Paul Greenberg

"And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story."

What? By now the whole, foul history of how these talking points were doctored has been extensively documented by five different congressional committees, and their extensive findings were released in an interim report issued not several months but just a couple of weeks ago. Its conclusion:

In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to protect the State Department.

One report, by ABC's Jonathan Karl, counted 12 different revisions made to hide any connection between groups like al-Qaida to the slaughter at Benghazi.

There's more, much more. For example, the president proudly displayed the conclusion of a distinguished review committee to back up his latest story.

What?

There was no need to mention that one of the review committee's chiefs, the distinguished diplomat Thomas Pickering, has made it clear that it examined only security arrangements, such as they were, for our people in Benghazi -- and not the administration's ever-changing versions of who killed them and why. ("With full respect, the Accountability Review Board was there to look at the question of security." -- Ambassador Pickering on "Meet the Press")

That committee never even bothered to conduct an in-depth interview with the figure at the center of these cover stories, Our Lady of Benghazi herself, the secretary of state at the time. She somehow managed to accept responsibility for Benghazi without accepting responsibility for Benghazi -- a neat trick. The kind of trick Hillary Clinton perfected some years ago while in residence at the White House during the scandal-pocked Clinton Years.

Oh, and the president also claimed Monday that, the day after that murderous assault at Benghazi, he had denounced it as "an act of terrorism."

What? What he actually did in his statement that day was just tack on a line of patriotic boilerplate to his speech: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation . . . ."

Note well: Terror, not terrorism. So what? What difference does it make? A lot. Without the addition of that -ism to the word, anyone listening to the president's statement that day might have assumed that our diplomats -- and their courageous defenders -- were victims of some act of spontaneous combustion, of a mob that had materialized from nowhere. And not a well-orchestrated, carefully prepared attack by a fully armed terrorist gang linked to al-Qaida, which the president, carried away by his own campaign oratory, had claimed he'd decimated and had "on the run."

That may explain why the president studiously and repeatedly avoided using the word "terrorism" in connection with Benghazi. His press conference Monday, the Washington Post's fact checker found, may have been the first time he ever used that exact word in a public statement about Benghazi. In the course of claiming he'd used it from the first. (We told you the man was smooth.)

The difference between using the right word and the almost-right word can prove immense. As a Republican named Abraham Lincoln well knew when he noted the "the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." Words matter. Especially a president's words.

But my top pick when it comes to sheer brass was the president's assertion Monday that anyone who doubts his Authorized Version of events at Benghazi, and how it was concocted, dishonors our dead: "And so we -- we dishonor them when, you know, we turn things like this into a political circus.

What?

Just who has been playing politics from the first of this awful story? And how respond to such an accusation without using these honored dead as political foils? There are some things that simple propriety, not to mention just plain just decency, will not allow. That kind of rhetorical tactic should be left to our president. For there is a kind of baseness so low that not even a newspaper columnist should sink to it.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.