Former Secretary of State and future presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has been a ubiquitous presence in the media lately, promoting her new book Hard Choices, and stepping on the occasional rake. She took a lot of heat over her assertion that she and former President Bill Clinton were "dead broke" when they left the White House, and got mixed reviews for a contentious exchange with NPR's Terry Gross over gay marriage.
In one of her appearances yesterday, Clinton took the now-settled issue of the video that inspired the attacks in Benghazi and unsettled it, telling Fox News anchor Bret Baier that maybe some of the people who attacked Benghazi were inspired by the video, maybe some weren't, that her judgment on that point had "careened" from one end to the other, but they were definitely "attackers."
"The investigations that have been carried out basically conclude we can’t say everybody was influenced, and we can’t say everybody wasn’t. But what the intelligence community said was spontaneous protests and that is what at the time they thought."
This was, of course, mere hours after the New York Timesreported that the alleged ringleader of the September 11, 2012 attacks, the now-captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, told fellow Libyans that his actions were, in fact, a reaction to the film Innocence of Muslims. That same conclusion was drawn by a previous Times report in December that even Fox News touted as "exhaustive," and which concluded that the attack "was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."
That's also what the now-infamous CIA talking points said, and what the latest fake "smoking gun" email from the White House said, and guess what? That's what the Islamist group Ansar al Shariah -- accused of participating in the siege on the consulate -- said the day after the attack.
One of the main problems with the way the media has covered the #Benghazi cult is that these people present false choices, and don't get called out for it. For example, Baier later asks Clinton which is it, a reaction to the video, or an attack by terrorists, as if terrorists can't react to a video (even though they have repeatedly said that's exactly what they did). Once again, though, Clinton accepts the premise, and tries to split the baby:
"Well, Bret, I think you have to take both ideas at the same time," she says, which is a good start, but then poses them as mutually exclusive by adding, "I don't know anyone who was saying it is only the video now, but I think at the time there was a lot of information flowing around that we were trying to assess, that at least it played a part."
It's possible she's really confused about this, or she thinks that maybe the Fox News audience will giver her some credit for humoring them (they won't), but Clinton really ought to get it straight: it was the video.
Earlier in the day, she also participated in an extended town hall with CNN, and during a long answer about, what else, making Hard Choices, host Christiane Amanpour threw in a grenade about racism. As Clinton was describing the sort of opposition even popular presidents face, Amanpour asked, "Do you think some of that is latent racism, the vestiges of racism, as some people have said?"
Clinton did not jump on it. "I don't want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly," she responded, and with a laugh, adding, "I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it."
That sounds like a safe enough answer, but it didn't escape Michelle Bernard's notice that Clinton recoiled from the race issue like it had cooties, while embracing questions about sexism. After a contentious 2008 primary that saw some fairly naked appeals to white voters, black voters will be watching her carefully, and she needs not to be seen as shrinking away from an issue that has serious policy implications. She will need huge black voter turnout to win in 2016, and must figure out how to turn out white voters, ones who won't panic if she "verifies" that racism still exists.
This book tour is a good shakedown cruise for her, though, and while she gets these bugs out, she has also had some winning moments, handling a question about being a "grandma" with humor, and dealing a charming death blow to the Republican National Committee's idiotic squirrel mascot. More of that, please.