? The facts were placed before her right on CBS.
“60 Minutes” did not show this exchange, instead showing a small snippet from her Sunday appearance on Face the Nation.
The aforementioned talking points, ostensibly created by the CIA but in reality massaged by the State Department and White House, were sent on to Rice in revised form. Noticeably missing: the original references to Islamic extremists and Ansar al Sharia, which a Library of Congress report in August 2012 characterized as an extension of al Qaeda.
“60 Minutes” characterized Rice’s current employment as a “consolation prize.” Others might characterize it as a reward for political loyalty. “She lost her chance to become Secretary of State when she, then the UN Ambassador, was asked to pinch-hit for Hillary Clinton and answer questions about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, where our Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three others were killed,” stated the show.
“That particular assessment, from talking points prepared by the CIA, was wrong, and Rice was accused of being deliberately misleading,” it stated. “But a former senior intelligence official told us that the talking point that called the Benghazi attack spontaneous was precisely what classified intelligence reports said at the time.”
Indeed, the talking points emails do show that the original wording included the spontaneity assessment. However, Aaron Goldstein points out at length for the American Spectator the reasons why this phrasing is deceptive. “While the CIA’s original talking points do indicate that the attacks occurred ‘spontaneously’ following protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo they also stated, ‘We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack,’” he writes. “These talking points also mention Ansar al-Sharia.”
“However, at the request of the State Department, references to both al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia were removed,” he continues.
“In the final analysis, by omitting crucial details reported by the CIA in the original Benghazi talking points, 60 Minutes effectively misled the American public by minimizing the role of Rice, the State Department and the Obama Administration in misleading the American public about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 and thus further tarnishing its diminishing credibility,” writes Goldstein. It also proves, once again, how far CBS is willing to go to bat for the Obama administration.
Just because it got burned on its last piece on Benghazi does not mean that CBS should abandon all journalistic skepticism and parrot the administration’s talking points to regain its favor.
Even The New York Times has taken to questioning CBS’s bias in favor of the administration, particularly on the NSA. “No matter how the deal was brokered, the optics were terrible and the N.S.A. got its hands on a megaphone with nary a critic in sight,” writes David Carr for the Grey Lady. “‘60 Minutes’ is a calling, not an assignment, and the program should not be the kind of outfit that leaves its skepticism at the door to get inside,” he argues.
Investor’s Business Daily has an excellent editorial about Rice’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” and they challenge her claim that the NSA has been successful in preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, pointing to the Boston Marathon bombing:
In that case, the NSA’s blanket surveillance did not detect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s reported interest in building the pressure-cooker bombs that would be used to devastating effect. Nor did it catch his visit to the al-Qaida online magazine Inspire for its ‘Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom’ recipe.
Neither did the massive databases uncover the online communications that Tsarnaev had with a known Muslim extremist in Dagestan.
David Carr’s assessment of “60 Minutes” for the Times notwithstanding, this idealized notion that “60 Minutes” has always been an unbiased seeker of truth is a rather distorted version of history. While it has certainly done some excellent and important work, Accuracy in Media has been exposing its agenda-driven reporting for more than 40 years.