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A burned car at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after the Sept. 11 attack.
A burned car at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after the Sept. 11 attack.
While their boss continues to avoid the issue in campaign stops, aides to Mitt Romney are practically begging the media to write about Benghazi. They and the Right, in general, view the Obama administration's reaction to the attack that killed four Americans in that eastern Libyan city as scandalous, and they're unable to understand why they can't get much traction for their latest claims that leaked State Department emails are proof that lies were told to Americans in the aftermath of the attack that left the U.S. consulate in Benghazi burned and looted.

Perhaps the failure of all but a few of the traditional big media to follow up on the story has to do with the fact that the emails don't prove any deception whatsoever.  

But if Romney's aides and advisers really want the media to keep talking about it, they should have their candidate talk about it. He's unlikely to go that route given the third-degree burns he incurred in the second debate. Libya was big on his advisers' minds in the preparation for that encounter. Their advice to Romney to get tough with Obama turned to ashes when the president replied with righteous anger to implications that he had played politics with the Libya attack and pointed out that he had in fact characterized it as an act of terror contrary to what Romney apparently had been led to believe would be a "gotcha!" moment. Romney was visibly shaken for the rest of the debate after that interaction and left the stage at the end with a stiff gait and a pinched face.

In the third debate Monday, Bob Schieffer gave Romney the perfect opportunity to get back some of the skin he lost in the previous debate by making the very first question about Libya. Romney didn't want to go there. And he apparently still doesn't. No surprise. The guy hates being criticized, and it's hard to imagine he wants another presidential scolding. So the behind-the-scenes folks want to make the media adopt their bogus theme. Why not? It so very often works.

On Thursday, for instance, Reuters reported that the emails showed that local extremists of the al Qaeda-connected Ansar al-Sharia group had immediately claimed credit for the attack on Twitter and its Facebook page. The Right shouted a collective "aha!" and tweeted and otherwise noted that this was sought-after proof of deceit. See? they said. The attack had nothing to do with the vulgar anti-Muslim video that some officials in the administration had said was the impetus behind the attack. It was these terrorists all along and the administation knew it, the Right said.

But the email was mistaken. Ansar al-Sharia had said it approved of the attack the day after it occurred, but the group did not take credit for having planned or launched or participated in it.

Thus the problem for the Right became that after the first round of stories on the emails, there has been nothing "scandalous" to follow up.

In fact, two journalists have demolished the claims that the leaked emails show deception. In the National Journal's Benghazi: The Real Libya Story Is No Story, Michael Hirsh wrote Wednesday:

The e-mails in question contained nothing more than “raw” intelligence, uncorroborated and unverified, that often flows in after an event. Intelligence officials typically don’t deliver their assessments until they have “finished” reports based on multiple sources, and corroborated evidence, and Obama officials such as [U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan] Rice certainly would not have been out in front of the TV cameras citing raw intelligence. And as the government’s most senior officials say, the Benghazi case has taken them a long time to finish. “People forget that a Palestinian group was the first to claim credit for 9/11,” the intelligence official said. “There was no message from the field in those first hectic days that would have eliminated questions or proven who was behind the attack.”
And Thursday, at Mother Jones, Adam Serwer wrote:
In fact, according to Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadist activity online, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi didn't post about the attack on its Facebook or Twitter page until September 12, the day after the attack. They expressed their approval of the incident, but they didn't take credit; they did imply members of the group might have been involved, according to Zelin, stating, "Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders." The statement also implicitly justifies the attack by alluding to the anti-Islam video linked to unrest in other parts of the Middle East, saying, "We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad]."
As Serwer notes, the Right's reaction provides a good example of why everyone should be careful when engaging in amateur intelligence analysis. Combine cherry-picking with ignorance of the big picture plus partisan motivation and you can come out looking like an ass. That's exactly what happened to Mitt Romney in the second debate.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 10:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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