Slatest PM: The-Terrorist-Attack-Was-"Self-Evident" Edition

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 20 2012 5:34 PM

Slatest PM: The-Terrorist-Attack-Was-"Self-Evident" Edition

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Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

THE SHIFT: The White House is officially calling last week's assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya a "terrorist attack." Administration officials had initially resisted labeling it as such but appear to no longer have any qualms about using the T-word when talking about what happened at the U.S. diplomatic mission there.

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"It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One today. "Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that's self-evident."

NITPICKING: For posterity's sake: The attack technically happened at a U.S. consulate, not an American embassy. But Carney's certainly not the first to make that minor mistake when speaking off the cuff.

PEER PRESSURE: The move comes after a week of mounting pressure from Republicans who say the White House is trying to downplay a threat for which it was unprepared. While the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center are now saying the assault was carried out by terrorists, they have so far stopped short of calling it a planned attack, instead suggesting that it was more likely an opportunistic assault that used the already-occurring anti-American protests as cover.

RESPONSE TIMELINE: Fox News has pulled a number of quotes showing how the administration's official description of what occurred has evolved in the past week. The first two quotes, however, begin with "It's too early for us to make that judgment ..." and "We are very cautious about drawing any conclusions ...," respectively, which make it pretty clear that the White House was still in a fact-finding stage last week.

THAT SAID, the administration has drawn criticism before for slowly shifting the official account of an international incident, as they did in the days after the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

A HIT LIST: Citing an unnamed source "familiar" with Ambassador Chris Stevens' thinking, CNN reported earlier today that Stevens feared he may have been on an al-Qaida hit list in the weeks before the attack. Hillary Clinton shot that theory down today, saying that she had "no reason to believe that there's any basis for that."

Happy Thursday and welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow the entire @slatest team and @JoshVoorhees on Twitter, or fill your host's inbox with whatever is on your mind at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

THE NOTEBOOK: Colorado prosecutors today dropped their bid to gain access to a notebook James Holmes sent to a psychiatrist before this summer's mass shooting in Aurora—although they say they will likely be able to get a long look at in anyway if the case proceeds as expected. In short, the prosecutors said they had no interest in waging a lengthy fight to convince a judge that the notebook isn't protected by doctor-patient privilege when Holmes will automatically waive that privilege if and when he pursues an insanity defense. 

THE SCENE: The Associated Press: "For the first time with hair that's brown instead of a wild shade of orangish-red, the suspect in Colorado's movie theater shooting appeared in court Thursday ... Holmes appeared more animated during the hearing. He smiled and glanced around the courtroom, looking at his lawyers and reporters covering the hearing. He appeared to be moving his mouth but not actually talking."

FOUR PINOCCHIOS: The Washington Post on the Romney-cited 14-year-old "redistribution" clip of then-state Sen. Obama: "[N]ow NBC News has obtained the rest of Obama’s comments, and it is clear his remarks were taken completely out of context. Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all—instead, he speaks about competition, the market place and innovation in an effort to improve government services in Chicago." 

POLLING: Reuters: "President Barack Obama maintains a lead of 5 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney [48 percent to 43] as he solidifies his advantage in the U.S. presidential race, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday."

PROBABLY NOT PART OF THAT 48 PERCENT: NBC News: "At least two recent incidents in which empty chairs were hung from trees by rope have critics decrying what they say are racially offensive displays meant to symbolize the 'lynching' of President Barack Obama."

MORE POLLING: White, working-class Americans get a more nuanced look in a new survey out today from the Public Religion Research Institute. The big takeaway? It's not all guns, God, and the GOP for one of the most targeted demographics of this election season.

GINSBURG SEES THE FUTURE: During a Q-and-A with students at the University of Colorado yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the high court will likely decide soon whether the federal law that bars federal recognition of same-sex couples is constitutional. How soon? Likely within the year.

CHECKING THE TRAPS—

AP: "Sixteen Amish men and women were convicted Thursday of hate crimes including forcibly cutting off fellow sect members' beards and hair in a religious dispute that offered a rare and sometimes lurid glimpse into the closed and usually self-regulating community of believers."

WSJ: "House Republicans on Thursday took aim at Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department's top criminal prosecutor, a day after a report by the department's internal watchdog on the bungled Fast and Furious gun-trafficking case largely spared him from blame."

WaPo: "Democratic Party leaders are growing more upbeat about President Obama’s reelection prospects, but on-the-ground organizers are warning that well-funded conservative groups have developed a new level of sophistication in mobilizing voters that could give Republican nominee Mitt Romney an edge if the race is close."

IN OTHER NEWS: The 81-year-old Spanish woman who took it upon herself to restore a priceless fresco of Jesus—turning it into something of a viral sensation in the process—is looking to get paid for her trouble.

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