Monday, October 29, 2012

J'accuse: NPR, NYT, CNN and all the rest

by Libby Sternberg

Pity the parent whose child dies as the result of the feckless decisions of a popular leader (popular with the media, that is). He will receive scant attention, let alone interest in the decisions that led to his son’s death.
Such is the case with poor Charles Woods, father of Tyrone, a former Navy SEAL killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate that took the lives of three others, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on September 11, a memorable date in recent American history.
Oh, there is the occasional story here and there—sometimes focusing on whether Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “politicized” the Benghazi attack, sometimes mentioning how the issue follows the president on the campaign trail.

Michael Ramirez cartoon from Investors Business Daily
But where are the investigative reports about what really happened, what the president knew and when he knew it and whether a statement about no one “denying” aid to the besieged is merely a slyly worded way of saying the president did nothing even though he knew of the cries for help.
Except for a few references, the issue has been in the background or media have made excuses for the president. In one presidential debate, the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, rose to the president’s defense to correct what she perceived at that moment to be a false statement by Romney, who declared that the president hadn’t labeled the Benghazi attack as one of “terror” in a Rose Garden statement. Upon reflection, she conceded Romney wasn’t really so off the mark after all. Her epiphany occurred after the debate when mega-millions were no longer watching.
During the final presidential debate, focusing on foreign policy, the moderator, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, hardly pursued the Libya question at all. Romney, perhaps wise to the fact that the media were eager to take the president’s side no matter what he said on the topic, didn’t pursue it either. About the toughest media interrogation has come from a local reporter who pressed the president on the Benghazi attack, getting few straightforward answers and lots of “we’ll get to the bottom of this” spin.
I’ve written before about the media’s disinterest in the president’s defense policies and other stumbles. But now I’m beginning to believe that the media’s reluctance to cover the Benghazi situation with any real zeal makes them accomplices to the wrongdoing. Think about it: a father cries out for answers on why military aid was not sent to help his son—a legitimate question from anyone, but a particularly devastating one from the father of the fallen. The media’s reaction? Shrugs and disinterest.
I recently participated in a reading of T. S. Eliot’s verse play, Murder in the Cathedral, about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. At the end of all the mystical and magical poetry, Eliot uses straightforward prose so that those responsible for the crime can argue their case to the audience. The First Knight declares:

“…there is one thing I should like to say, and I might as well say it at once. It is this: in what we have done, and whatever you may think of it, we have been perfectly disinterested.”

He goes on to declare: 

“We know perfectly well how things will turn out. King Henry—God bless him—will have to say, for reasons of state, that he never meant this to happen; and there is going to be an awful row….”

Ordinarily, when scandal erupts—especially if it involves the loss of life, especially when it involves the possible resurgence of a terrorist group that attacked us on an unprecedented scale more than a decade ago—one can count on “an awful row,” as journalists rush to uncover what really happened, and public opprobrium falls on those responsible. This is no meaningless exercise. It serves a double purpose: uncovering valuable information that allows the public to assess the worthiness of a leader up for re-election and as a warning to future leaders to avoid similar mistakes.
In the Benghazi case, however, the media has accepted the king’s president’s excuses—“he never meant this to happen” –and has been curiously incurious in finding out more. Or, in the words of the Becket murderer: “perfectly disinterested.”

Imagine if George W. Bush were president during the Benghazi debacle. Can any journalist look himself in the mirror and claim truthfully that he would have been equally disinterested in this event had George W. Bush been president? The headlines, in that case, would have written themselves, and reporters would have stumbled over each other to determine what Bush knew and when, and why wasn’t he sharing it with the American public.
In Murder in the Cathedral, the Second Knight goes on to explain his role in the assassination of Becket and why he was justified. At the end of his declaration, he stares at the audience and says:

“…and if there is any guilt whatever in the matter, you must share it with us.”

As far as I’m concerned, that knight is addressing today’s media when it comes to Benghazi—if there is any guilt in the matter, they—the “perfectly disinterested” journalists of 2012—must share it with the administration. They have the resources to determine what really happened. Yet they are perfectly content to look away.
For this, they become actors in the drama, not mere observers. J’accuse.

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