‘Thank you for that question,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said feebly when, early in Friday’s press conference, the issue of Benghazi was raised. And then he reflexively tried to recruit the questioner to his side. Look, Carney insisted, those darned Republicans are involved in an “ongoing attempt to politicize a tragedy that took four American lives.” We’re not going to fall into their trap and ask questions of the administration, are we? We’re not like those other outlets that are engaged in a “pattern of spreading misinformation.” Right, guys?
Evidently, Carney had not yet realized that things had changed. What had been a fringe story had by now gone mainstream: The New Yorker had written that new evidence “seriously undermines the White House’s credibility on this issue”; ABC News’s Jonathan Karl had averred that developments “directly contradict what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said . . . in November”; Thursday’s Morning Joe panel had agreed that the news was troubling for the White House; and George Will was gearing up to go onto the Sunday shows and complain that the nation had been “systematically misled.”
Newly intrigued, the assembled press corps ignored Carney’s ploy; so, too, his flippant, Obamaesque insistence that “efforts to re-fight the political battles of the past are not looked on kindly by the American people.” Benghazi might well have “happened a long time ago,” as Carney hilariously assured the media on May 1, but the fourth estate was now interested.
Cutting short the dismissal, Jim Acosta of CNN inquired of Carney why the State Department had removed Anshar al-Sharia’s name from the CIA’s story, and what the discovery of this edit has done to the credibility of the White House. “References to that group are removed from the conversation and don’t make their way into the talking points,” Acosta argued. “That is not a stylistic edit. That is not a single adjustment as you said back in November. That is a major, dramatic change to the information.”
“I appreciate the question and the opportunity,” Carney said, twitching slightly and starting to go red. But apparently he didn’t appreciate it enough to answer it. Nor to take the opportunity to admit that his prior claim that “the CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted” them — and that only “stylistic and non-substantive” changes were made from outside — was demonstrably false. At the fork in the road, Carney once again chose the well-worn low way.
Acosta was visibly unimpressed. Here it became clear that we were in it for the long haul. “Let me just follow up on this once and for all,” he eventually asked.
“Do you promise once and for all?” pleaded Carney.
“Maybe not,” Acosta shot back. “You are comfortable with the way you characterized this back in November? That this was a single adjustment?”
“I do. I do stand by it,” Carney replied.
“Jay, you told us that the only changes were stylistic,” asserted ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who earlier in the day had mainstreamed the yeoman work of The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes. (Hayes had blown the lid off the talking-points deception almost a week before, to little public thanks.) “Is it a ‘stylistic’ change to take out all references to previous terror threats in Benghazi?” Karl asked.
“I appreciate the question again,” Carney answered, closing his eyes and twitching a little. “I accept that ‘stylistic’ might not precisely describe a change of one word to another . . . ”
Bristling, Karl interrupted, observing that the original talking points referred to al-Qaeda and to Anshar al-Sharia and had “extensive discussion of the previous threats of terrorist attacks in Benghazi.” A new set of talking points, “based on input from the State Department” was written, Karl added. It featured none of those things. “Do you deny that?” he jabbed.
“I’ve answered this question several times now,” Carney pretended. “I’m happy to answer it again if you’ll let me.” he continued. Looking anything but happy to answer it, Carney started to list the branches of government involved in the draft. Then he moved back to blaming Republicans for creating a “distraction.”