Jonah Goldberg

President Obama was asked about the metastasizing Benghazi scandal in a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday. Referring to the Americans who died in Benghazi, the president said, "We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus." He added that "the whole issue of talking points, throughout this process, frankly, has been a sideshow. ... There's no 'there' there."

He's half right. The talking points drafted by the State Department, the CIA and the White House and given to congressional Republicans and, most famously, to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice are not the center of this story.

I think there was a lot of mischief behind those talking points, which we now know were sanitized, folded, spindled and mutilated to fit a political agenda.

But it's worth remembering that Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn't get their information from the talking points. They got their information earlier and from much higher authorities, like then-CIA Director David Petraeus. The CIA believed the attacks were terrorist-driven early on. According to ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, when Petraeus finally saw the talking points, he thought they were useless.

More central are the talking points -- written or unwritten -- that Obama and Clinton used for weeks after the attacks. The president said Monday that he immediately referred to the Benghazi attacks as "terrorism." This is at best a brutal bending of the truth (that even the Washington Post's fact checker gave his worst rating -- "four Pinocchios"). He used the word "terror" generically in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12. And then, for the next two weeks, Obama went on a media blitz blaming a video, including in an interview recorded that day with "60 Minutes." In a segment that "60 Minutes" helpfully sat on for almost two months, Obama told Steve Kroft that "it's too early to know" whether the attack was terrorism. He then went on "The View," Univision and David Letterman pushing the idea that it was all about a video. At the United Nations, he condemned a "crude and disgusting" video but didn't mention terrorism.

Clinton followed suit. She told grieving family members of the fallen that the U.S. would track down the makers of the video. And, so far, the only person connected with the whole incident who has been punished is the filmmaker, who continues to languish in jail, admittedly on unrelated charges (though it is unlikely he'd have been swiftly picked up were it not for the administration's rush to denounce him).


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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