The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.
Much of the press coverage of Thursday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi has a boosterish tone, like a local newspaper cheering on the hometown team’s championship run – the hometown in this case being Hillaryville. An example is this “analysis” by the Associated Press’s Ken Thomas and Lisa Lerer:
Hillary Rodham Clinton turned an 11-hour congressional grilling into a campaign call to action on foreign policy, using a make-or-break appearance before the Republican-led Benghazi committee to display a commanding, presidential presence under a barrage of questions.
“Hillary Clinton Triumphed at the Benghazi Hearing by Not Losing Her Cool,” according to the headline of a piece by the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. A Politico story is headlined “Hillary’s Best Week Yet: The once-beleaguered candidate looks like a frontrunner again.” The “home team” analogy is especially apt here, as the author, Todd Purdum, is married to a former Bill Clinton press secretary. Vox’s Matt Yglesias crowed that Mrs. Clinton “ended up mopping the floor with her antagonists.”
And it wasn’t only the Hillary rooting section who agreed that she “won” yesterday. That Yglesias piece is titled “Conservative Pundits Were Not Impressed With the GOP’s Disastrous Benghazi Hearing.” He quotes a tweet from one of them, Matt Lewis: “Unless something happens, it’s starting to look like Hillary Clinton won’t merely survive this hearing—she will have come out on top.” Another, Michael Dougherty, likens Republicans to Charlie Brown in the famous Peanuts football gag.
DailyMail.com evokes a boxing match: “Hillary Comes Out Swinging on Benghazi as She Fends Off Hostile Republicans in Marathon Congressional Quiz—but Takes Blows Over Her Shadowy Aide Sid.” The Washington Examiner’s Byron Yorkdeclares the hearing a “bust” for the committee and “very, very good news for Hillary Clinton.”
The trouble with this line of analysis is that the object of the analysis is not a game. By that we mean not that it’s a Very Serious Matter that shouldn’t be treated as a game but that there is no way of declaring a winner that is not purely subjective. You can’t say Mrs. Clinton beat Trey Gowdy by two touchdowns or three runs or any other objective measure. And while pundits may imagine ourselves in the role of boxing or figure-skating judges, our opinions are not authoritative.
(NOTE: Four brave Americans who might have been saved were murdered in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. Hillary Clinton, who might be our next president, was not honest about the horrific events that occurred on that day, when she was serving as U.S. Secretary of State. Whether Democrat or Republican, we owe it to these brave men to learn the facts about Benghazi.)
Another AP report claims that the hearing “revealed little new about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.” We suppose that depends what you mean by “little.” Consider this passage:
In one tense moment, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio accused [Mrs.] Clinton of deliberately misleading the public by linking the Benghazi violence at first to an Internet video insulting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Clinton, stone-faced for much of the hearing, smiled in bemusement as Jordan cut her off from answering. Eventually given the chance to comment, she said only that “some” people had wanted to use the video to justify the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Steven and three other Americans and that she rejected that justification.
The argument went to the origins of the disagreement over Benghazi and how President Obama and his top aides represented the attack in the final weeks of his re-election campaign. And it reflected some of the raw emotion the deadly violence continues to provoke, something Clinton will have to face during the next year of her White House bid even if the Republican-led special investigation loses steam.
What the AP doesn’t tell you, our colleague Kim Strassel does: Jordan cited emails from Mrs. Clinton’s illicit private server that showed she knew the administration’s claims about the video—including her own—were false:
Jordan referred to an email Mrs. Clinton sent to her daughter, Chelsea, at 11:12 the night of the attack, or 45 minutes after the secretary of state had issued a statement blaming YouTube-inflamed mobs. Her email reads: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group.”
The next afternoon, Mrs. Clinton had a call with the Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil. The notes from it are absolutely damning. The secretary of state tells him: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack—not a protest.” And yet Mrs. Clinton, and [then-U.N. Ambassador Susan] Rice and Mr. Obama for days and days continued to spin the video lie.
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes notes that Mrs. Clinton lied to the face of the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the four Americans killed at Benghazi:
Charles Woods has been waiting a long time for the truth. He met his son’s body at Joint Base Andrews, three days after the attacks, at a solemn ceremony in just outside Washington, D.C. He first met [Mrs.] Clinton at that brief memorial service. He remembers it well, in part, he says, because he took notes immediately after he spoke with her.
When I asked him about that day as we waited for the hearing to begin, he pulled a small leather black datebook from his pocket—maybe the size of a calculator, with 2012 engraved in gold on the front—as he recalled her words. He began reading from the entry that started on September 14, the day of the ceremony, and continued into the space for the following day. It ran just five or six lines, written in pencil.
He recorded [Mrs.] Clinton’s exact words. “We are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of your son,” he read. Then he looked up. “I remember those words: ‘who was responsible for the death of your son.’ She was blaming him and blaming the movie.”
Hayes’s colleague Jay Cost notes that in an exchange with Chairman Trey Gowdy, Mrs. Clinton offered an explanation for the missing Sid Blumenthal emails, noted here in June:
Mrs. Clinton: Well if you are talking about Mr. Blumenthal, which I assume you are, he had some [emails] that I didn’t have, and I had some that he didn’t have. And he—I was under no obligation to make any of his emails available unless I decided they were work related. And the ones that I decided that were work related I forwarded to the state.gov accounts of the people with whom I worked.
Gowdy: Madam Secretary, is there any question that the 15 that [Blumenthal’s lawyer] James Cole turned over to us were work related? There’s no ambiguity about that. They were work related.
Mrs. Clinton: No. They were from a personal friend, not . . . any government official. And they were, I determined on the basis of looking at them, what I thought was work related and what wasn’t. And some I didn’t even have time to read, Mr. Chairman.
Cost notes that in March Mrs. Clinton asserted that she “provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related” and that those that weren’t were limited to “emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.”
Now she’s saying she was under no obligation to turn over emails about Libya because they came from a “personal friend.” Yet emails earlier released showed that she forwarded his Libya “intelligence” to other State Department officials, and yesterday Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that she also sent them to the White House with Blumenthal’s name removed. (As we noted in March, Blumenthal earned the administration’s enmity by sending around derogatory emails about Obama during the 2008 primary campaign, and the White House nixed Secretary Clinton’s plan to hire him at the State Department.)
Mrs. Clinton also claimed twice that Blumenthal “was not advising me”—which may mean nothing more than that he was not paid by the government to advise her. An Associated Press “fact check” notes that Mrs. Clinton claimed Blumenthal’s Libya advisories were “unsolicited,” but an email from her to him urged: “Keep them coming.”
The AP notes another bogus Clinton claim:
CLINTON: “I did not email during the day and—except on rare occasions when I was able to.”
THE FACTS: Clinton’s use of her private email address and server during working hours was anything but “rare.”
Clinton sent about one-third of her emails during working hours—on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.—according to an AP analysis of 2,754 emails she wrote from April 2009 through September 2010, based on time stamps on the messages.
All that said, we suppose it’s inevitable that televised hearings will be judged on drama more than substance. “Simply as a matter of political theater, over the course of many hours of testimony, [Mrs.] Clinton performed brilliantly,” writes John Podhoretz in the New York Post. Salon’s Scott Timberg argues that “these investigations, more often than investigators think, play to the favor of the person being investigated”:
The last few decades show a wide range of characters—Oliver North, who appeared on televised hearings in 1987 about his role in Iran-Contra; Clarence Thomas, who went through potentially brutalizing confirmation hearings in 1991 involving sexual harassment charges; and Bill Clinton, who was publicly embroiled in Monica-Gate in 1998—actually received a boost of support for their appearances defending themselves. Three very different men, three very different transgressions, but North and Thomas became folk heroes, and Clinton’s party actually picked up seats in Congress while his popularity ticked up.
Of course, with Thomas there actually was a “final score”—52-48, the margin by which the Senate confirmed his appointment to the Supreme Court. Likewise with Mr. Clinton, who was acquitted by votes of 45-55 and 50-50.
With Oliver North, however, the story was more complicated, as the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman notes:
During the Iran-Contra scandal . . . North, who had been a Reagan administration official, testified in dramatic hearings before the committee investigating the matter. His testimony was judged a triumph at the time, the upright former military officer showing the blowhards in suits how real men act. But the fact was that North was a criminal—he admitted lying to Congress to conceal illegal activities, and was later convicted of that crime and of obstructing justice (his conviction was overturned because of the clever immunity agreement his lawyers struck with Congress). North’s dramatic testimony didn’t save the Reagan administration from accountability for the scandal, and when he ran for Senate in Virginia in 1994, he lost (in a year of a huge Republican sweep). His reputation as a liar who believed he was above the law was a key reason. . . .
It’s too early to say exactly how we’ll remember this hearing. Perhaps because it has (so far) lacked any fiery moments that make for good sound bites, it will get discussed only for a day or two and then fade from memory. If this hearing does provide a coda to this controversy, it will surely become a symbol for conservatives of how feckless and ineffectual their congressional leaders are, and a symbol for liberals of Republicans’ obsession with faux scandals.
But either way, over the long run, the facts can’t be escaped.
It doesn’t seem to dawn on Waldman that in his analogy, Mrs. Clinton is Oliver North—that she is the one trying to outrun the facts.
Hypothesis and Proof—I
“Democrats Call Benghazi Hearings ‘Fundraising Ploy,’ Then Fundraise off Them”—headline, Washington Examiner, Oct. 22
Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Her?
“Clinton to Benghazi Committee: ‘I’ve Lost More Sleep Than All of You Put Together’ ”—headline PJMedia .com, Oct. 22
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