The killing of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks has turned into a massive scandal that threatens to unravel in the final three weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Even the mainstream media, after falling for and parroting the administration's absurd lie that the Benghazi consulate was attacked after a protest over a short video posted on YouTube in June, seems to be taking notice. The question is whether reporters will follow the trail of lies and deceit or leave off just as the whole mess is imploding.
Last week brought shocking developments. On the eve of a House oversight committee hearing, the State Department called a briefing for the media. For an hour, over the telephone, top department officials spun a new tale that bore almost no resemblance to the official story they'd been telling for weeks.
There was no protest, the officials said, no protest that grew out of hand until a spontaneous mob — whipped into a rage over a video — poured into the consulate. In fact, "nothing was out of the ordinary" on the night of the attack, one official said.
At least until a massive mob of heavily armed terrorists flooded the compound, sweeping over the nine-foot-tall fences topped with three feet of barbed wire. "The lethality and number of armed people is unprecedented," one of the officials said in detailing the horrifying last hours of the Americans.
With only five guards, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and other Americans fled to another building when the "unbelievable amount of bad guys," as one State official called them, poured in. The mob followed and set it on fire. Chaos ensued; the Americans were separated. Some guards barricaded themselves in other buildings, but finally, a group gathered and decided to flee. They sped through the gates in an armored vehicle and ended up at an annex building. But the fighting wasn't over: The annex took "precise" mortar fire with rounds landing on the roof, immediately killing two Americans.
No one knew where the ambassador was then, and to this day, no one knows how he got to the hospital. In a shocking admission, the officials said they only found out he was there after doctors found his cellphone and began calling people on his recent-call list. And State Department officials never did explain those disturbing photos, including the one with a Libyan holding a cellphone in his mouth dragging the ambassador's body.
The FBI wouldn't reach Benghazi for 17 days. When bureau agents finally did, they took tapes from the closed-circuit security cameras. More, reports emerged that an unmanned drone also captured the attack on video. The story was changing fast, and just before administration officials were to testify officially before Congress. The sudden respinning was reminiscent of the evolving story on the raid to get Osama bin Laden — first he had a gun, there was a firefight, he hid behind one of his wives; then, no gun, no firefight, no wife.
In a House hearing last week, lawmakers were furious, especially at the brazen testimony by administration officials that there was enough security at the Libyan outpost.
"To start off by saying you had the correct number, and our ambassador and three other individuals are dead, and people are in the hospital recovering because it only took moments to breach that facility, somehow doesn't seem to ring true to the American people," said Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican.
Cornered, the Obama administration and its political campaign went on the attack. "The entire reason that this has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. The New York Times took the directive, saying the hearings did not bring out "anything significantly new" and were clearly politicized.
Even more shocking, Vice President Joseph R. Biden said in his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan that "we weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security there." The outrageous claim came the day after State Department officials cataloged the repeated requests for more security after numerous attacks. (Maybe the president should stop skipping all those intelligence hearings.)
Jay Carney, the strikingly inept White House spokesman, sought to spin the vice president's bizarre assertion. "He wasn't talking about the administration writ large. He was speaking about himself, and the president and the White House." Oh, well that's reassuring.
So, Fox News reporter Ed Henry said, "the buck stops with the State Department on security then — it doesn't stop at the White House?"
"Well, that's an unartful, made-for-television phrasing, Ed," Mr. Carney whined.
Finally, on Friday, in a remarkably brazen move, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, thrown under the bus, simply refused to answer questions about the attack. "That's the very way that I'm answering your question today," she said after not answering. "And I think I'll leave it at that."
"Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was ," the reporter said.
"I know, but I'm going to leave it at that."
And that is precisely what the president and his minions hope reporters do. Perhaps this time, though, they'll surprise Americans, stop cheerleading for a failed president, and simply do what they're supposed to do: Get to the bottom of a spectacular scandal that keeps growing more outrageous every day.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.