Erik Wemple is making sense: Bill O'Reilly's pre-Super Bowl interview with Barack Obama was an excellent piece of TV. O'Reilly's willing to interrupt the president more than most journalists are—a very good thing! Where Wemple and I depart: I don't think the section about Benghazi was terribly enlightening at all. O'Reilly asked his questions less to elicit answers, more to settle scores from 2012. The key bit:
O'REILLY: Did he tell you, Secretary Panetta, it was a terrorist attack?
OBAMA: You know what he told me was that there was an attack on our compound...
O'REILLY: He didn't tell you, he didn't use the word "terror?"
OBAMA: You know, in -- in the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what's happening on the ground, do we have eyes on it, how can we make sure our folks are secure...
O'REILLY: Because I just want to get this on the record -- did he tell you it was a terror attack?
OBAMA: Bill -- and what I'm -- I'm answering your question. What he said to me was, we've got an attack on our compound --
O'REILLY: No terror attack?
OBAMA: -- we don't know yet who's doing it. Understand, by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound, that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened.
O'REILLY: So the -- so the question ends up being who, in fact, was attacking us? But it's more than that because of Susan Rice. It's more than that because if Susan Rice goes out and tells the world that it was a spontaneous demonstration off a videotape but your commanders and the secretary of Defense know it's a terror attack. Just as an American I'm just confused.
OBAMA: What happens is you have an attack like this taking place and you have a mix of folks who are just troublemakers. You have folks who have an ideological agenda.
O'REILLY: All right.
OBAMA: You have some who are affiliated with terrorist organizations. You have some that are not. But the main thing that all of us have to take away from this is our diplomats are serving in some very dangerous places.
Ever since Mitt Romney whiffed his attack during the second presidential debate with Obama—ever since he tried to nail the president on whether he had indeed called Benghazi "terrorism"—this has been a sort of conservative obsession. We're more than a year on from when Susan Rice committed nomination seppuku over the talking points she used on Sunday shows, and yet the talking points hang there like a teetering Jenga block. Pull the right block out and Obama's house of lies collapses. That's what O'Reilly seemed to think, and he got backup from Fox's most seasoned political newsman.
This obession is rooted in a theory of the attack that simply hasn't been backed up by subsequent reporting. For conservatives focused on the #Benghazi controversy, the administration simply lied when it claimed a "spontaneous" protest was part of the attack on the compound. How, they ask, could people have been murdered with loose weapons if the attack was spontaneous? Well, because the protest was part of the deadly mix, providing cover for terrorists. As David Kirkpatrick reported two months ago:
Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.
This has never been processed by the people who insist the administration participated in a "cover-up." That's why the word "terrorism" remains so important to them—they must, must prove that the administration tried to minimize an attack by terrorists by insisting that it was part of something spontaneous.