The U.S. Media: Another Casualty of Benghazi

by Otto J. Reich

As a former ambassador and a native Spanish-speaker, I receive many requests from Spanish-language media in the U.S. when foreign policy or a global event requires explanation. The attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in North Africa this week were no exception.

Since, like most Americans, I was saddened though not surprised at the senseless deaths of four more U.S. citizens at the hands of terrorists, I gladly accepted the invitations from the Hispanic media in various corners of the U.S. to comment. I was not prepared, however, for the singleminded focus of the questions: They were not as interested in the tragedy itself, or the causes of the violence in the region, or the need to protect our Foreign Service Officers as they were by the political impact of the event on the Romney campaign! They focused not so much on the persistence of extremism in Muslim countries, or the apparently surprising resurgence of anti-Americanism in a country, Libya, that we had helped to liberate from oppression barely months ago. No, the questions on such an unhappy and bewildering day focused instead on whether Mitt Romney had “made a mistake” in commenting “prematurely” and “in bad taste” on the events in North Africa, therefore injecting “politics” into the national tragedy.

Then I saw on television the (September 12) press conference in Florida by Governor Romney where practically all the questions put to the candidate were on his statement the night before criticizing Obama, not on his view on the region, his foreign-policy plans, or his views on how to reduce tensions in the area. This similarity in media questions is not an accident: It is another example of how the Democrats dictate the media agenda.

Why do the media “pass” on tough foreign-policy questions to a president that came into office saying that he would end U.S. conflicts with four of the most brutal and anti-American dictatorships in the world — Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela — by simply sitting down with the respective despots but instead proceeded to either ignore or appease each one of them? How did that novel personal diplomacy with Chavez, Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Kim work out for you, Mr. President? Are democracy and freedom better off today in North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela than four years ago?

It is an insult to our intelligence for this administration to criticize Mitt Romney for stating the obvious: that the initial statement made public by the U.S., as a mob attacked our embassy in Cairo, was not a condemnation of the attackers but an apology for U.S. freedom of speech.#more#

As obnoxious as the anti-Mohammed video may be, millions of Americans have died since 1775 to preserve the sacred right to the freedom of speech. Extremists who kill women for not wearing a veil or men for trying to change the way they pray to the same God do not have grounds on which to stand to criticize the U.S. Moreover, the implication in the embassy’s statement that anti-American terrorists in the Middle East need excuses to kill Americans or to attack U.S. embassies is pathetic.

The embassy’s statement was so bad that even the Obama White House was forced to remove it from official embassy websites only 16 hours after it was posted, but not before the White House and the press had pilloried the Republican candidate that dared to point out to his fellow American the sheer audacity of the statement itself.

We have marveled at how clever this administration has been at manipulating the media. But it really has not been that shrewd: The media have been seduced willingly, because they are still enamored of Obama. Are there no professional journalists left in the “mainstream media” who see the connection between the steady decline of their profession’s prestige and profits on one hand and on the other the ease with which they jettison their vaunted “objectivity” when writing or broadcasting about this administration?

In the absence of professionals, are there no adults who worry about the disappearance of newspapers or news programming from “prestige” papers or networks? Are there no supervisors? What about the owners of these outlets? As a citizen, and as someone who begins each day with one liberal and one centrist newspaper, and foreign and out-of-town journals online, and who truly enjoys the stain of ink on his hands and the discovery of an occasional unexpected jewel of reporting when turning a page, I am saddened by the decline of journalism. It may be a cliché, but clichés survive for a reason: a free press is one basic element of a democracy. Those irresponsible, biased reporters who put their ideology above their professional responsibility are helping to undermine this great democracy, not just to terminate their occupation.

— Otto J. Reich is former Ambassador of the United States to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

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