Sometime down the road when we look back at the 2016 elections, we may decide that the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate turned out to be a game changer in presidential politics. The media came up losers in the debate, particular NBC and CNBC, while Republican candidate, Senator Marco Rubio, emerged as a force to be reckoned with. The debate was most notable for rude behavior on the part of the moderators and the absurdly loaded questions that they posed to Republican candidates. It was all on display for 14 million viewers — the biggest CNBC viewing audience in its history, ever.
Rubio took up the cudgel after CNBC moderator Becky Quick tried to goad Donald Trump into attacking him for his stance on immigration. Trump refused the bait, and instead, took the opportunity to remind audiences that he was funding his own campaign rather than relying on Super PAC money. That's when Rubio jumped into the conversation to hammer the media for their blatant pro-Hillary bias.
RUBIO: Since I’ve been mentioned, can I respond?
QUICK: Yes, you can.
RUBIO: OK. I know the Democrats have the ultimate SuperPac. It’s called the mainstream media who every single day…
… and I’ll tell you why. Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent e-mails to her family saying, “Hey, this attack at Benghazi was caused by Al Qaida-like elements.” She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
It was the week she got exposed as a liar. It was the week that she got exposed as a liar…
But she has her super PAC helping her out, the American mainstream media.
Rubio was not the only one to jab the media. Ted Cruz was actually first to take on the CNBC moderators, telling them "This is not a cage match." Later on Chris Christie got into it with John Harwood for inserting himself into the debate and constantly interrupting the candidates. "Even in New Jersey what you're doing is called rude."
Two things came out of this debate. First, the Republican National Committee has dropped NBC as a partner in future Republican debates. When its little watched business news cable channel can draw 14 million viewers for a Republican debate, that means NBC is faced with a substantial amount of lost advertisement revenue because of the RNC's decision. We might expect networks to treat Republicans much more fairly if they are faced with the prospect that their bread and butter is at risk when they don't.
The second thing that came out of the debate is that Hillary's blatant and constant dishonesty, and the media coverage that ignores it, have become legitimate topics on the Republican campaign trail. It's not going to be so easy for Hillary or the media to simply brush them aside.
There is also an interesting coincidence. In going through the news stories that trace the evolution of the White House Benghazi talking points, the administration's changing narrative, and HIllary's ongoing evasions, it's hard not to notice a number of connections to CBS News.
When Marco Rubio said Hillary had been exposed as a liar, he was talking about totally incompatible contradictions that were revealed in emails that Hillary sent the day after terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Those were the attacks that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA Security Contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
The emails reveal Clinton telling her family that "two officers were killed today in Benghazi by an al-Qaida-like group," and stating to Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, "We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest." There was also a State Department cable confirming that the attack was "an organized operation" from a "Salafi terrorism group" avenging the killing of an al-Qaida terrorist.
All of this was from the day after the attack, while Clinton was simultaneously misinforming the American people about it being "a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet."
On the morning after the debate, Rubio got another opportunity to spotlight Hillary's dishonesty on Thursday's CBS This Morning. Co-host Charlie Rose took it upon himself to jump to Hillary's defense, seemingly aghast that anyone would actually accuse Hillary of lying. Rubio pushed back firmly and decisively. So much so that CBS This Morning's subsequent write up of Rubio's comments never mentioned the part Charlie Rose played in it. It was as if he was never there. Here is a piece of the transcript capturing the exchange, from NewsBusters.
CBS This Morning
October 29, 2015
NORAH O’DONNELL: But did you make that attack toward Jeb Bush? I mean, he was once your mentor.
MARCO RUBIO: Yeah, again I’ve great regard for him. I said that on the debate stage. I think what we should do is every candidate should run on who they are and what they stand for and what they’ll do if they can become president and let the Republican voters across this country decide who the nominee should be. If there are policy differences between us, we should discuss those differences. But I've never personally attacked anybody in this race and I'm not going to start now. If other people decide they want to change who they are--
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, well, you called Hillary Clinton a liar, senator. You called Hillary Clinton a liar.
RUBIO: Well, no. I said Hillary Clinton lied about Benghazi. There is no doubt about that, Charlie. I mean, there are e-mails in which she was talking to her family and she was telling them that there was an attack on that consulate that was due to a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda elements and then she was going around the country talking to the families of the victims, and to the American people and saying, no, no. This is because of some video that someone produced.
ROSE: Senator, you know -- you know that --
RUBIO: She absolutely lied about it.
ROSE: The CIA was changing its own assessment of what happened there during that time zone.
RUBIO: That's not -- that's not accurate. It was clear from the very early moments after that attack that it was not a spontaneous uprising. It was a planned attack. Well orchestrated by people that brought armaments to that attack that you would never see as part of a spontaneous up rising. What was very clear is that from the very early moments of that attack, she knew that it was a terrorist attack as she shared by e-mail with various people. And yet she continued to perpetuate the lie.
ROSE: If you're calling her a liar by saying she perpetuated a lie, then why do you think she did that? What was her motive?
RUBIO: Well, that’s very clear why. Because they were in the middle of a 2012 re-election in which President Obama had made the claim that Al Qaeda was being defeated and --
ROSE: So, you’re saying that Hillary Clinton lied -- you were saying, senator, that Hillary Clinton lied because she wanted to help Barack Obama in his re-election campaign? That's a serious charge.
RUBIO: Yes. Is that -- well, it's the truth. I mean, that is not only why she did it, that’s why everyone in the administration did it. The narrative of their campaign at the time, Charlie, was that Al Qaeda was on the run and had been defeated. That was their narrative and this countered that narrative. They didn't want that out there and that’s why they didn't tell the truth of what truly happened and the families of those victims deserve better.
ROSE: But are you denying that the CIA was sending different information as they assessed it and providing different information to the leaders of our government? And that was part of the reason that they made different assessments.
RUBIO: Let me tell you Charlie, without violating any --
ROSE: Because David Petraeus and others have said that.
RUBIO: I don't want to violate anything that’s confidential and that’s classified but I'll tell you this. It was clear from the earliest moments after that attack that everyone on the ground and everyone closest to that attack knew, almost instantly, that this was an organized effort, not part of a spontaneous uprising and there was never, ever any evidence that it had anything to do with a video that was produced by some guy out in California. And for them to further that narrative and continue to do so well after it had become clear that that wasn't the case, it was unacceptable. The American people deserve better. And the families of those victims in Benghazi deserve better.
So, did Charlie Rose have a valid point when he said that "the CIA was sending different information as they assessed it,and providing different information to the leaders of our government?" The short answer is, no. He deserves credit for sticking to the Obama administration's heavily edited talking points, but to give him credit for that would be an ideological decision. The administration talking points made a central claim that was not supported by the CIA analysis on which they were based, that claim being that the attacks were caused by a YouTube video.
CIA Deputy Director Michael J. Morrell testified before a Congressional hearing on Benghazi after it came to light that he was among those involved in editing CIA talking points for the White House. Keep in mind that there are distinctions between the CIA classified analysis, the CIA unclassified talking points, and subsequent White House talking points.
According to Morrell, the word "Islamic" was removed from a sentence in the CIA talking points that described the extremists who were suspected of being involved in the attacks. References to al Qaeda were purged. Most significantly, CIA warnings of increasing violence in Benghazi that CIA Director David Petraeus wanted to include in the talking points were removed. Sharyl Attkisson reported on this in April of 2014.
Morell also explained why he removed language that his own agency had included in the talking points disclosing that the C.I.A. had provided “warnings” in advance of the attacks. Morell differed with his boss, then C.I.A. Director David Petraeus, who wanted the warning language included.
“I reacted very strongly to inclusion of the warning language,” Morell testified. “I thought it was an effort on the C.I.A.’s part to make it look like we had warned and shift any blame to the State Department…I made a decision at that moment I got the talking points I was going to take the… language out.”
Indeed, one State Department source says they felt the C.I.A. warning language was “throwing them under the bus.” The references were removed.
In his prepared statement Morrell described how Washington based analysts continued to embrace the theory of a spontaneous demonstration that turned violent, even in the face of contradictory input from CIA personnel on the ground in Libya. The analysts stuck to their spontaneous protest theory right up until September 18th when evidence from the Libyan government made it impossible for them to continue. But, again, here's the key difference between the CIA analysis and the White House talking points. At no point did the CIA analysis make reference to a YouTube video as motivation for the attacks. From Morrell's prepared statement:
CIA published another analysis on Benghazi on the morning of 15 September. This was written jointly with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and again coordinated within the Intelligence Community. It reinforced two judgments from the piece on 13 September – that extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack and that the attacks were inspired by that day’s breach of our Embassy in Cairo. The piece also added a new possible motivation – al-Qa’ida leader Ayman Zawahiri’s public statement late on 10 September calling on the Libyan people to avenge the death in Pakistan of senior al-Qa’ida leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan national. Again, the piece made no reference to the video defaming the Prophet Muhammad as a motivation for the attack in Benghazi.
It was not until 18 September, when CIA received the Libyan Government’s assessment of video footage from the State Department facility’s security cameras that showed the front of the facility just before the attack – with no sign of protesters – that it became clear that we needed to revisit our analysis. It is important to note that on 18 September, the Libyans did not provide the video; they only provided their assessment of the video.
On September 15, 2012, the day before UN Ambassador Susan Rice made the Sunday talk show rounds promoting the spontaneous demonstration theory, the CIA Station Chief in Tripoli sent an email report that said there were no demonstrations going on in Benghazi before the attacks. That was according to observations made by CIA security officers on the ground in Benghazi who responded to the call for help. Morrell said he ignored that email because the officers had arrived on the scene an hour after the attacks began, and the demonstration phase might have been over by then. Naturally, the email never mentioned a YouTube video.
The story of a video inspired protest didn't come from the CIA analysts in Washington. It was promoted by the White House. According to Breitbart, the Obama administration was eager to blame a YouTube video, but they originally had a different video in mind. (Boldface below is mine.)
A redacted email sent to the Diplomatic Security Command Center, obtained Tuesday by the group Judicial Watch, reveals that the White House’s priority at 9:11 PM on the night of the attack was to contact Youtube about a “Pastor Jon” video.
“DOD is looking at various resources,” the email reads, followed by redacted information.
“S [then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] expected to make statements one of which may confirm KIA, notification of next of kin is pending confirmation. DCM The Hague was to call OPS when completed. White House is reaching out to U-Tube to advise ramifications of posting of the Pastor Jon video,” the email continued.
On the evening of September 11, 2012 Hillary Clinton did, in fact, release a statement on the Benghazi attacks that made reference to inflammatory material on the internet. She wasn't specific as to what inflammatory material was to blame. The statement said in part:
Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.
The Obama administration eventually settled on the now infamous YouTube clip from an obscure movie called "Innocence of Muslims." On or about September 9, 2012 Egyptian TV host Sheikh Khalad Abdalla aired the clip, sparking riots in Egypt. But there were no demonstrations in Benghazi on September 11th when Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed. In spite of that, the White House talking points editing team, apparently led by Ben Rhodes, latched onto this YouTube video as the cause of the violence in Benghazi. (Boldface below is mine.)
More than 100 pages of documents were released to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Among them was a Sept. 14, 2012, email from Ben Rhodes, an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
The Rhodes email, with the subject line: "RE: PREP Call with Susan: Saturday at 4:00 pm ET," was sent to a dozen members of the administration's inner circle, including key members of the White House communications team such as Press Secretary Jay Carney.
In the email, Rhodes specifically draws attention to the anti-Islam Internet video, without distinguishing whether the Benghazi attack was different from protests elsewhere.
The email lists the following two goals, among others:
"To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
"To reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges."
"[N]ot a broader failure of policy." The evasions that were worked into the administration talking points buttress the argument that it was, in fact, a failure of policy. Removal of the CIA's advance warnings of rising levels of violence from those talking points screams, "failure of policy." Leading up to his death Ambassador Stevens was constantly requesting better security for the consulate in Benghazi. All of his requests were denied, and Hillary claims never to have seen any of them. You have to wonder why not, particularly since the CIA had issued their own set of warnings. Had they been made public, the CIA warnings and the ambassador's many requests for more security, Hillary and Obama would have had an impossible time explaining State Department and administration inaction leading up to and during the attacks that killed four Americans. The video story was supposed to relieve them of that burden. Rioting in response to a YouTube video could be sold as a totally unpredictable event. Under those circumstances who would blame them for being caught by surprise? Certainly not the media.
And certainly not CBS. Let's take a look at how many of the players in this drama have a connection to CBS News.
First we have Ben Rhodes, who is a Deputy National Security Advisor at the Obama administration White House, and who was insistent that the talking points "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." Among his qualifications for his White House post is that he is an author with a Master of Fine Arts from New York University. Oh, and his brother, David Rhodes, has been President of CBS News since February, 2011.
Next we have Michael J. Morrell who was also deeply involved in editing the CIA talking points. He resigned as Deputy Director of the CIA and took a job with Beacon Global Strategies, a communications firm operated primarily by former Obama administration and Hillary Clinton officials. He is also a consultant for CBS News.
David Petraeus, who was the CIA Director and who was overruled by Morrell, his subordinate, on the inclusion of CIA warnings in the CIA talking points. He was indicted by the Obama Justice Department for his troubles, and eventually plead guilty to mishandling classified materials. He did not get a gig with CBS News.
Finally, there is Charlie Rose who did his very best to put Marco Rubio on the spot with pointed questions about calling Hillary a liar. He is a co-host on CBS This Morning which is a division of CBS News, which, again, is run by David Rhodes, brother of White House official, Ben Rhodes.
It's hard to imagine any scenario in all this where CBS News is an impartial observer. I'm reminded of the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast on Benghazi by Lara Logan that CBS later disavowed. Logan was forced by CBS to take a leave of absence because her broadcast relied upon the testimony of a security contractor who said he was an eyewitness to the 2012 raid. CBS said they were unable to verify the contractor’s story. CBS also said that Logan shouldn't have done the story in the first place because of comments she had made that were critical of the American effort against al Qaeda.
The report also took issue with a speech Logan gave in October of 2012, one month before starting work on the Benghazi story.
"Logan made a speech in which she took a strong public position arguing that the US Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the US should take in response to the Benghazi attack," the report says. "From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story."
Note that Logan gave her speech in October of 2012 and began working on her story a month later. Her program aired a year after that on October 27, 2013. For a year CBS had no complaints about Logan's views or her speech, but once her program aired executives wasted no time. They disavowed it by November 8, 2013.
My suspicion, based on speculation alone, is that CBS executives allowed Logan to go through with her story so that later on they could disavow it and apologize, their objectives being to end the discussions on Benghazi once and for all, and to clear the path for Hillary's presidential run in 2016.
If I were a decision maker at the Republican National Committee, I would be thinking hard about dumping CBS from the debate schedule, along with NBC.