Ruth Ann Dailey: As Benghazi lies mount, media eyes shut

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If you question whether the Benghazi lies matter, all you have to do is imagine the uproar had this happened on George W. Bush's watch.

Yes, emphatically yes: It matters -- or should -- that the Obama administration lied to cover up its tragic mishandling of Middle East security.

In the long run, however, it won't.

In the short run are the 2014 elections. You could argue that optimistic Republican strategists are eyeing both the short and middle horizons -- 2014 and 2016 -- but after Friday's news coverage, the rest of us can't be too optimistic about much of anything where politics and journalism meet.

Last week the White House released emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request -- documents it had not released in response to a much earlier congressional requests. That's a huge deal right there.

One email, from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, said the goal of prepping U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for post-Benghazi news shows was to "underscore that these [Benghazi] protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not in a broader policy failure."

Since the author of the "smoking email" is the brother of CBS News President David Rhodes, CBS's reluctant coverage of the Benghazi debacle drew particular right-wing ire. But NBC's Friday night coverage deserved attention for its typical but still astonishing partisanship, not motivated by familial ties.

"House Speaker John Boehner began appointing a select committee today," announced anchor Lester Holt, "to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"And separately the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the administration's response to the attack, skipping the usual step of issuing an official invitation ...

"A release of internal White House emails with new details about the response has raised questions among Republicans ..."

Among Republicans?

Well, it's raised questions among citizens who can read and think. If Mr. Holt wants to call such people Republicans, the GOP probably isn't going to complain.

But the GOP's actions came on a Friday. Things in Washington get done on Fridays only when those responsible want their actions to be old news by Monday -- forgotten by all but those already engaged in off-year politics. The committed. The base.

The short-term goal is to motivate Republicans and independents to turn out in 2014, when the GOP can already expect to hold the House and hopes to take the Senate.

Considering a slightly longer-term goal -- 2016 -- it makes sense that Mr. Issa subpoenaed Mr. Kerry first, despite the rudeness of "skipping the usual ... invitation."

Mr. Kerry wasn't on the job when Benghazi happened. His House interaction will drag on for months, strategically delaying the committee's inevitable shift of focus back to former Secretary of State Hillary "What does it matter?" Clinton -- just in time for the 2016 presidential primaries.

This weekend, most news outlets focused on how Republicans are handling their investigation of Benghazi -- a funny inadvertent admission: Republicans have to investigate because, of course, most journalists chose not to.

But if this issue is being pursued for political rather than philosophical reasons, Republican leaders still have far more solid ground beneath them.

Democrats, playing to the 2012 election cycle, compromised foreign security to allow the president to pretend that America, on his watch, still had al-Qaida on the run.

Republicans, playing to the 2014 and 2016 cycles, believe that an angry mob should not have been invented to replace a very real al-Qaida assault, that White House operatives should not have scapegoated a lowly American videomaker to cover up their callous indifference to the safety of our diplomats and Special Forces personnel, that foreign policy should not have been subverted to the re-election prospects of President Barack Obama. So -- what did the president know and when did he know it?

Courtesy of intelligence officers and diplomats, the White House already knew the "spontaneous uprising to protest an anti-Islamic video" line was a lie when Mr. Obama lumped it with Benghazi at the United Nations.

But the newly released email puts a high-ranking official's fingerprints on the distract-and-redirect efforts. It's enough new information to reinvigorate an important investigation, if self-proclaimed journalists were still interested in doing such things. They cannot or will not do so now.

They are either so heavily invested in one party's ideology, or too afraid of being accused of racism if they turn on this president, that they will for the umpteenth time decline to look closely at this administration's screw-ups, failures and falsehoods.

And where does that leave us?

Ruth Ann Dailey:

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