Forty years after Watergate, we need Woodward and Bernstein

woodward-and-bernstein
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

In June, the Washington Post celebrated the 40th anniversary of the biggest scoop in journalistic history — Watergate. Looking back on it, the Post has every right to crow. The story was so huge that every political scandal since has been labeled with the word “gate” tagged onto the end of it.

However, the Post should also consider the adage, “You’re only as good as your last story,” because there’s a bigger one out there for the taking, if it only had the courage to pursue it.

That story is, of course, the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. True to form, it only took days before it was dubbed “BenghaziGate.” During the assault, four Americans were murdered, including J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Before the incident, it had been over 33 years since a U.S. ambassador had been killed in the line of duty. Only seven have been killed at the hands of others, all within the last 44 years. All the murders except one occurred in Islamic countries.

These facts alone should have made Benghazi the biggest story of the decade. What makes it the biggest story of the last 50 years is the president’s apparent disengagement and refusal to answer questions.

The Pentagon’s timeline of the attack places Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey at “a previously scheduled meeting” with the president at the White House a half-hour after they were notified of the incident. Any notion that the president hadn’t been informed of Benghazi during this meeting defies belief.

After the meeting, the president had to have known that the consulate was the subject of a brutal, unrelenting pre-planned assault. Yet he made a statement later from the White House Rose Garden calling the incident a spontaneous protest demonstration that had gotten out of hand.

The administration continued this narrative five days later, when it sent Susan Rice, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, on five Sunday talk shows to describe the attacks as a demonstration against an anti-Islamic video. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former CIA Director David Petraeus and the president himself continued this theme.

On Wednesday, the president held his first full-scale press conference in more than eight months — since March 6. Several questions were raised about Benghazi — and all were deflected.

When asked whether he had done everything possible to protect the personnel in Benghazi, Obama said that was a question he would “address the families directly, and not through the press,” adding that protecting U.S. citizens always comes first.

That answer didn’t tell us why security personnel and a DC-3 airplane were removed from Libya under protest, why our diplomatic mission remained in Libya even after repeated al-Qaida attacks, and although Great Britain and the International Red Cross had departed months before.

The most illuminating response came to a question regarding the possibility that Rice may be appointed secretary of state following Clinton’s expected departure. (GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have indicated they would block such an appointment due to Rice’s characterizations of the Benghazi attacks as a “spontaneous protest.”)

The president said Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi” but “made an appearance at the request of the White House” and reported “on the basis of intelligence she had received.” The president’s response begs the question, if Rice had nothing to do with Libya, why was she sent out with the White House talking points. By this time the White House had to have known they were a complete sham.

While “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren, Graham accused the Obama administration of politicizing Benghazi and said that when it ignored repeated warnings from Libya, it turned the consulate into a “death trap.”

Referring to previous presidential scandals, McCain said at a press conference on Wednesday, “In Watergate, nobody died. In Iran-Contra, nobody died.”

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, collectively referred to as “Woodstein,” broke the Watergate stories. They tenaciously pursued their investigation until all the facts saw sunlight. As a direct result, some people went to prison, many careers came to a screeching halt and, for the first time in American history, a president resigned in disgrace.

Woodstein, where are you? Your nation is calling.

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