“If you can give nothing but bad information, isn’t it better to give no information?”
—- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), during a press conference on Nov. 27th, during which he reiterated his position that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice had knowingly and intentionally misled the American public regarding the fatal attack on the Benghazi compound on 9/11, in her appearances on multiple news shows five days later repeating “talking points” to the effect that the attacks had been spontaneous and sparked by an anti-Muslim video.
Even many liberal commentators are now conceding that Rice was being a “good soldier” on September 16, carrying a technically accurate but intentionally misleading message that seems to have been designed by Obama campaign strategists to make sure the death of an American ambassador in Libya wasn’t seen as a refutation of Obama’s claims to a successful handling of that nation’s struggles or a contradiction of the argument that “his” killing of Bin Laden had Al Qida on life support. After all the attacks on Republicans Senators McCain, Graham and Kelly Ayotte for their condemnation of Rice for her part in the Obama campaign’s spinning, including accusations of racism from Congressional Black Caucus members and the affirmatively weird complaint by President Obama (which seems to be that as long as Rice was repeating what she had been programmed to say by others she shouldn’t be held personally responsible for the content of her own public statements),Graham in particular has refused to back off his criticism, and cheers to him for that.
Deceit is so commonplace in Washington and public figures lie so carefully, often, shamelessly and well that it has apparently come to be considered subversive when an elected official argues that the public has a right not to be deceived to serve partisan political ends. We know now that by September 16 the CIA had told the Administration that the Benghazi attack was probably not spontaneous, probably not really inspired by the video, probably planned by terrorists and probably by Al Qida. We know that the intelligence community was not willing to state these conclusions with certainty, and thus Rice was told (that is, asked) to go on television and give the media and the public an intentionally incomplete version of events, using the word “extremists” rather than ” terrorists.” The risible defense of Rice’s performance that Sunday has devolved into arguing that the term “extremists” wasn’t misleading, because it left the possibility of terrorism in play. For example, she told “Face the Nation,“ “Soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in.” What Rice knew at the time, we now know, is that the “spontaneous protest” was probably not spontaneous, that it was an attack organized by a terrorist faction, and that the terrorists didn’t join the party in progress, but planned it. Her words suggested otherwise. They didn’t clearly state otherwise, but they allowed listeners to form a false impression. That is deceit. Deceit, much as its habitual users would have us think otherwise, is still lying.
We can get mired, as Rice’s defenders are trying manfully to do, in rhetorical nit-picking over whether a word like “extremists” fairly suggests terrorists or intentionally points listeners away from that conclusion (I vote the latter), and rationalizations like the argument that since Rice said that everything was still subject to investigation and new conclusions, she was never technically being untruthful. Sen Graham’s words plainly and clearly put all of that aside. If you are not trying to mislead, why make a misleading statement? If Rice couldn’t tell the whole truth, why was it necessary to tell half-truths? And if there was a reason other than campaign politics—that is to say, a legitimate reason that would justify a high-ranking American diplomat risking her credibility and integrity to misinform the American people, what was it?
The ethical answer to Sen. Graham’s question is beyond debate. “If you can give nothing but bad information, isn’t it better to give no information?”
And public officials that don’t believe that cannot and should not be trusted.
Graphic: Joe Albertan