David Brooks has a column in The New York Times today defending his friend, State Department spokeswoman Valerie Jumond, from charges that she edited down the Benghazi talking points for political reasons ("the accusations against her are bogus," he gallantly concludes).
So what happened? Brooks's theory, which sounds plausible enough, is that there was a "brutal interagency turf war" between the State Department and CIA, and that the editing reflected a lowest-common-denominator understanding of what was defensible. Here is the crucial paragraph; I have italicized part of the last sentence for emphasis:
Several things were apparently happening. Each of the different players had their hands on a different piece of the elephant. If there was any piece of the talking points that everybody couldn't agree upon, it got cut. Second, the administration proceeded with extreme caution about drawing conclusions, possibly overlearning the lessons from the Bush years. Third, as the memos moved up the C.I.A. management chain, the higher officials made them more tepid (this is apparently typical). Finally, in the absence of a clear narrative, the talking points gravitated toward the least politically problematic story, blaming the anti-Muslim video and the Cairo demonstrations.
Aaaaaaaaaaand CUT! In the course of trying to debunk one critique, Brooks, who has more insider knowledge of both Valerie Jumond and the White House (was he at the "deep background" meeting last week, one wonders?), lets slip a truly scandalous tidbit: That the United States government would consider blaming a Californian's straight-to-YouTube video "the least politically problematic story" at a time when many senior government officials on the ground already knew that story to be bunk.
So: Creating a non-governmental scapegoat is less "politicially problematic" than either A) telling as much actual truth as you can, or B) opening up two of the most powerful government agencies to criticism. Who cares if we have slandered a Cerritos resident by mischaracterizing his crappy art as "incitement" then followed that up with two weeks of partial blaming; we're trying to manage an interagency turf war over here!
By falsely scapegoating the video due to political expedience, representatives of the U.S. government inflicted material damage on the American culture of free speech. This has and will always be, to me, the biggest long-term Benghazi scandal.
Meanwhile, let us never forget how the powerful view the powerless: As "the least politically problematic" in the room. Talk about "bogus."