Debate Club

Benghazi Is Nothing But a Politicized Smear Campaign

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From the start, the right has used the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, not to figure out how to prevent future tragedies, but to bring down President Obama. This was made clear from the moment Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's first reaction was to accuse the president of "sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks." His later attempt to use Benghazi during the presidential debates was an embarrassing failure, but the strategy of politicizing this tragedy was taken to heart by the right-wing media bubble.

After the 2012 election, the campaign to create a Watergate-like scandal out of this tragedy shifted from defeating Obama to bringing down members of his administration: first U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and then former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But at each turn, the central claim that the administration engaged in a criminal cover-up doesn't stand up to scrutiny and only serves to deflect attention from figuring out how to prevent future tragedies like these attacks.

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Take the hyper-partisan April 23 report on Benghazi, authored by five Republican House committee chairmen. That report featured an accusation parroted throughout the right-wing echo chamber that Clinton personally saw and authorized cables to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya denying increased security measures, which was credulously called a contradiction to Clinton's congressional testimony in January. Legitimate news outlets quickly deflated this smear and reported that every single one of the millions of cables sent from the State Department to foreign outposts bears the name of the secretary of state. A member of the independent State Department Accountability Review Board, which investigated the Benghazi attack, said the accusation "just doesn't make any sense to anybody who understands the State Department."

Conservative media have long accused the administration of doctoring unclassified talking points from the CIA to hide the connection to terrorist groups and instead promote the idea that the attacks were connected to protests against an anti-Islam YouTube video elsewhere. But the conservative Weekly Standard accidentally vindicated the administration when its investigation into how the talking points were changed showed that the original version of the talking points from the CIA included its belief that the Benghazi attacks were inspired by the Cairo protests, which were reportedly in response to the anti-Islam video. And the right-wing media have virtually ignored then-CIA director David Petraeus' explanation that the references to alQaida were removed from the unclassified talking points to avoid tipping off terrorist organizations about how they were being tracked.

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Right-wing media have also ignored the timeline of the attacks to hold onto the myth that there were military forces close enough to have made a difference in a subsequent attack on an annex near the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, where two members of the first reaction force from the Tripoli embassy were killed. But even Republican congressmen conducting the hearing have admitted that additional forces could not have gotten to the area in time to help with the attack.

Fox News has recently tried to cover for Republicans by insisting that the GOP's continued obsession with Benghazi is not political in nature. But ranking Democrats from the committees whose names were on the April 23 Benghazi report protested to House Speaker John Boehner that Republicans were "excluding Democratic Members entirely" from drafting and vetting the report. In addition, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, issued a statement that said that Democrats and their staff have been excluded from the committee's investigation and interviews of witnesses. A State Department spokesman also said that the department had not been given the full transcripts of the interviews Republican staffers have conducted with witnesses, and only had access to selected excerpts that were provided to the media.

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  • Zachary Pleat

    About Zachary Pleat Senior Researcher at Media Matters

    Obama administration
    State Department

    Other Arguments

    95 Pts
    A Partisan Blame-Game Does Nothing to Make Our Diplomats Safer

    No – A Partisan Blame-Game Does Nothing to Make Our Diplomats Safer

    Scott Lilly Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

    37 Pts
    Obama Administration Muddies the Waters Around Benghazi Details

    Yes – Obama Administration Muddies the Waters Around Benghazi Details

    Thomas Joscelyn Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

    23 Pts
    Benghazi Is a Massive Failure of the Obama Administration

    Yes – Benghazi Is a Massive Failure of the Obama Administration

    Al Cardenas Chairman of the American Conservative Union

    22 Pts
    A Select Committee Could Ferret Out the Facts on Benghazi

    Yes – A Select Committee Could Ferret Out the Facts on Benghazi

    Frank Wolf Republican Representative from Virginia

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