The new White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, came to the briefing room on Tuesday with domestic policy adviser Susan Rice. This came two days after CNN’s Brian Stelter celebrated the “refreshing” arrival of “transparency and truth” at the briefings.
Rice is best remembered in conservative circles for spewing falsehoods on five Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, when she was White House national security adviser: She claimed the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans was a “spontaneous reaction” to an Islamophobic YouTube video, not a terrorist attack. “Protesters” showed up with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, but the attack was somehow “spontaneous.” CBS later reported Team Obama knew on Sept. 11, the day of the attack, that it was a terrorist attack.
Seeing Rice at the White House podium this week, a friend of mine suggested Rice has never been “fact-checked.” Well, that can’t be, I thought. Then I went to the PolitiFact website, which strangely had a Susan Rice page … but not a single “fact-check” of Rice, even though PolitiFact was founded in 2007 and Rice worked for then-President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. It never put her on its tilted “Truth-O-Meter.”
It turns out PolitiFact gave then-press secretary Jay Carney a “Mostly False” rating in 2013 for saying there was no effort by Rice to “play down” the terrorism angle in interviews. But Rice evaded a rating.
As PolitiFact did for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims of having Cherokee ancestry, it addressed Rice’s unmasking controversy in April 2017 with an article “in context” (avoiding the Truth-O-Meter). The headline read, “In context: Did Susan Rice lie about unmasking Trump associates?” On “PBS NewsHour,” anchor Judy Woodruff asked Rice “whether Trump transition officials, including the president, may have been swept up in surveillance of foreigners at the end of the Obama administration.” Rice said, “I know nothing about this.”
By then, Bloomberg had reported that Rice made requests to unmask then-President Donald Trump’s aides. Last May, we learned Rice sent an email to herself noting that she attended an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 5, 2017, to discuss surveillance of her successor, Michael Flynn.
But PolitiFact’s Lauren Carroll couldn’t decide on truthfulness: “At this point, too little is known about the allegations against Rice … to assess whether Rice’s March 22 comment … was truthful.”
The indecision is almost amusing. “(L)ooking at the PBS interview in its full context, it’s not 100 percent clear that Rice made an intentionally false statement, though she might have omitted relevant (and potentially classified) information,” Carroll wrote.
PolitiFact instead threw a “False” rating at Republican Sen. Tom Cotton for claiming “it is unusual” for a national security adviser “to make unmasking requests.”
Then, in August 2020, as Rice was mentioned as a potential running mate for Biden, PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson evaluated the Benghazi incident (no Truth-O-Meter). “Our review of transcripts found that Rice consistently emphasized the importance of the video,” he explained. “In fact, she told CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ that ‘we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.'” Jacobson balanced it out with a quote from Rice in which she claims any criticism is “is dishonest, and it’s a distraction,” as well as quotes from “experts” who beat around the bush by arguing that the false “talking points” weren’t hers.
In addition, Jacobson noted, “Rice acknowledged to House investigators in September 2017 that she had unmasked Flynn and other Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York in late 2016.” Somehow, Jacobson couldn’t find the space to compare this acknowledgement with how Rice claimed on PBS in 2017 that she knew nothing.
PolitiFact has been protecting Susan Rice, not acting on behalf of “transparency and truth.”
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org. To find out more about Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.