(While you know this is delayed a week after newspaper release at the behest of the syndicator, you can read the current version in your paper. If they don't carry it, feel free to pester them to do so.)
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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, SEPT. 28, 2012
SAME RING, DIFFERENT CORNERS
BY BOB FRANKEN
Sure is a lot of attempted messenger killing going on these days. There’s Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, bristling in a radio interview at frustrated Republicans complaining over how her hubby might be frittering away his chance to beat Michelle Obama’s spouse. “Stop it,” she scolded them, “You want to try it? Get in the ring.”
For starters, the mister spends an inordinate amount of time in the ring pummeling himself with one verbal sucker punch after another. But she might have swung and missed. One could argue that her reasoning would render all of Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Barack Obama invalid, because Mitt’s not “in the ring,” or in this case, the Oval Office.
It’s easy to understand her petulance. The polls are showing the Obama side gaining a little traction while Romney is spinning his wheels. Besides pinning their hopes on a boffo debate performance, Mitt’s puppeteers are hoping against hope that some controversy erupts, an issue that the president’s people mess up badly enough to hand the momentum back to their guy.
In fact, at the State Department they seem determined to do just that. Spokesman Philippe Reines went bonkers after CNN reported on the contents of a journal kept by the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. It was found by a CNN reporter at the consulate in Benghazi where Stevens and three other Americans died Sept. 11 in what the administration acknowledges may have been a planned terrorist assault.
In the journal, Stevens had voiced concerns about lax security. CNN reported the story in a somewhat-confusing way, citing “a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking.” But that’s beside the point. Obviously, in an election year, the notion that sloppy security contributed to the deaths could be a campaign embarrassment for the Obama side.
So State apparently has decided that instead of focusing on that issue, there would be a smokescreen. CNN would be demonized for breaking a promise to the bereaved family not to report the diary’s contents, which explained the strange sourcing. “Disgusting” and “indefensible” were words he used in a tirade. Does anybody here not believe that Reines was channeling the secretary herself?
Let me stop here with a reminder that I worked a couple of decades at CNN until we divorced back in 2007, which is why I normally don’t write about the company. No matter what, I will be accused of having an agenda. In fact, I do have an agenda. It’s called the public’s right to know.
Had CNN done anything less than report the story, it would have been remiss. And Reines is being remiss when he tries to deflect those vital questions by discrediting a news organization for doing its job.
Even if CNN’s managers mishandled their delicate conversations with the family, and even if they were disingenuous, the greater sin would have been withholding the information. The idea of an aggressive free press monitoring officials is not just a platitude; it is essential. But oftentimes those in government really hate the idea of their activities being exposed. It helps explain the brutal response by authorities to all the WikiLeaks. They do, after all, shed light on secrets that really shouldn’t be secret, so those who would prefer to do their business unencumbered by accountability have gone ballistic.
But Reines has taken this to a new level. In an email exchange with Michael Hastings of the newsy website BuzzFeed, Reines dismissed questions from reporter Hastings, bombing him with expletives and personal attacks. Actually, the email is kind of funny, or it would be if it didn’t involve tragedy and serious questions that need serious answers.
It brings us back to Ann Romney’s “in the ring” comment. If she or Reines can’t deal with the criticism that is part of their public endeavors, then they need to get out of the ring.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.