Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
On NBC's Meet the Press, both Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Washington Post's Kathleen Parker pushed the long-debunked myth that the White House delayed denouncing the attacks in Benghazi as terrorism for political reasons and instead blamed an anti-Islam Youtube video for sparking the attacks, a narrative conservatives have relentlessly repeated.
Host David Gregory granted the meritless charges equal weight with the facts in framing the panel's debate:
GREGORY: The central charge by critics is that the White House failed to call this what this was from the get-go, which was a terrorist attack. And the criticism is that they relied on a narrative about a video that would have been a lot more convenient for the White House to advance, because it would help them say, see look, we were just dealing with a spontaneous situation rather than be caught unawares by a terror attack. And they of course have said, look we had an intelligence community telling us that these were the factors at play. A spontaneous event, David Petraeus initially saying on the Hill, 'it was not terrorism related.' So I'm giving some of that backdrop to try to pull back and say, what are we trying to get to the bottom of here?
Over on Face the Nation, CBS' Bob Schieffer interviewed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to explain how the White House has "lied" about Benghazi. According to Graham, "It's a lie that the video caused a protest. The CIA said they never associated the video with the demonstration. Who told the White House that the video was even the causal here?" Schieffer responded, "Critics on the other side, as you well know, say that Republicans are just using this for political politics. That this is just all politics ... What do you say to that?"
ABC's This Week allowed new contributor Laura Ingraham to claim that rather than immediately identifying the attacks as 'terrorist attacks,' the administration instead chose to "politicize" the tragedy. While fellow guests David Plouffe and Van Jones pushed back on Ingraham, host George Stephanopoulos stayed silent, moderating the back and forth.
But the facts about the administration's response to Benghazi are just that, facts. Not dueling opinions that these news hosts should validate with false equivalence.
It's a fact that the intelligence community at the time believed that the attacks in Benghazi may have been related to global anti-American protests going on in response to an anti-Islam video, many of which targeted U.S. diplomatic security posts, including in Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Yemen. Rhodes' email advising Rice used identical language to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day, suggesting that Rhodes had seen that early document and was using it to ensure the administration's statements were consistent with the intelligence community's conclusions.
It's also a fact that then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the first to politicize the tragedy before it was even clear that any Americans had been killed. Romney was so quick to blame the Obama administration for the attacks that his premature statement on Benghazi was condemned by most mainstream media networks sans Fox News.
The attacks in Benghazi deserve a fair and thorough examination by the media. Yet when network hosts amplify conservative misinformation on Benghazi and present a false balance between the facts and misinformation, they only stoke the flames for conservatives who are admittedly using the tragedy for political gain.