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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/19/13

Dissecting Bob Woodward's Comparison Of Benghazi To Watergate

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The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, based on a series of dubious factual errors, is now offering a flawed comparison between the Watergate scandal and the Obama administration's response to the September terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.

There's no small irony to Woodward injecting himself into what has become a scandal driven by deceptively edited emails passed off to reporters, given the recent attention he received after using a similar method to support his ridiculous accusation that a White House aide threatened him.

In his latest attempt to jump into the debate on the side of the right wing, Woodward demonstrates a striking lack of familiarity with the basic facts of what happened. 

Here's what Woodward said during his May 17 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, and what's wrong with those statements.

WOODWARD: You were talking earlier about kind of dismissing the Benghazi issue as one that's just political and the president recently said it's a sideshow. But if you read through all these e-mails, you see that everyone in the government is saying, "Oh, let's not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let's not tell the public that there were warnings."

If Woodward actually did read through all the recently-released emails from intelligence officials and other administration aides discussing the assembly of the much-ballyhooed talking points used in the wake of the attacks, he seems to have missed a few things. Administration officials suggested removing references to the al Qaeda ties of attackers because they were worried about tainting the investigation of the perpetrators, as David Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time of the attacks, later testified. Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell reportedly advocated for removing references to general CIA warnings about potential attacks -- there had been no specific threat warning for that day. As CBS News pointed out on May 16, the CIA signed off on all changes, and there is "no evidence" that the White House "orchestrated" the changes.

WOODWARD: I hate to show, that this is one of the documents with the editing that one of the people in the State Department said, "Oh, let's not let these things out."

Woodward appears to be holding this document, in which hand-written edits were made removing several paragraphs of the talking points during the "deputies meeting" of the National Security Council. But that editing was reportedly performed by the CIA's Morell, not anyone from the State Department. Morell reportedly approved the document for distribution.

And I have to go back 40 years to Watergate when Nixon put out his edited transcripts to the conversations, and he personally went through them and said, "Oh, let's not tell this, let's not show this."

There are three obvious flaws in Woodward's comparison:

  • The transcripts he's talking about were of Oval Office meetings on Watergate and were given to Congress in response to their subpoena of tapes of those meetings. That's simply nothing like edits made to a set of talking points to be used in media appearances.
  • The edits he's talking about were made by Nixon himself. Nothing remotely resembling evidence of Obama's involvement in the Benghazi talking points has been revealed.
  • The edits removed evidence of Nixon's possibly criminal behavior. No one has alleged that any crime was committed by the administration with regard to Benghazi.

WOODWARD: I would not dismiss Benghazi. It's a very serious issue. As people keep saying, four people were killed.

No one doubts that Benghazi is serious, precisely because it involved the tragic deaths of Americans. It's the trumped-up claims of administration malfeasance that are clearly a "sideshow."

WOODWARD: You look at the hydraulic pressure that was in the system to not tell the truth, and, you know, we use this term and the government uses this term, talking points. Talking points, as we know, are like legal briefs. They're an argument on one side. What we need to do is get rid of talking points and they need to put out statements or papers that are truth documents. Okay, this is all we know.

Again, the edits made to the talking points came in order to protect the FBI's investigation of the perpetrators of the attack. It's simply foolhardy to think that the administration is going to give out information that jeopardizes their ability to capture people who killed Americans. That's a legitimate reason not to give out "all we know." 

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Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.
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