It took more than a month — and an intervening presidential election — but it appears as though MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has finally joined the chorus of conservatives criticizing Candy Crowley for covering for President Obama’s false statements on Libya during the presidential debates.
Speaking on Monday’s Morning Joe, Scarborough strongly rebuked the Obama administration’s handling of the post-Benghazi coverage. [See video below page break. MP3 audio here.]
Scarborough started off the segment by ridiculing the idea that the White House couldn’t say the attack on our embassy was Al-Qaeda-related:They’re like, oh, you know, we couldn’t say it was Al-Qaeda because that might expose some of our assets on the ground. Andrea Mitchell, the term Al-Qaeda, like, if there’s a terror attack in the Middle East, and you say Al-Qaeda, that’s going to expose some of our assets on the ground? That does not, as my professor said, Professor Pearson, that does not pass the straight-face test.
Scarborough followed this up by strongly criticizing the CNN reporter and presidential debate moderator for falsely claiming President Obama immediately classified the attack on Libyan Embassy as terrorism:Andrea, what I don’t understand is that Susan Rice said this five days in. The president — remember, the president at the debate saying, you know, and Candy Crowley for some reason basically making up history on the run, said, well, the president did say this was a terrorist attack the day after, which he really didn’t say that at all. So there’s an inconsistency even there. In the debate, the president said, we said this the day after that it was an act of terror. No, no, he didn’t. And five days later, Susan Rice is reading a supposedly Intel that says it wasn’t a terror attack. I mean, there are — there’s confusion.
Colleague Andrea Mitchell used much softer language to excuse Susan Rice, instead placing the blame on the intelligence community:I think the problem here is what this has exposed is the bureaucracy of the intelligence community. The fact that the intelligence community waters down what can be said in a declassified setting and that Susan Rice, I mean the criticism is that she took what they handed her and didn’t challenge it, which her defenders, Dianne Feinstein on Meet The Press and others say is really really unfair.
Mitchell’s blame is misguided, as it was the White House, NOT the CIA which edited the post-Benghazi talking points memo which Susan Rice relied on when she went around blaming a YouTube video for the attack in Benghazi.
For once Scarborough didn’t go along with the usual MSNBC agenda of covering up or excusing White House failures.
It would have been nice to see more of this before the election, but better late than never, we suppose.
See relevant transcript below.
November 19, 2012
6:11 a.m. EDT
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: You mentioned Benghazi. Let’s go to the developments now in the ongoing controversy over the administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Members of Congress are now vowing to find out why the CIA’s conclusion that terrorism was to blame for the attack was removed from U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points. In the days following the deadly assault, Ambassador Rice said the administration believed the attack was a reaction to an anti-Islamic video. But, an associated press report says former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Friday that he believed all along that the attack on the consulate was a terrorist strike.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: So let’s — before we set up these clips, let’s make sure we set this up right. So we’ve been hearing, Mark Halperin, that Susan Rice said what she said because she was just reading straight Intel basically from the CIA. We find out after David Petraeus’ testimony, this just isn’t true. That immediately David Petraeus and Intel officials knew this was an Al-Qaeda attack. Right?
MARK HALPERIN: It’s still kind of confusing.
SCARBOROUGH: By the way, I’m basing that on The New York Times reports and everything I read through the weekend.
HALPERIN: Yeah, the totality of the reporting, there was another line coming out of that closed hearing which was they didn’t want to say everything they knew in public because they didn’t want the terrorists to know that the U.S. government was on to them.
SCARBOROUGH: Well I heard that. But, I mean, seriously, Al-Qaeda. They’re like, oh, you know, we couldn’t say it was Al-Qaeda because that might expose some of our assets on the ground. Andrea Mitchell, the term Al-Qaeda, like, if there’s a terror attack in the Middle East, and you say Al-Qaeda, that’s going to expose some of our assets on the ground? That does not, as my professor said, Professor Pearson, that does not pass the straight face test.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Or the smell test. I think the problem here is what this has exposed is the bureaucracy of the intelligence community. The fact that the intelligence community waters down what can be said in a declassified setting and that Susan Rice, I mean the criticism is that she took what they handed her and didn’t challenge it, which her defenders, Dianne Feinstein on Meet The Press and others say is really really unfair. You’re pilaring this woman. She says it is, Feinstein’s words, character assassination, to suggest that she would read anything other than the unclassified version of this. A lot of people are asking where was Hillary Clinton that weekend? She knew better than to go out into the middle of this. She doesn’t do the Sunday talk shows. So they gave Susan Rice this assignment. She went on all five shows. And it was supposed to be an important venue for her. And by going with these declassified talking points, she has now taken the hit. This reminds me very much, Joe, Mika, and everybody, of what happened in the month leading up to the Iraq war when the declassified version was different in thrust than what was known about WMD and what the Senators should have been reading. And the intelligence community has to be asked why do you tell the American public something that is different in meaning? It should be perhaps leave out details, leave outsources and methods?
SCARBOROUGH: Again, though, the details here were Al-Qaeda.
SCARBOROUGH: Just so people at home don’t think that this is just Lindsey Graham and John McCain going at it, Maureen Dowd was especially tough yesterday on Susan Rice because Susan Rice read the Intel briefings, she knew what the truth was and she chose to read something. If the script was handed to her, Maureen Dowd’s point Steve Ratner was if the scripts was inaccurate, misleading, she shouldn’t have read it.
STEVE RATNER: Okay but look. I think we have to go through this logically. What we know — I think what we know is that the CIA produced a set of talking points that included Al-Qaeda, included more specific references to what happened. Somewhere during an interagency process, and I’ve been through a bunch of these interagency processes, these drafts get handed around. People mark them up. They mark them up for all different kinds of reasons. Somewhere along that way those words were changed.
SCARBOROUGH: Al-Qaeda was taken out. Now the suggestion, of course, is by republicans, that –
RATNER: That it was political. That’s one suggestion.
SCARBOROUGH: In the middle of the campaign. And, again, the president’s punch line for a lot of speeches, GM’s alive, Osama Bin Laden’s dead. Al-Qaeda’s on the run.
RATNER: That’s one suggestion. But it seems to me,
SCARBOROUGH: It’s a pretty strong suggestion.
RATNER: But before you get to the question of what Susan Rice should or shouldn’t have said, I think we need to know the answer of who changed their talking points and why. And then I think we’ll know a lot more about what went on.
HALPERIN: I agree with that but this is not just a one off where ambassador rice went on the Sunday shows and said this. Jay Carney was asked for a week about this and gaffe substantively the same answer.
SCARBOROUGH: And again, Andrea, what I don’t understand is that Susan Rice said this five days in. The president — remember, the president at the debate saying, you know, and Candy Crowley for some reason basically making up history on the run, said, well, the president did say this was a terrorist attack the day after, which he really didn’t say that at all. So there’s an inconsistency even there. In the debate, the president said, we said this the day after that it was an act of terror. No, no, he didn’t. And five days later, Susan Rice is reading a supposedly Intel that says it wasn’t a terror attack. I mean, there are — there’s confusion.
BRZEZINSKI: Why is this important, Andrea?
SCARBOROUGH: First of all, and why can’t they get their stories straight a month and a half later?
MITCHELL: Well, one reason is it’s important for us to know about the intelligence failure leading up to and coming out of Benghazi, according to the both Republicans and Democrats, there really wasn’t an intelligence failure, they knew what was happening. Then why didn’t the State Department ask for more security and, more broadly, how should we handle regions like this where we want to have diplomatic and intelligence missions and we’re asking people to serve where they cannot properly be protected. So there are big issues. There’s also a proxy war going on here because Susan Rice had a very sharp tone during the 2008 campaign against some people like John McCain. And there is a disagreement there that is now being exaggerated all out of proportion, some people say, because they just are seeing this as a trophy where they can get a prominent nominee, potential nominee, for one of the top cabinet positions, there’s Treasury, there’s State, Defense.
SCARBOROUGH: That’s one side of it. The other side of it would be — and I hate to say this — but I wonder if that would be the media narrative if George W. Bush, we’re accuse of doing, what, I don’t know, politicizing –
BRZEZINSKI: It’s not a narrative. It’s just a point that Andrea made.
SCARBOROUGH: I’m not talking about Andrea. I’m hearing this a lot though coming out of the White House and I’m hearing it also that, again, there is — there is no doubt it is personal. I agree with Andrea completely, it is personal between John McCain and Susan Rice. I agree with that completely. What is surprising is it’s been a month and a half maybe, two months, and this — this looks to some, including Maureen Dowd, like it was a politicizing of Intel, the death of an American ambassador and we can brush it aside if we want to.
BRZEZINSKI: There’s the other side to it where you see Republicans going after someone they want to bring in?
RATNER: We shouldn’t glide too quickly over Andrea’s other important point, which is the security failure, that we had the Intel, knew what was going on in Benghazi and yet we did not protect our people there adequately.
JON HEILEMANN: To me that’s always — that’s the most troubling aspect of the entire thing. And it’s the thing that Senator Feinstein was clearest about on Meet The Press yesterday, was the notion that there had been months of concerns raised by people on the ground that the consulate itself was not well protected enough and that people crying out for more security and that those decisions were not made to protect those people as they should have been. To me that actually is almost the more substantially troubling thing about the entire episode.
Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, says Newsweek needs to be both “seductive and serious.”The debut of Tina Brown’s Newsweek will, in fact, look nothing like the opening of her last magazine, Talk in 1999, an extravagant exercise in self-promotion and impossibly high expectations that came back to haunt her when that magazine closed after barely two years.
“We’re sort of done with that,” Ms. Brown said in an interview from Newsweek’s spare, sterile new office space near Wall Street, insisting that the kind of A-list soirée that helped define her tenures as editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and then Talk would have no place at her current home, where humility and frugality are the rule.
Tina Brown, with Stephen Colvin, chief of the Newsweek Daily Beast Company, is keeping her magazine redesign top secret.
“I think the most important thing is to prove that a year from now we’re thriving and still here,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have a little Christmas party,” she added in a sober tone that betrayed none of her usual sardonic wit. “We have a lot of work to do.”
It is easy to see why Ms. Brown, 57, is eager to avoid any hoopla or hype surrounding her plan to turn Newsweek around. She has not even revealed the date when her fully redesigned magazine will appear on newsstands, though one person briefed on the closely guarded and evolving plan said March 7 was the current target date.
The charge before her — breathing life into a magazine that much of the publishing world left for dead — is as difficult as any she has faced in a 35-year career that brought her recognition as one of the world’s most famous and accomplished editors.
Newsweek has been starved for advertising revenue in the last year as it has languished like a ghost ship — first without a buyer after The Washington Post Company put it up for sale in May, and then without an editor as its new owner, the 92-year-old stereo mogul Sidney Harman, struggled to fill the job. The number of ad pages in the magazine through Monday was down 59 percent compared with a year earlier, a greater drop than that for any other weekly or biweekly magazine tracked by the Media Industry Newsletter.
And there is the much larger question of whether a weekly magazine is still a viable format for delivering the news.
Publishing veterans are not focused on whether Ms. Brown can sustain Newsweek as readers have come to know it during the last 78 years. What she needs to do, they say, is create a whole new magazine from scratch.
“Whether it can be saved is irrelevant,” said Ron Galotti, the former Vanity Fair publisher, who worked with Ms. Brown at Condé Nast and left the company with her to help start Talk. “What is to be created is the task.”
The Newsweek job is not one Ms. Brown initially wanted. When merger talks between her Daily Beast Web site and Mr. Harman collapsed in the fall, Ms. Brown told her employees she felt unburdened. She framed the magazine’s troubles as worthy of Greek mythology, telling some of them that editing the magazine would have been like “rolling a boulder up a hill,” according to one person who spoke of Ms. Brown’s remarks anonymously for fear of offending her by recounting a private conversation.
Ask some of the biggest names in publishing whether Newsweek can be saved and after a long pause, they all say that if anyone can pull it off, it is Ms. Brown.
“Tina’s track record is indisputable and her talents and energies immense,” said David Remnick, who succeeded Ms. Brown as editor of The New Yorker in 1998. “The riddle of what a newsweekly should be has been in the air for many years and long preceded the incredible acceleration and obliteration of news cycles in the world of the Internet, so it will be fascinating to see where she takes Newsweek.”
Ms. Brown won acceptance to Oxford at 16. As a young writer, she caught the eye and heart of Harold Evans, the former editor of The Sunday Times of London and now her husband of nearly 30 years.
At 25, she took over the Tatler of London and quickly quadrupled its circulation. At 30, she was in New York running Vanity Fair. She supercharged the magazine with her signature high-low sensibility, which created a template for the magazine that defines it to this day. It was Ms. Brown who hired Annie Leibovitz, often at exorbitant cost, to shoot indelible images, like a naked, pregnant Demi Moore for the cover in August 1991, an issue that also featured heavier fare like an article on Saddam Hussein’s grip on power in Iraq.
Her success in reviving Vanity Fair impressed Condé Nast’s chairman, S. I. Newhouse Jr., so much, he asked her to take over his cherished New Yorker in 1992. She challenged conventions there as well, stripping the magazine of much of its stodgy feel and de-emphasizing fiction writing for long reported pieces on current events and breezy feature articles. Circulation and newsstand sales soared.
She left to start Talk in 1998, and after it folded, she hosted a show on CNBC and wrote a book about Princess Diana. She also showed an appetite for getting back into magazine editing. When Time was looking for a new managing editor in 2006, she approached people there about the job. The magazine’s leadership chose Richard Stengel, a Time veteran.
Before taking the reins at Newsweek, Ms. Brown had been editing The Daily Beast, an online media partnership she began with Barry Diller in 2008.
With the Newsweek-Daily Beast merger complete — the companies agreed to combine in November, and they officially closed on the deal late last month — she has quickly thrown herself into overhauling the magazine. She has adapted her famous, at times infamous, ways of running a staff to suit the technological and economic realities of 2011. But there is still plenty of vintage Tina Brown to go around.
Gone are the faxes that would stream from her office at all hours; she conducts much of her written correspondence on her BlackBerry these days, eliminating the need for drivers to shuttle drafts of articles to her weekend house. It is not uncommon for her senior editors to find themselves barraged with e-mail from her predawn or on weekends.
“Her energy and her capacities are stunning to me, and she is at it all the time,” Mr. Harman said in an interview. “I pull myself out of the sack in the morning and there she is talking to me on ‘Morning Joe.’ ”
Known for wanting only stories that were, in her vernacular, “hot” — she would scrawl “hot” or “v. hot” on drafts of articles she deemed the proper temperature needed to generate the buzz she sought — she now speaks of Newsweek as needing to be both “seductive and serious.”
Ms. Brown would not reveal anything about the contents of the redesigned magazine or its debut. “We’re only going to do it when we’re ready, let’s put it that way,” she said in the interview. Between answering questions, she clicked through her BlackBerry, scanning e-mail.
“I think that big, sort of theatrical relaunches tend to set you up for failure and hype,” she added. “And you know we — I — went through that at Talk magazine, and it was a mistake.”
People outside the magazine who have seen the current prototype described it as recognizable as Newsweek in name only. The paper is thicker and glossier. There are more photographs and a greater use of white space. It incorporates The Daily Beast brand in a new section called NewsBeast. Advertisers have been told the back page will be a column written by a different notable figure each week discussing a professional blunder. Joe Scarborough wrote the one in the prototype being circulated now, which Newsweek executives never let out of their hands.
“From what I saw, it’s night and day,” said George Janson, an executive with the ad buyer GroupM. “Its look, its energy is much more stylish.”
As familiar as the process of magazine reinvention is to Ms. Brown, there are notable differences this time. Financially, she has less flexibility. When Mr. Harman has spoken of his financial plan for the magazine, he has told people privately that he is giving the magazine three years to succeed and can afford to lose about $40 million in that time, several people who have spoken with him said. Anything exceeding that amount, he has said, would affect what he is able to leave to his heirs.
By contrast, Newsweek’s expenses last year ran $40 million in the third quarter alone. The operation is considerably smaller now because of buyouts, layoffs and resignations. More buyouts were offered last week, and Mr. Harman said the staff of the combined Daily Beast/Newsweek would soon be smaller than the about 350 people that Newsweek had when he bought it.
Ms. Brown also acknowledged that readers’ appetites had changed since she last edited a magazine. “You have to basically make the assumption that they have absolutely no interest in you whatsoever,” she said. “There is so little attention to spare, you have to make sure that where their window of attention is open, you’re in.”
In her previous jobs, Ms. Brown was famous for scooping up prominent writers and putting them on expensive contracts that would require only a few articles a year while preventing them from writing for competitors. She said that practice would be nonexistent at Newsweek, where she has been looking to hire more writers paid by the article.
“What we cannot have is what the old-style magazines had, where people are supported to do not a ton of pieces,” she said.
Ms. Brown has a salary in the $700,000 range, according to one person briefed on her negotiations with Mr. Harman. Mr. Harman declined to comment. That amount is not wildly high for an editor with as high a profile as Ms. Brown’s.
Holding costs down is one thing. Turning a profit is another. And Ms. Brown’s magazines have generally proven better at spending money than earning it.
The New Yorker broke into the black in 2002, four years after she left but also for the first time since Condé Nast bought it in 1985. Ms. Brown points out that the magazine’s losses had slowed significantly by the time she left.
At Vanity Fair, Ms. Brown had a reputation for spending lavishly on writers and photographers, expenses that put the magazine deeply in debt. But in her final years as editor, it began to turn a profit, though not every year, according to one person with knowledge of Vanity Fair’s business. This person spoke only on the condition of anonymity because Condé Nast is private and does not release specific financial information.
Whether The Daily Beast has been the success that Ms. Brown had hoped it would be is a matter of some debate. It initially lost about $10 million a year, but executives said that advertising had picked up in the last year and that they expected profitability “in the next few years,” according to Stephen Colvin, chief executive of the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. Unique visitors to the site have leveled off in the range of two million to three million a month over the last year, according to comScore, the Internet traffic research firm.
The task of taking two money-losing operations and combining them to try to become one profitable enterprise has struck many in the media business as fanciful. This is not lost on Mr. Harman.
“What I wanted to know was whether there was a shot at this thing breaking even,” Mr. Harman said, reflecting on his thoughts after he bought the magazine. “But I’m looking at this thing and saying to myself: ‘Son of a gun. I think we got a business here.’ My expectation is it will surely break even.”