Fox & Friends Saturday speculated that politics had motivated revisions to an early set of Obama administration talking points about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Yet a Fox correspondent reported Friday night that some lawmakers said the changes were made to protect classified information.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used the talking points during September 16 appearances on the Sunday news shows, and Fox News has since sought to scandalize those interviews and use them as ammunition in a campaign to prevent her from being nominated as secretary of state.
On Fox & Friends Saturday, the co-hosts discussed Friday's closed-door congressional testimony of former CIA director David Petraeus and the revelation that in talking points about the attack, language suggesting the perpetrators belonged to Al Qaeda affiliates had been changed to refer more generally to "extremists."
At the beginning of the segment, co-host Dave Briggs said, "[T]here are a lot of questions after what Petraeus told Congress. Because we still don't know why exactly the talking points were changed. He said on Friday that he knew it was terrorism from the very start." Later, the co-hosts speculated that the White House had edited the talking points for political reasons:
MORRIS: By the way, we'll be speaking to Peter King coming up a little later to try to find out who in the administration, then, got the intelligence information in their hands and said, "OK, here the intelligence community says 'Al Qaeda.' Now, let's get the eraser out. Let's change it to 'extremists,' because somehow now we don't want to classify it as Al Qaeda," when it was glaring to General Petraeus and these other intelligence officers?
BRIGGS: And there's also the question of why change it. If -- and I mean, look --
MORRIS: To keep with that narrative?
BRIGGS: It begs the question, did they want to keep that narrative that the war on terror was being won, that Al Qaeda had been crushed?
Yet on the Friday broadcast of The Five, homeland security correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that while Republicans said the talking points change was "an effort to downplay or minimize the role of terrorists in the Benghazi attack," Democrats say that "these changes were not driven by politics, they were simply made to protect classified information."
Indeed, The New York Times published an article on Friday headlined "Petraeus Says U.S. Tried to Avoid Tipping Off Terrorists After Libya Attack" that stated, "Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said."
The Times article also reported, "Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that Mr. Petraeus explained to lawmakers that the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it."
After Fox & Friends Saturday had aired, a White House spokesman said the administration did not edit out references to terrorism in the talking points. Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes told reporters, "The only edit that was made by the White House and also by the State Department was to change the word 'consulate' to the word 'diplomatic facility,' since the facility in Benghazi was not formally a consulate."