Sturm: The media: What difference does it make?
May 12, 2013
Stretching Oscar Wilde's adage "I never put off til tomorrow what I can do the day after," some in the mainstream media have finally started to Think Again about the Benghazi attack launched last year on the anniversary of 9/11 — thanks to new revelations by high-ranking State Department whistle-blowers including experts in security, counterterrorism, and the No. 2-ranking diplomat in Libya under slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Contrary to the "spin" that the U.S. Consulate assault was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam YouTube video, the truth is that American officials knew "from the get-go" that it was a premeditated terrorist attack by al-Qaida-linked terrorists. In fact, failures to heed Stevens' calls for increased security due to heightened terrorist threats and decisions to have Special Forces "stand down" rather than respond to the attack proved lethal for four brutally murdered Americans.
While most in the media prefer covering the Jodi Arias murder trial and the coming-out of gay basketball player Jason Collins, CBS News elder statesman Bob Schieffer and colleague Sharyl Attkisson aren't buying White House press secretary Jay Carney's line that "Benghazi happened a long time ago." On Sunday on "Face the Nation," Schieffer probed "whether there was a cover-up" based on "startling new details about the Benghazi attack … totally at variance with what some American officials were saying in public on this broadcast five days after the attack."
Schieffer cited an investigative report by the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes describing the wholesale rewriting of the CIA's post-attack talking points, edited to eliminate references to terrorism, al-Qaida and five previous attacks in Libya. These talking points never mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video, providing fresh evidence that "senior Obama officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults."
As if in the Soviet Union, where dissidents joked, "The future is known; it's the past that's always changing," the fraudulent narrative about a YouTube video was peddled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the victims' caskets and their grieving families, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday news shows, President Obama in his September address to the U.N., and consistently by Carney.
Weeks later, those who disputed this false narrative because it jeopardized U.S. national security — including Mitt Romney — were accused by media mavens such as "Meet the Press"' David Gregory of "launch(ing) a political attack even before facts of embassy violence were known." But wasn't the administration guilty of politicizing Benghazi by deliberately misleading the world about a deadly terrorist attack they failed to anticipate?
Consider Watergate, another cover-up that preceded a presidential election, though there were no deaths or lost consulates. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein averting their eyes had Richard Nixon deflected responsibility for Watergate by accusing his opponents of "politicizing" the matter or asking, as Hillary Clinton asked about Benghazi, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
Good journalists know what difference it makes, as did Abraham Lincoln, who said, "If given the truth, (Americans) can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."
Yet the media — CBS News notwithstanding — seem to have abandoned their constitutionally protected role to safeguard Americans from the government, tending instead to protect the government from Americans.
Why else do they show scant interest that no senior administration officials have been held accountable for the four deaths, nor have the terrorists who launched the attack — although the YouTube filmmaker is in jail? Considering the terrorist-infested region, why didn't leaders equipped with the world's strongest military have contingency plans available to rescue the two Navy SEALs who lasted seven hours before succumbing? Sixty-plus years post-conflict, we have military capacity in Germany, Japan and South Korea; why not North Africa?
As Vladimir Lenin understood, government accountability derives from an active media and an informed citizenry. That's why the Soviet people were subjects, not citizens. As Lenin explained, "Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?"
But America's founders guaranteed a free press so we'd be informed citizens — not helpless subjects. As Thomas Jefferson said, "When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." All wasn't safe for Americans abandoned in Benghazi, which reminds us that as a self-governing people, it's our duty to be informed enough to safeguard one another's life and liberty.
This is the answer to Hillary's question — "What difference does it make?" When armed with the truth, "We the People" can humble governments, secure justice, frustrate deceit, help the disenfranchised and know the world that is, not the utopia politicians try to sell us.
Think Again — shouldn't all presidential aspirants be able to answer Hillary's question?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.