Jay Carney’s Waterloo
The White House spokesman flounders in front of a newly curious press corps.
By Charles C. W. Cooke
‘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.”
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 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.
Our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo that helped — that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere. What other factors were involved is a matter of investigation.
This line was repeated at least once by Hillary Clinton, many times by Susan Rice, and, on September 26, by President Obama in his speech to the United Nations. We are thus supposed to believe that the government was so “[concerned] about the integrity of the investigation,” to use Carney’s peculiar words, that it removed all the suspects from public discussion while simultaneously blaming the attack on a video.
Among their many claimed sins, Republicans also drew Carney’s ire for “leaking” information “for political reasons.” “That’s their prerogative,” he sniffed. But this disgust at leaks struck a false note, given that the White House had held a secret meeting just a few minutes earlier in which it passed — “for political reasons”? — unattributable information to reporters. Just a few minutes before Carney’s on-air press conference, Politico’s Dylan Byers reported:
The White House held a “deep background” briefing with reporters on Friday afternoon to discuss recent revelations about the Benghazi investigation, sources familiar with the meeting tell POLITICO. . . . I asked [White House spokesman] Earnest to explain the meaning of “deep background,” as defined by the White House, for my readers. He emails: “Deep background means that the info presented by the briefers can be used in reporting but the briefers can’t be quoted.”
At times, Carney veered into abject nonsense:
The effort is always to, in that circumstance, and with an ongoing investigation and a lot of information, some of it accurate, some of it not, about what had happened and who was responsible, to provide information for members of Congress and others in the administration, for example, who might speak publicly about it that was based on only what the intelligence community could say for sure it thought it knew.
Glad we got that cleared up, then.
Until those damnable journalists got involved, May 10 had been billed by the White House as “Health Care Day” — a happy occasion on which the virtues of Obamacare were to be extolled. It was not to be. Six months late, curiosity about Benghazi finally intruded on the president’s parade. “A throne,” Napoleon held, “is only a bench covered with velvet.” If the president is to ride this one out, Jay Carney is going to have to start nailing that velvet back down.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.