October 25, 2012
What news stories are perching up high on the top rocks, screeching down at undecided voters with less than two weeks left in a long presidential campaign?
One thing's for sure.
The big story isn't Benghazi, the place where four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, were killed Sept. 11. It should be the big story, but it isn't.
This week, newly revealed emails showed that President Barack Obama's White House knew within hours of the attack that it involved terrorists and that it was not the work of some random mob inflamed by a ridiculous anti-Muslim video as Obama repeatedly insisted.
The Benghazi story also strongly suggests, if not downright shows, that the Obama White House kept pushing the ridiculous video story for weeks to protect the president's political prospects. He'd just spiked the terrorism football, taking credit at the Democratic National Convention for the killing of Osama bin Laden. He didn't want to talk about Benghazi in terms of terror.
The Benghazi story isn't sexy, and it threatens Obama's re-election chances with his surging challenger, Republican Mitt Romney.
So the Benghazi story is drowned out in all the other noise, though if you cup your ears and listen really hard, you might be able to hear the president's deep sigh of relief.
Other stories are much sexier, louder, easier to scream about, easier to tweet in 140 characters, like the story touted by Donald Trump. Or perhaps the other story pushed by his kindred spirit and fellow carny barker, lawyer Gloria Allred. These two have become the human backwash of our celebrity culture. Their names are like graffiti on the American mind. And they love it.
Trump offered $5 million to Obama's favorite charity if only the president would agree to release his college and financial records, as if these hold the secret to the president's birthplace. What will the Donald do next? Tune in and see! And Allred seeks the unsealing of testimony in a divorce case. Romney testified in that case. The unstated but implied aim is that she'll somehow use it to embarrass the Republican nominee. What will Gloria say next? We'll tell you after the break! Gloria? Love that suit.
The easiest story — and the one that plays into the Obama White House's hands — is the one from the mouth of Richard Mourdock, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Indiana, who in a recent debate said something remarkable about God and babies conceived during rape.
"I believe life begins at conception," Mourdock said in a debate. "The only exception I have, for to have an abortion, is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
He later apologized and said he was not condoning sexual assault, but rather supporting life regardless of how it begins. That didn't matter. Nobody's listening. Republicans like Romney cringed. And Democratic political operatives felt all tingly.
The issue is profoundly complicated, too painful and too important to reduce to a slogan. But the Chicago Way White House loved it. And what makes it most attractive to many in my business is that it plays right into the Obama campaign's plans to bring female voters back to the president, after many began listing Romney's way over the lousy economy.
So, with all that, Benghazi gets drowned out.
But I remember the president during the second debate with Romney, puffing himself up with great public outrage to ward off any questions over his administration's handling of the attacks and any criticism over Obama's weeks-long insistence that it wasn't terrorism but a video.
He pushed that video storyline before the United Nations and even on the TV show "The View," in which he also famously said of himself that "I'm the eye candy." Confronted in the debate about tying Benghazi to the video, he turned on Romney with anger and insisted that he had indeed described the attack as terrorism.
It was semantics. He talked about vague acts of terror immediately after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Then he took off for a Las Vegas fundraiser. And he relentlessly pushed the story of the video — not a terrorist attack — day after day, as did his press secretary and his U.N. ambassador.
During that second debate, the president played the angry revisionist.
"And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own, governor, is offensive," Obama said. "That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president. That's not what I do as commander in chief."
On Tuesday night, the Reuters news agency broke the story that the White House and State Department knew via email within two hours after the attack on Benghazi that an Islamic militant group with links to al-Qaida affiliates had claimed responsibility.
The Obama administration began knocking down this new revelation, and Republican senators predictably demanded answers. White House officials insisted that their investigation will get to the bottom of it, eventually. And they indeed might get to the bottom.
But not until after the first week of November.
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