It is Day 16. That is, a full two weeks since an attack in Niger on a joint patrol of U.S. and Nigerien troops killed four Green Berets and injured two others — the first time U.S. troops have been killed as part of our counterterrorism mission there, where we have about 800 troops.
And it was only on Day 13 that senators demanded more information about the attack.
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee said the Trump administration had not been forthcoming enough. Committee Chairman John McCain even said, “I had a better working relationship, as far as information back and forth” with the Obama administration’s defense secretary than with Trump’s.
In the week following the attack, details were scant. Few knew what to make of it. The Trump administration remained silent. For most of the general public, it was the first time learning we even had a military presence in Niger.
Then, suddenly, the news swung violently, thanks largely to a quintessentially Trump maneuver, when on Monday he answered the first question about the deaths from the press.
When asked, “Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?” he said that he’d written their families personal letters, with plans to call personally — and then claimed Obama and previous presidents often didn’t actually call fallen soldiers’ families. This sent the media into a tailspin.
As a Republican who felt gut-punched and outraged over the attacks in Benghazi, the way in which the attacks in Niger have been handled — both by press and lawmakers — has been disturbing.
Let me take you back.
By the second day after the Benghazi attack, in which four Americans were killed, every major news outlet was covering multiple angles: the protests before the attack, and the Obama administration’s line about a video tape, the timeline of the siege, Ambassador Chris Stevens’ pleas for more resources, our lack of assistance, what the CIA knew and didn’t know.
By the Sunday following the attack, Day 5, CBS’s “Face the Nation” had an all-star panel to discuss the latest Benghazi news, including the president of Libya’s National Congress, Mohamad Magariaf, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Sen. John McCain, who mocked the administration’s early insistence that the attack was spontaneous.
By Day 14, the press and public had already debunked the administration’s video retaliation theory. Indeed, by Day 14, Sean Hannity was on his radio show making fun of the gullible liberal media for believing that line: “I’m telling you, Obama in private is just laughing his ass off at all of you because you are so dumb, so gullible, so easily manipulated.”
While it’s true that many in the media bought that excuse hook, line and sinker, many others were also asking very serious questions. And early.
Less than three days after the attack, The Daily Beast asked all the appropriate questions: “Why weren’t there Marines at the gates? Why no highly trained, Blackwater-style mercenaries? Why was the compound established at a vulnerable Libyan villa? Why did Stevens decide it was safe to travel there? Why did it take the U.S. State Department ‘many, many hours’ — as spokesman Victoria Nuland put it in a Wednesday briefing — to locate Stevens after the attack? What might the government have done to prevent the death of Stevens and three other diplomats?”
Flash forward. A look at the homepage of Mediaite, a website that catalogs the biggest and more viral political stories of the moment, reveals where the mainstream media is focused today. As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday — Day 14 — these were the top headlines:
“Dem congresswoman calls Trump ‘cold-hearted’ and ‘sick man’ over widow phone call.”
“Fox & Friends hits Rep. Wilson for playing politics with Trump call to widow: ‘Totally inappropriate.’ ”
“Trump: ‘I have proof’ Dem rep ‘totally fabricated’ remarks to grieving widow.”
FoxNews.com’s top headline wasn’t a screaming, outraged “What happened in Niger?” but instead:
“President Trump blasts Comey, Obama DOJ in wake of explosive report.”
It’s a dishonor to these fallen soldiers and an embarrassment to our press and our elected officials that we are collectively more concerned with whom the President called and when, what he said, what he says he said, what he says other presidents did or didn’t do, and what preening representatives say he said than with the only question that really matters: What happened in Niger?
Trump will deflect, distract and divert our attention away from the truth for as long as we let him. So far, that’s going on 16 days.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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