The right-wing is beginning to reverse itself on insisting that a anti-Muslim YouTube video had nothing to do with the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Republicans and Fox News have scorned the Obama administration for weeks for initial statements that the assault in Benghazi, that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, was an outgrowth of a protest sparked by this video.
Fox’s Geraldo Rivera went against that narrative on Friday. After Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy once again mocked the notion that the video was an impetus for the attack, Rivera instead presented the idea that it was in fact both a reaction to the video and a terrorist attack. The hosts quickly attempted to pull Rivera back on-message after he completed explaining his theory, but couldn’t persuade him to drop it completely.
Fox reporter Peter Doocy later also reported that the attack may have been “tied to that anti-Islamic video”, a short film, purported to be part of a full length movie known as “The Innocence of Muslims,” and its derogatory portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed. Watch both statements here:
The grudging change comes on the heels of several new reports that cut through the simplicity of the Republican talking points. Reporters from both Reuters and the New York Times met with Ahmed Abu Khattala — leader in the Ansar al-Sharia militia suspected by the Libyan and U.S. governments of taking part in the attack — in a Benghazi hotel. While Abu Khattala claimed that he himself did not take part in the assault, he said the attack grew out of a protest against the video.
Complicating matters further are new reports on precisely what the Obama administration knew when U.S. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on several Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16. According to a Wall Street Journal account published on Friday, the intelligence community began receiving new data the night before Rice’s television appearances:
Despite their growing uncertainty, intelligence officials didn’t feel they had enough conclusive, new information to revise their assessment. Ms. Rice wasn’t warned of their new doubts before she went on the air the next morning and spoke of the attacks being spurred by demonstrations, intelligence officials acknowledged.
More information casting doubt on the protest element came in on Sunday morning, around the time that Ms. Rice was completing her TV appearances, the officials said. She began taping the shows early Sunday morning. By the time intelligence analysts began to realize “there’s enough here to build a body of evidence that there probably were not protests, those things were already recorded and she [Ms. Rice] was already out there,” a senior intelligence official said.
These new accounts are becoming harder to ignore, particularly in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s mishandling of the facts during this week’s presidential debate. While many questions still remain on the intelligence and security situation in Benghazi, during the attack and after, the Fox News simplification is on the way out.