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The Elephant in the Room

In case you haven’t heard, the tragic tale of the Sept. 11 terror attack on America’s embassy in Libya keeps getting worse for Barack Obama.

Numerous news reports had already confirmed that the administration denied repeated requests from the embassy’s embattled staff for more security, that it knew the attack was a carefully planned terror strike even as it spent weeks telling the American public it was a spontaneous reaction to a little-known anti-Muslim video, and that it knew this even as the filmmaker was publicly scapegoated and imprisoned on the flimsiest of legal grounds. Now there is evidence that numerous cries for help were ignored even as the deadly attack occurred.

Worse yet, so far as the president’s reelection campaign is concerned, the story has a compellingly dramatic quality. The reports tell of the two former Navy Seals who defied orders to rush to the aid of the ambassador and his staff, and how they fought bravely and with remarkable ferocity while waiting for the help was that denied somewhere along the chain of the command before finally succumbing to the numerically superior forces. One of those heroes has a father who is bluntly outspoken and utterly believable, who tells of the crude remarks made to him by the vice president, the Secretary of State’s assurance that they would have an obscure filmmaker arrested for exercising his free speech rights as his retribution, and the president’s palpable lack of empathy.

It’s the sort of thing that would make all but the most determinedly partisan reconsider voting for Obama, but then again, maybe they haven’t heard. The Fox Network has done aggressive reporting on the story, the Associated Press has more quietly pursued, a few mainstream publications such as The Christian Science Monitor have also pitched in, and of course the conservative media have been doing their best to draw attention to the matter, but otherwise the press seems determined to ignore the issue as much as possible. None of the Sunday morning news shows but the one on Fox made any mention of the developing, The New York Times’ readers are almost entirely uninformed about what happened in Libya, and the rest of the national media seem to share the same strange lack of curiosity.

The president seems to be counting on the media’s help in ignoring the issue, and has thus far dodged the only question that has penetrated his schedule of interviews with friendly entertainment shows and local reporters. Still, the issue already seems too well known for the president to avoid it’s fallout altogether. Fox News is by far the most-watched news outlet on cable television, the combined audience of the various radio talk shows numbers in the tens of millions, other alternative add many more readers, and the people listening to these various sources tend to talk about politics to their more apolitical friends. Both the Gallup and Rasmussen polling firms show Obama’s approval ratings sliding precipitously since the story broke, and although some of that can surely be attributed to the president’s increasingly angry and insulting campaign the rest is likely a result of the Libyan fiasco.

By ignoring the controversy, and having his media allies do the same, Obama might even be exacerbating the political damage. The story is being told by people who see no reason to give Obama the benefit of any doubt, and if there’s a good explanation for all this it hasn’t been given.

— Bud Norman

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