It is hard to believe the Obama administration could catch a break in the midst of three separate news stories that all carry the dreaded word "scandal."
The administration has been on the defensive for the past few days, attempting to find a port in the storm of media controversy that has engulfed them. But a ray of sunshine may have appeared regarding the Benghazi attacks, as news reports by ABC News that claimed the administration doctored talking points was contradicted and thrown into doubt by a CNN copy of a White House email.
This story threatens to undermine one of the primary avenues of attack that Congressional Republicans have been undertaking in Congressional hearings on the Benghazi attacks. It also showcases the insidious nature of sources and how they can distort knowledge, with journalists helpless (or unwilling) at times to discover the misleading information.
The original ABC News story by Jonathan Karl claimed that, "White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department." He then gives quotes from a source that gave him an e-mail from White House national security communication advisor Ben Rhodes wrote saying:
"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."
Karl claims that the e-mail was sent out while the talking points were being drafted and before Ambassador Susan Rice went out on the Sunday talk shows. If true, it would show that the talking points were made with clear indications that the State Department was to be singled out as especially important during the drafting process.
However a CNN report by Jack Tapper managed to get a copy of the entire e-mail that ABC only viewed through their source, which is significantly different:
"Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies."
The much harped-upon Bengahzi talking points are not even mentioned in the e-mail. Some are claiming that they may be two different e-mails, but both ABC and CNN's e-mails have the exact same date and time, 9/14/2012 at 9:34 p.m.
NBC News later confirmed that CNN's e-mail was authentic compared to ABCs. The only difference is that CNN managed to get the exact e-mail while ABC only had a statement from a source that they treated on the same level as having the actual e-mail. This discrepancy is huge and calls into question the entire ABC story and the idea that this e-mail is the "smoking gun" with regards to the elusive cover-ups many Congressional Republicans have been seeking.
ABC News responded to the very serious allegation on Tuesday. Karl asked his source on what happened and why his claims were so different from CNN's and got this response,
"WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about."
Not the strongest defense. The White House was quick to pounce on the rare light of good news. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was quick to bring it up on Tuesday saying that "It reinforces what we've seen, which is an ongoing effort to politicize this, to cherry pick information, or in this case make it up to fit a political narrative."
Carney went on the offensive against Republicans who have forced the Obama administration to play defense in recent days saying, "Republicans who were leaking these emails that have been shared with Congress didn't just do that, they decided to fabricate portions of an email and make up portions of an email in order to fit a political narrative." Carney went on to say the House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is "obsessed" with the "political benefits" of the Benghazi dispute.
This certainly is a setback for Congressional Republicans, who have kept asserting that a political cover-up occurred, and a black eye for ABC News. This incident goes to show the importance of vetting sources and treating with scrutiny no matter how juicy the scoop may be.