I understand that for most people, 2012 is receding from memory. For many young people, it’s long enough ago that one can forgive them for not accurately remembering the key events of that year.
David Nakamura isn’t that young, being in his late 40s. Nor is he in a position where misremembering details or repeating them off the cuff is acceptable, given that he’s The Washington Post’s White House reporter.
So why, in a recent piece, did he only mention two Americans being killed in the Benghazi attack?
The article, published Sunday, had to do with how President Donald Trump contrasts his foreign policy against that of former President Barack Obama as “the metric he has to beat.” This apparently passes as novel reportage, as if presidents never measure themselves against their predecessors. Trump is the first because he plays to win.
Nakamura began with a roll call of prominent Republicans who compared the president’s approach to foreign policy with Obama’s after the airstrike last week that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
He found this slightly curious — a choice that I, in turn, found curious given the number of people (particularly media-adjacent) who were talking about the Soleimani-approved embassy attack in Baghdad as being “Trump’s Benghazi.” There were also a few Democrats who were implying it as well.
Republicans, it seems, aren’t the only ones interested in comparing the two administrations.
Trump hit back this characterization — which, to Nakamura, was more evidence for his hypothesis.
”Trump did not mention Obama in brief remarks about the Soleimani operation Friday. But days earlier — as an Iraqi militia aligned with the Iranian general breached security at the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in protest of an American strike on the group’s facilities in Syria and Iraq — Trump made a clear reference to his predecessor by threatening Iran over the incident and declaring the situation the ‘Anti-Benghazi’ on Twitter.”
It’s in the explication of this remark that Nakamura engages in fuzzy math.
“[Trump] was alluding to a siege on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya in 2012 in which two Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens, were killed — a tragedy for which Republicans faulted Obama’s administration for not securing the facility and for a muddied public accounting of what happened,” he wrote. [Emphasis mine.]
In fact, four Americans were killed in the attack: Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Shawn Patrick Smith and U.S. military contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty.
Now, my assumption here is that Nakamura was referring to the fact that only two of the individuals killed in the attack died in the embassy proper. This is a dubious accounting of things, however: Doherty and Woods died at the CIA annex, a safe house that was supposed to be secret and to which staff had been evacuated, according to CBS News. Just as U.S. commandoes arrived to extract them to the airport, the annex came under attack and the two men were killed.
I want to be careful here because I don’t want to adduce more blame to Nakamura than is due. I don’t know why he omitted the two other deaths in Benghazi or why he omitted that the attack went beyond our embassy.
However, it took place in an article comparing the relative legacies of Donald Trump and Barack Obama, by a writer who — given his place of employ and his past body of work — one can guess clearly believes one left behind a far more substantive legacy than the other. I don’t want to extrapolate further than that, but — well, there you go.
Beyond that is a more serious question: Why are we even talking about this? I’m not saying this isn’t something we shouldn’t discuss now that it’s out there, of course; I’m writing about it, which shows where I stand on that question. Rather, why even minimize Benghazi in this way?
Shoddy reporting? I know plenty of readers have snide remarks they’re going to make about The Post, but Nakamura is far from a hack.
Mistake? I’m sure The Post’s newsroom has gotten its fair share of emails over this one since it was published Sunday, but the piece remained unaltered and uncorrected Tuesday morning.
Without casting aspersions on Nakamura’s intentions, it’s still an example of the media’s reluctance to treat Benghazi as anything more than a molehill that was sculpted into a mountain by the hands of Trey Gowdy. It’s 2012, they’ll point out. What difference, at this point, does it make?
It makes plenty of difference, however, when you’re writing about Donald Trump’s response to an attack that was called “Trump’s Benghazi” but definitely didn’t turn out to be a Benghazi.
Nakamura’s article quickly moved onto other arguments that he thought supported his hypothesis. I wonder how many readers, like me, stopped taking him seriously when they saw that Benghazi death toll.
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