GOP successfully scream "Benghazi" until people pay attention to them

The conservative scandal-creation apparatus still has juice, but it's not as effective as it was against Clinton

Published May 9, 2013 1:00PM (EDT)

              (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Yesterday, Republicans finally got their #BENGHAZI hearing. After months of nonstop screaming, everyone finally paid attention to the conservative movement's favorite scandal since Fast and Furious. Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee heard explosive testimony from three #BENGHAZI whistle-blowers, who blew the lid off the Obama administration's conspiracy to win reelection by allowing Americans to die in a terrorist attack and then having an administration official most Americans had never heard of pointedly not blame al-Qaida on Sunday news shows that only people in Washington care about.

Those are the accusations the #BENGHAZI coalition has been making since shortly after the attack: that the Obama administration intentionally allowed the attack on the U.S. consulate to happen, or did not do as much as it could have to stop the attack once it started, because it did not want to admit that it did not successfully destroy terrorism itself in its first term; and that after the attack, the administration intentionally and repeatedly lied about the attackers and their motivation (the "they didn't say 'terrorism'" argument), and then engaged in a Watergate-style cover-up of the fact that the attack had been terrorism.

Marc Ambinder explains some problems with those accusations, as coherent stories:

One of the reasons why Americans aren't outraged about Benghazi is that the event is a series of tragedies in search of a unifying explanation, and one that "Obama is evil" doesn't cover. Because really, to suggest that the Pentagon or the White House would deliberately — and yes, this is EXACTLY what Republicans are suggesting — prevent special operations forces from rescuing American diplomats BECAUSE they worried about the potential political blowback because they KNEW exactly who was behind it (al Qaeda) is —well, it is to suggest that Barack Obama is simply and utterly evil.

This is the "STAND DOWN" thing, by the way. The notion that the military could've saved the day, but the administration ordered them not to because ... politics?

Once the attack commenced, there was little, militarily, the United States could do that it did not do. This one paragraph from an L.A. Times story is basically everything you need to know about #BENGHAZI. Not everything you need to know about the actual attack and our State Department's preparedness and response -- that is all covered in the State Department's Accountability Review Board report, which came out in December -- but this paragraph just about sums up the Republican Party's attempted Whitewater-ification of the deadly attack:

"There were military assets, there was military personnel, they were told to stand down," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Monday on the Fox program "Fox and Friends." Chaffetz acknowledged in an interview published Monday with the Washington Post that they would have arrived after the attack on the CIA annex was over. He said they could have provided first aid.

Why didn't the president order the Special Forces to provide first aid to the victims hours after Stevens had disappeared, and been taken to a hospital?

If you start from the assumption, as Issa and Chaffetz do, that the Obama administration is evil and corrupt, then the only explanation for the actual real failures in preparedness leading up to the consulate attack is obviously evilness and corruption.

What's interesting, though, is that Americans aren't, so far, eating up the #BENGHAZI scandal. There is some proof that months of conspiratorial coverage have made people aware that #BENGHAZI is a thing. There was a Fox poll with some very leading questions that found that 46 percent of registered voters think the Obama administration is "covering up" what happened in Benghazi. In December, a less leadingly worded CNN poll found that 56 percent of Americans think the administration didn't deliberately mislead the public after the attacks. But on the whole, the majority of the public that doesn't consume right-wing media hasn't been hugely concerned. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both still broadly popular. In the Clinton era, I can't help but feel, this would've been much huger, with the help of the non-partisan press.

The high-profile hearing might've changed things. More people probably believe in some form of the #BENGHAZI conspiracy today than did on Tuesday. But the mainstream press is basically aware of what the right is trying to do. Mike Huckabee gave the game away when he predicted that #BENGHAZI would lead to Obama's impeachment. When Clinton was president, the right screamed and threw tantrums until he was impeached. They are not quite certain why that has not yet happened with Obama, but they are working on it.

In part the right-wing media is a victim of its own success. It successfully browbeats the liberal media into covering a million bullshit, trumped-up scandals, and those scandals usually end up going nowhere. The lessons the media failed to learn from Whitewater, it eventually picked up after Tony Rezko, Shirley Sherrod, Solyndra and Fast and Furious.

The conservative movement is so detached from reality that they can't come up with a coherent or convincing narrative. It was easy (too easy) for non-partisan journalists to imagine the Clintons as conniving and corrupt, but the conservative fantasy version of Obama is so bizarre that stories relying on that interpretation don't get traction beyond Fox. Which makes more sense to you, that the State Department ignored requests for more security because the Obama campaign was running on the message that the administration had crippled al-Qaida, and additional security at diplomatic posts in unstable areas would contradict the message? Or that the requests were denied because a culture of excessive thriftiness has taken hold in Washington since the 2010 Republican wave election and the subsequent endless debt showdowns?

The deaths of Chris Stevens and the others who died last September were probably avoidable. An opposition party made up of sane people would be very useful, right now, in determining how to prevent future tragedies like this. Alas, our existing opposition party is made up of numskulls and charlatans who take WorldNetDaily seriously. The most depressing thing about #BENGHAZI is that it's completely supplanted all efforts to learn from Benghazi.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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