The conservative Benghazi conspiracy theory has gotten so dense that it's almost impossible for even a well-intentioned, aggressive reporter to get through an interview with a GOP congressman leaving his audience better-informed than it was at the start.
Take the following interview CNN's Jake Tapper did on Friday with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Chaffetz is a member of the Oversight Committee who makes regular media appearances accusing the Obama administration of wrongdoing during and after the attack on our diplomatic facility 20 months ago. Tapper is clearly doing his best to fact-check Chaffetz's claims in real time, repeatedly pushing back against false claims. But Chaffetz is throwing out so many falsehoods and half-truths that it's impossible for him to get them all.
Tapper is right to push back against Chaffetz's attacks on Hillary Clinton for linking the Benghazi attack to an anti-Islam video and his suggestion that no one in the State Department was punished for the security failure. Unfortunately, there were many more misleading and false claims that went unaddressed, including:
- Asked by Tapper what questions he still has for Clinton about the attacks, Chaffetz responded in part, "Where was she the night of the attack? What exactly did she do?" Clinton has extensively detailed her activities on the night of the attack, including communications with the White House, Pentagon, CIA, Foreign Service officials in Libya, and the president of Libya's National Congress.
- Chaffetz says that because the Accountability Review Board never interviewed Clinton during its fall 2012 review of the attack, "We have not heard her with the full array of evidence be able to answer the questions." But Clinton testified before committees in both houses on Congress in January 2013, after the ARB released its findings.
- Chaffetz wants to know how Clinton allowed the facility in Benghazi to remain open after "every other western flag had left." But as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted, "the UN, the European Union, and other Western countries such as Italy, France, Turkey, and Malta" had a similar diplomatic presence at the time.
None of this is a knock on Tapper, who clearly attempted to hold Chaffetz accountable during the interview. But because there are so many lies at the center of the Benghazi conspiracy, and because conservatives are so willing to promote those lies in interview after interview, some of them will inevitably get through and mislead the audience.
This is a vulnerability in the media environment without an easy solution. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the current strategy for journalists of litigating and re-litigating Benghazi with congressional Republicans isn't going to leave their viewers better-informed.