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Monday, September 22, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 6/1/2014

COMMENTARY

Benghazi ‘‍cover-up’ being ignored, reader contends

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN
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Reader Peter Smith is none too happy with this newspaper.

As he wrote to me: “I could see The Blade shirking and hiding initially from its duty of reporting to the citizenry about the tragedy when the news first broke, due to the lack of ‘factual evidence…’

“But now the facts are out! I know it and you know it too … time to step up and report first-hand all the facts about this tragedy and all the ramifications coming out of it, including the cover-up.”

What, you may wonder, is he talking about?

Some Toledo city government scandal?

Sale of land to the Chinese? Some leftover business from the Tom Noe “Coingate” scandal of nearly a decade ago?

No, he is talking about the “Benghazi cover-up.”

Leaving aside for a moment the whole question of what happened in that tragic incident and why, there’s a fundamental flaw in Mr. Smith’s premise, based on a misunderstanding of how newspapers and journalism work.

The Blade is a good, Pulitzer-prize winning local newspaper, even a regional newspaper. But it is not a huge international news-gathering operation with correspondents throughout the State Department.

Nor does The Blade have a staff of fluent Arabic speakers who are on the ground in Libya and who are familiar with local dialects, customs, leaders, and personalities.

What it does have is access to some of the nation’s best news services, as well as highly trained editors who understand government “spin” and hype and are sensitive to nuances.

The Blade has been running stories by the reporters on the scene since the tragedy began to unfold.

Here is what is known: On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked and killed Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, and Sean Smith, a U.S. Foreign Service officer.

Early the next morning, two CIA contractors, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were also attacked and killed.

Originally, the Obama Administration indicated it thought the tragedy came as the result of a spontaneous protest against a movie that Islamic militants found objectionable. It quickly became apparent that was not the case, that this was an organized attack by military and terrorist forces, including elements of al-Qaeda.

The tragedy itself then almost immediately morphed into a political propaganda war. Republicans called for investigations and hinted darkly at a massive cover-up for some nefarious reason.

What is the truth here?

Your ombudsman knows only that he, like probably everyone reading this paper, doesn’t know all the facts and details. I did some foreign reporting once upon a time, but not in Libya.

What I did learn while reporting in war zones and foreign countries, however, is that situations are usually impossibly complex. Far more than even the best story can often convey.

Three things seem clear to me. One is that the Obama Administration was initially far too quick to say, as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice did, that the attack began as a spontaneous demonstration “inspired by this hateful video.”

Two, since the attacks, some Republicans have attempted to portray that, and all that’s happened since, as some sort of sinister conspiracy, massive plot, or both.

The fact that Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi incident, is widely assumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president is probably not a coincidence.

Thirdly, it is seldom a good idea to mix foreign diplomacy with domestic politics. Tragedies like this happen to nearly every president; Ronald Reagan’s administration blundered by stationing U.S. Marines in a vulnerable barracks in Lebanon in 1983; when a suicide bomber struck, 241 died.

Your ombudsman thinks the best and most relevant thing about Benghazi was said by a very sad 77-year-old man. “We don’t pretend to be experts in security. It has to be objectively examined. It does not belong in the campaign arena.” The man saying that was Jay Stevens, father of the martyred ambassador.

“It would be a real shame if it were politicized,” he added.

I could not agree more. Investigations will continue into the aftermath of Benghazi, and your ombudsman hopes The Blade will continue to report the findings, fairly and dispassionately.

■ Richard Campbell of Curtice, Ohio, also thinks the newspaper has gone to the dogs, but for a different reason — literally, dogs. “The Blade is beginning to look like a trade paper for the ASPCA. Sometimes it feels like half the paper is dedicated to dog stories.”

Well, there’s no question the editors think the treatment of dogs is important. Maybe more so than most people would.

But that’s a matter of taste, and some readers at every newspaper I’ve ever worked for felt their paper covered some issues too heavily and others too little.

Perhaps the question should be: Does The Blade’s coverage of dog issues cause the paper to miss other, more important news?

I do have one objection to The Blade’s dog coverage. The newspaper runs a daily log of “Dogs Killed.” I don’t have a problem with that. But if a person brings in an elderly or sick animal to be humanely put down, I don’t think his name should be printed.

The person is doing the decent and proper thing, and someone’s dog might suffer needlessly if its owner doesn’t end its misery out of the fear he will be unfairly stigmatized.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in this newspaper is invited to write me, c/​o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 555 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610; or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is the head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: omblade@aol.com



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