The NYT’s 12/28/13 Benghazi Account

"What difference does it make?"

An irascible, cantankerous woman I knew in undergraduate school once told me I was too “intelligent” to not be a “feminist.”

(She died young several years ago and is probably still arguing to God that she had to get on every last nerve of everybody she met because she was a “strong, independent, and courageous woman,” but God likely doesn’t buy into the ideas, identities, and definitions the media package and sell as commodities.)

But my point is, that’s at least part of the NYT’s sales pitch to its readers; they’re too “intelligent” to not believe what the NYT tells them is true. After all, the NYT’s target audience is “intelligent” people; if they’re “intelligent,” they’ll believe what the NYT tells them, and if they don’t believe what the NYT tells them, it’s because they’re not “intelligent,” and they can believe that this is true because, well, the NYT told them so, and they’re too “intelligent” to not believe . . . and so forth, and so on.

I have to laugh. “You will believe me because only intelligent people believe me, and you’re intelligent, and you can believe me when I tell you this because only intelligent people believe me, and you’re intelligent, and . . .” et cetera, et cetera.

“Duh, okay.”

So now the NYT has published this story to provide its “intelligent” audience—which is simply too “intelligent” to not believe—with “the truth” about what happened in Libya and Egypt before, during, and after the Benghazi attack.

I did not want to read the NYT story—I really, really did not want to read the NYT story—because, having read (in former NYT executive editor Howell Raines’ book, The One that Got Away) about the NYT and its marketing model, and having kept up with stories about the Benghazi attack, I knew the NYT story about Benghazi would be nauseatingly full of the stuff hay becomes after bulls have eaten it. I knew that the story would at least seem long, and reading it would be tedious: like listening to a street con artist’s carefully contrived narrative (“I’m trying to get to the hospital to see my sick mother, and my car ran out of gas, and  . . ..”) leading up to the inevitable request for money.

But I intended to join in commentary on the story, so I plowed through it anyway; and it lived up (or, perhaps more accurately, down) to my expectations, coming across like a spoiled college freshman’s post-adolescent, pseudo-intellectual rant, making heavy use of anonymous sources (“some say,” and ”officials say”) and question-begging identities (“militias,” and “militia commanders” and their “lieutenants”), and characterizing entire nations as individuals (“America” wants this, and “Libya” believes that). The story is an excellent example of what I’d off-handedly label as rhetorical sophistry . . . although, while the story is a piece of rhetoric, it is not sophisticated.

As a once and perhaps future reporter, college English instructor, professional writer, and an increasingly well-schooled communication person, I found the story poorly written (from a technical perspective), and I found its “sources” flawed. In that, it’s good fiction with some entertainment value: kind of like a Tom Clancy novela for people with weak hearts. But it’s a poor source of factual information . . . and, yes, I know that the NYT’s “intelligent” audience will read it and consider itself “informed”; and burdened thusly with the story’s version of events before, during, and after the Benghazi attack, the NYT’s “intelligent” audience will “intelligently” close their “intelligent” minds to any other version; the NYT’s audience is just too damned “intelligent” to do anything else.

I envy that just a little bit: that ability to “stamp out doubt,” like some “Moonie.” Still, I’m glad to be skeptical about what the news media publish. I’m glad for having learned, in my years as a reporter, how the media work; how low on the media’s list of priorities comes genuinely informing audiences.

But for all of that, I still agree with two of the NYT’s deliberate points.

First, unlike the Republican Party’s various “talking heads,” I don’t think al Qaeda had anything to do with the Benghazi attack. (I’m still not sure “al Qaeda” even exists.)

Second, the one time the NYT’s story referred specifically to Barack Obama, it did not use the words “President Obama.” It used the words, “Mr. Obama.”

I will concede that Barack Obama is “Mr. Obama,” but I will not concede that he is “President Obama.”

As far as Benghazi: I want to know what Stevens, Smith, Woods, and Doherty—the four Americans who were murdered—were doing in Libya, and I want to know who, in Washington, denied their requests for support three times, thus ensuring they’d be murdered.

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