White House planted “doctored” email narrative in press, then used press reports to push the “doctored” narrative as a political talking point
I saw this coming from a mile away.
When the White House leaked a single email about Benghazi to Jake Tapper, it launched a war on Jon Karl and Stephen Hayes because the wording of the email varied slightly from the accounts in their reporting. Their reporting, however, was based on summaries because the originals had not been released by the White House, but both reporters stood by the substance of their reporting.
Karl apologized because while he had made clear elsewhere in his report that these were summaries, he was not sufficiently clear as to this single email.
I smelled a rat in the release by the White House of this one email. It looked to me like Tapper, although a great and fair reporter, was being played, that someone in the White House found a difference in the wording, leaked only that email, then used it to generate a fairly massive counter-attack on the entirety of the reporting.
Jake Tapper reports that the White House is disputing that the Benghazi talking points were edited in the way ABC News and The Weekly Standard presented them, leading to charges that the emails were doctored. The ABC News source is standing by the leaked emails.
Based on Jonathan Karl’s updated report (quoted below), it looks like the White House played Tapper to create a controversy by releasing just one in a chain of emails. Regardless of how it turns out, this provides the dodge White House defenders were looking for, and they are relishing it.
When White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer appeared on Sunday talk shows and repeated the “doctored” narrative, it had come full circle. A “senior aide” (Pfeiffer?) leaked a single email to Tapper, the media and other Obama supporters used that planted narrative to bash the entirety of the Benghazi talking points reporting, and then Pfeiffer went on talk shows and drove home the “doctored” narrative.
But that “doctored” narrative has fallen apart substantively once the actual emails (100 of them selected by the White House) were released. Hayes and Karl wrote persuasive defenses of their reporting, as have others. Jazz Shaw had a good explanation of why the “doctored” narrative does not hold up, About those “doctored” Benghazi e-mails…
Glenn Kessler, WaPo’s “fact checker,” has a very detailed examination of the “doctored” narrative. Kessler almost entirely vindicates Karl and Hayes, and awards the “doctored” narrative three Pinnochios, The White House claim of ‘doctored e-mails… to smear the president’ (emphasis added):
In early May, Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard reported more details on the e-mails, in some cases explaining which officials were involved. But a central focus of his article was on the different versions of the talking points that emerged from the interagency process. Hayes, in most cases, summarized the e-mails unless quotes were in the House report.
Then, on May 10, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported that there were 12 versions of talking points, under the headline: “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference.” That was the key focus of the online article, as well as Karl’s appearances on the broadcast network that day. Karl, in fact, got all 12 versions of the talking points correct.
Karl started the article by citing “White House e-mails reviewed by ABC News.”
Later, he referred to “summaries of White House and State Department e-mails” and then lower in the article quoted from those e-mail summaries directly. As worded, the article gave the impression that these were actual quotes from e-mails.
In particular, Karl quotes Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes as writing late on the evening of Sept. 14:
“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
On May 13, CNN obtained the actual e-mail written by Rhodes, which said:
“We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation….We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
Note the correct version is missing a direct reference to the State Department. CNN, which had only obtained the single e-mail, used strong words in its report about its competitor, ABC: “Whoever provided those accounts seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”
When the White House last week released all of its e-mails, it became clear that Rhodes was responding at the tail end of a series of e-mail exchanges that largely discussed the State Department concerns.
So the summaries of the email in question were right, the concern in the chain of emails was about the State Department’s concerns. That the email did not mention the State Department did not take away from the truth — and since Karl and Hayes only were relaying summaries of the email, they were correct in context.
That, of course, has not stopped operatives like Media Matters from acting as if this were the journalistic scandal of the century:
Kessler notes that the disputed reference to the State Department was not even important, but that the White House continues to cite Tapper’s reporting of the email and also reporting by CBS News to claim that the difference in wording constituted “doctoring”:
While the White House has tried to highlight ABC’s error on the Rhodes e-mail, it is worth noting that it did not play a prominent role in much of the news coverage. (The one exception is Fox News.) After the ABC report, the Rhodes e-mail was not part of the nightly newscasts; neither was it cited in the news reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post. USA Today and The Los Angeles Times mentioned Rhodes, but at the bottom of the story. “Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor at the White House, wrote in a subsequent email that Nuland’s concerns would have to be taken into account,” the Times said.
The article also said: “White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not dispute their authenticity during a lengthy explanation Friday afternoon.”
White House officials disagreed with our findings. “ABC News reported they obtained the e-mails, CNN reported they were doctored, and CBS News reported they were from Republican sources,” said spokesman Eric Schultz.
There you have it.
A very, very minor difference in wording between the summary reported by Karl and Hayes, which was non-substantive because the summaries were correct in the context of the email chain, was used by the White House to leak a narrative via Tapper which then was used to attack all the reporting as “doctored.” The White House then used the narrative it planted in the media to bootstrap on the reporting to justify the narrative as a political talking point, to which it clings based on that same reporting.
A completely circular, phony “doctored” narrative was wholly created by the White House and then used by the White House to attack accurate reporting.DONATE
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