Key communication chiefs at the White House waged an all-out strategy to rally behind President Obama and help him push the mantra that the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. facility in Benghazi were due to an Internet video — and not policy failure, a watchdog revealed.
Key to the messaging: Making sure the president appeared strong in the face of adversity, the nonprofit Judicial Watch found, in a recently received FOIA request.
Judicial Watch found — after sifting through documents that were requested from the Department of State on June 21, 2013 — an email from Ben Rhodes, then-White House deputy strategic communications adviser, that showed he joined with others to devise a public relations campaign to “reinforce” Mr. Obama’s statements that an anti-Islam video spurred the attacks.
The main point of the White House team’s strategy was to paint the terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video and not a failure of policy,” Judicial Watch said in an emailed release. Meanwhile, the State Department — at the same time that message was being shaped — initially considered the incident simply an “attack,” and perhaps even a kidnap try, the watchdog said.
The email from Mr. Rhodes, dated Sept. 14, 2012, read in part: “Goal: … To underscore that these protests are rooted in [an] Internet video and not a broader failure or policy.”
Mr. Rhodes also went on, Judicial Watch reported: “[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.”
In the email, Mr. Rhodes also advises key White House and administration officials to make sure they presented Mr. Obama as “steady and statesmanlike” whenever speaking of the crisis. Another “goal,” he said, in his email, was to “reinforce the president and administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges,” Judicial Watch reported.
The recipients of the email included White House press secretary Jay Carney and then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, along with several others, Judicial Watch said.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the latest email only proves that the White House’s main concern in the wake of the Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead was image — more than truth.
“Now we know that Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” he said in a statement.
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the terror attack.
• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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