In 2000, a Democratic operative orchestrated an "October surprise" attack on George W. Bush, revealing that 24 years earlier, he'd been arrested for drunk driving. The media went into a feeding frenzy. "Is all the 24-hour coverage of Bush's 24-year-old DUI arrest the product of a liberal media almost drunk on the idea of sinking him, or is it a legitimate, indeed unavoidable news story?" asked Howard Kurtz in a segment for his CNN show "Reliable Sources." The consensus among the guests: It wasn't a legitimate news story. But the media kept going with it.
One could go on and on. In September 2004, former CBS titan Dan Rather gambled his entire career on a story about Bush's service in the National Guard. His instincts were so powerful, he didn't thoroughly check the documents he relied on, which were forgeries. In 2008, the media feeding frenzy over John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, was so ludicrous it belonged in a Tom Wolfe novel. Over the last couple of years, the mainstream media has generally treated Occupy Wall Street as idealistic, the "tea parties" as racist and terrifying.
To be sure, there have been conservative feeding frenzies: about Barack Obama's pastor, John Kerry's embellishments of his war record, etc. But the mainstream media usually has tasked itself with the duty of debunking and dispelling such "hysteria." Last week, Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported that sources on the ground in Libya say they pleaded for support during the attack on the Benghazi consulate that led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. They were allegedly told twice to "stand down." Worse, there are suggestions that there were significant military resources available to counterattack, but requests for help were denied.
If true, the White House's concerted effort to blame the attack on a video crumbles, as do several other fraudulent claims. Yet, last Friday, the president boasted that "the minute I found out what was happening" in Benghazi, he ordered that everything possible be done to protect our personnel. That is either untrue, or he's being disobeyed on grave matters.
This isn't an "October surprise" foisted on the media by opposition research; it's news.