by Jonah Goldberg | January 10, 2016 12:02 am
For partisan Democrats, when the word “Benghazi” comes up, the sophisticated thing to do is roll your eyes. If the name Charles Woods comes up, the normal thing to do is say, “Who?”
So let’s talk about Cindy Sheehan for a moment instead. Remember her?
For a while, she was the Joan of Arc of the antiwar left. The mother of a U.S. Army specialist killed in Iraq, Sheehan held a vigil outside President George W. Bush’s ranch, demanding to meet with him so she could denounce the war to his face.
The mainstream media swooned.
Sheehan’s “moral authority,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd genuflected, was “absolute.”
NBC reporter Carl Quintanilla interviewed historians he agreed with, and then reported: “Sheehan, say some historians, may be evolving as an icon in the war’s turning point. … For three weeks, she’s dominated headlines, mobilized protesters” and made “it safe, her supporters say, to voice doubts about the war, just as Walter Cronkite did on the evening news in 1968.”
Then-NBC News anchor Brian Williams introduced a profile of Sheehan by saying, “As the 1960s protest song said, ‘there’s something happening here.'”
Sheehan’s use-by date was January 20, 2009, President Obama’s inauguration day. She was — and is — a vocal critic of Obama too. But there was no room in the script for that. When she was a thorn in Bush’s side, she was just a normal American mom speaking truth to power. When she started criticizing Obama, the same media dismissed her as a crackpot.
This isn’t particularly unusual in American politics. Activists often pretend to be “normal” people plucked out of obscurity by events. And sometimes, normal people plucked out of obscurity by events become activists as a result.
But how the press treats, say, Joe the Plumber or Sandra Fluke or Valerie Plame often seems to hinge on their political utility, or lack thereof.
Which brings us back to Charles Woods.
Woods is the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the heroes killed in the Benghazi attack.
I have never found Benghazi to be as mysterious as some people think. It was a terror attack on 9/11. The White House was caught off guard amidst a hotly contested presidential campaign. During that campaign, Obama had made his “success” in decimating al-Qaida one of his key talking points.
As with pretty much every other terror attack before and after, the Obama administration’s first response was to downplay the terrorism issue.
And, as with pretty much every other terror attack before and after, the Obama administration worked diligently to change the subject to something more politically convenient. We are currently debating Obama’s gun control agenda, for instance, rather than a wave of Islamic State and Islamic State-inspired attacks because this White House would rather have that debate than discuss Obama’s claim that ISIS is “contained.”
So, in the wake of the Benghazi attack, the president — whose oath of office requires him to defend the Constitution — focused the national discussion on the dangers of free expression. The White House insisted the attack was a response to a YouTube video mocking Islam that had been posted more than two months earlier. Obama even stressed the point in a major address to the United Nations. Cooperative journalists and intellectuals took to the airwaves and op-ed pages fretting over the limits to the First Amendment.
Hillary Clinton, whose own voracious hunger for the presidency was at stake as well, fueled the conversation. She vowed to bring the filmmaker to justice (which, as Reason magazine’s Matt Welch notes, is not a secretary of state’s job). And that’s what she told Charles Woods at a memorial service for his dead son.
Woods, a retired lawyer and administrative judge, wrote in his journal at the time: “I gave Hillary a hug and shook her hand. And she said we are going to have the film maker arrested who was responsible for the death of my son.”
In two interviews — one with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and another with Daily Sun columnist Tom McLaughlin — Clinton has said Woods (and Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, also killed in the Benghazi attack) is lying.
Woods has gotten some attention, mostly from Fox News and talk radio. More recently, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, took up the issue and essentially washed his hands of the whole affair, saying he couldn’t determine who was telling the truth.
Woods’ moral authority isn’t absolute, because no one’s is. But it soars above the moral authority of so many journalists who dismiss him.
(Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.)
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