A recently released email indicates that a White House official was actively involved in shaping the Obama Administration’s depiction of the cause of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi — an attack that killed four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya. The release of the email was compelled by a court after having been withheld by the Obama Administration for more than a year before being released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The email is from Ben Rhodes, an assistant to President Obama and the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. It addresses the preparation of Susan Rice, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, for her appearance on Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the Benghazi attack and describes “goals” to be achieved. One goal was to “underscore these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” Another goal was to “reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.” The email also says that “the currently available information is that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired” rather than being a planned attack.
The Washington Post website says the email “clearly showed a White House top priority was to shield Obama from criticism less than two months before voters decided whether to give him a second term.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the email was not produced previously because it was not directly about the Benghazi attack but rather attempted to more broadly address Obama Administration policy and views about protests throughout the Middle East.
I try not to be naive about modern politics, where the immediate reaction to every bit of bad news is to try to develop a way to “spin” the news to better advantage. Everyday Americans just need to understand that, for both parties, “spin” rules the day. Even so, the newly released email is troubling. Shouldn’t spin end at the water’s edge? When we are talking about an attack that killed a U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans, isn’t the proper approach to wait until the facts are known, rather than actively shaping the comments of officials toward a story line that the White House thinks would better serve a President who is in the midst of a reelection campaign?