05.17.13 1:04 PM ET
Will ABC Finger the Liar?
We know now that someone, shall we say, inaccurately described a key Benghazi-related email to Jonathan Karl of ABC. And that Karl didn't represent his findings in a completely transparent way last week. I'm not going to go down deep into the weeds of all the details here. Mediaite did a great job of it in this post yesterday. I encourage you to read it.
I'll just remind you of the context. Remember, Karl's scoop last week, timed to the testimony of the three consular aides, set off an earthquake. It appeared to show that the administration was chiefly concerned with how the State Department would look, and with doctoring the talking points to minimize political damage. That's pretty damning stuff. It's why a number of commentators who had theretofore said Benghazi was nothing was now something. It's why a lot of people said Jay Carney had lied about the talking points.
But now it turns out, beyond argument, that Karl didn't see the emails, and that portions were read to him and were fabricated. Karl put those fabrications inside quote marks. Let's assume for now the most benign explanation of Karl's behavior: He trusted a source, and that source fucked him.
What should he and ABC do? Do you stand by sources who you know lied to you? There are certain circumstances when "burning" a source is considered permissible. Suppose you were a journalist and a source told you someone had committed a felony but that person had not. Do you have to protect that source? No.
ABC News, if you ask me, has had a worse week than Obama, not that as many people are paying attention. But consider. CNN and Jake Tapper got the actual emails, proving beyond a doubt that ABC and Karl were wrong. And last night on CBS, Scott Pelley and Major Garrett took the unheard of step of basically calling news gatherers at a fellow network liars.
The bigger issue here of course is not a media issue, but what in fact happened. What the emails show is awfully boring and un-juicy. They show government employees trying to be careful about jumping to conclusions--not in an attempt to cover ass, but so as not to prejudice an ongoing investigation. Victoria Nuland didn't want members of Congress to be out there blaming Ansar al-Sharia for the attack not out of any concern for Hillary Clinton, but for the basic reason that the investigation wasn't complete and there was no proof of the group's involvement.
Nothing. Happened. Nothing. And again, I remind you: The GOP's main political charge here is that the administration covered up Benghazi because it was an election year. But on September 20, the president's official mouthpiece (Carney) acknowledged that it was a terrorist attack, so Republicans had about 46 days in which to make political hay of that admission. Nobody hid anything.
Yes, mistakes were made at State--and remember, three people did lose their jobs. The record up to today suggests that the government is a good measure more trustworthy than ABC News--and, don't forget, than whoever it was (surely a GOP source of some kind) who lied to Karl in the first place.
UPDATE: A source at ABC got in touch to say that Garrett was in fact correcting earlier reporting by a fellow CBS correspondent, but that he did so without directly pointing it out. Apparently it was the CBS correspondent who flagged the Nuland email, not Karl.