Last week the story of the Benghazi terrorist attack once more came to life with the release of an email from a White House aide which attempted to stress the role of Internet video as the root cause of the attacks. The renewed coverage also reignited the debate over whether Benghazi is still a story that needs to be discussed. Today Michael Hirsch of POLITICO pointed out that Benghazi has mentioned 1,101 times on Fox News, which Hirsch argues is excessive to say the least.
Many other journalists, such as Gwen Ifill of NPR, argue that it is time to move on from Benghazi. According to Ifill, there are many other stories worthy of coverage including the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and the outbreak of war in South Sudan.
In contrast, many conservatives argue that Benghazi is actually undercovered. Most recently Charles Krauthammer went on Fox News to claim that the new email is the equivalent of the Nixon tapes in the Watergate scandal.
So who is right?
The measurement of news worthiness inevitably involves some subjectivity. Still, there are some common factors used by nearly all journalists in evaluating whether a story should be covered and how prominently it should be displayed. While there is some variation, the two most important factors influencing news worthiness are timeliness, or recency, and significance or potential impact.
The actual Benghazi attacks occurred two years ago, which counts against the recency and timeliness factor. However, the email from the White House aide just became public knowledge last week, which does the make the story "breaking news" assuming the email is significant.
And that is the key question when evaluating whether Benghazi still deserves to be covered. Are the emails themselves a story worthy of coverage? No one doubts that the death of foreign diplomats by terrorist attack is a significant story, but that story has come and passed. The story now involves the emails and an alleged cover up.
The email in question came from Ben Rhodes, the Obama administration's deputy national security adviser. Rhodes is a senior level official, but certainly not at the level of a cabinet member or chief of staff. The email certainly does not rise to the level of the Nixon tapes, as the Nixon tapes implicated President Nixon personally with Nixon's voice. The Rhodes email never references President Obama and it certainly does not quote the President.
The email itself attempted to press a talking point. That talking point, which was stated most prominently by then United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, claimed that the Benghazi attacks were not done by a terrorist organization but instead were the result of random protests generated by an Internet video. The Obama administration has subsequently admitted that this talking point was wrong, that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and that there was little to no connection to an Internet video. Rice later claimed that she was simply disseminating the best information she had available to her from the intelligence community at the time.
There were undoubtedly mistakes made by the Obama administration before and after Benghazi. What is not clear is that any of these mistakes constitute a scandal worthy of extensive media coverage. In order to see the email as newsworthy, one must believe that (1) the email was purposefully misleading, (2) the email had connections to other Obama administration officials, (3) the email was purposefully misleading to cover up something bigger. Thus far there is no conclusive evidence that any three of those traits exist. On the contrary, all indications so far indicate that some members of the Obama administration sincerely believed that the attacks were in relation to an Internet video, and that these same members were sincerely wrong.
When senior level administration figures are wrong it certainly warrants some coverage, but one does question whether it is worth 1,101 mentions when there are 200 Nigerian schoolgirls still being held captive.