It was important, to quote this memo from the White House, that Ms. Rice, then our ambassador to the United Nations, "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." Her assignment: "To reinforce the president and administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges." After all, a presidential election was only weeks away, and the president had to be depicted as a vigilant commander-in-chief, not the amateur who'd been caught asleep at the switch.
Having received her marching orders, the Hon. Susan E. Rice marched -- to one Sunday talk show after another, reciting the lines she'd been handed. How many talk shows did she make that day? I lost count at four or five as she went on repeating the same talking points, which weren't all that convincing the first time. ("... what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful, very offensive video that has offended many people around the world.") Even though our people on the ground -- the State Department and CIA types stationed in Tripoli -- knew better within hours of the attack.
This same line from the top was repeated all the way down -- by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, this administration's bumbling mouthpiece-in-chief. And by Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time, who repeated it even as she was receiving the bodies of the four dead Americans at Andrews Air Force Base. ("We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.") She was still trying to deflect any investigation into what really happened at Benghazi months later. ("What difference, at this point, does it make?")
The president himself followed the same script in his appearance before the United Nations a couple of weeks after Benghazi: "That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world." Barack Obama would go on to be re-elected, and Susan Rice would be promoted to National Security Advisor. Cover stories pay. For a while, anyway.
Instead of all these unconvincing alibis, what's needed now is the same kind of investigative journalism that finally revealed the truth about Watergate and the conspiracy behind it known as the Nixon administration. What's needed is an unbiased press that digs into the Benghazi story day after day instead of meekly swallowing the administration's line. Because this story has more legs than a centipede. Then what's needed is a full-scale investigation by Congress on the order of the Watergate hearings.
But where is today's Howard Baker to ask: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" And a White House counsel -- like John Dean -- who would blow the whistle on the whole gang. ("I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency....") And where is today's Sam Ervin, chairman of the Senate Watergate committee, who was not ashamed to quote Scripture when it was most needed: Be not deceived: God is not mocked.
The truth will out. Though it may be hard to imagine just how in these very different times. Yet they're also much the same times, with much the same deceptions waiting to be exposed. And in the end the truth will out this time, too. Somehow. Because it is old Sam Ervin's prophetic voice that still resonates all these years later. And not all those transparent cover stories he -- and the country -- finally saw through.