Foggy Bottom’s ‘pantywaist protocol pussy-footers’

Wanted to thank me brokenly, I suppose, for so courteously allowing her favorite brother a place to have his game legs in, Eh? [said Bertie Wooster]

Possibly sir. On the other hand she alluded to you in terms suggestive of disapprobation. [said Jeeves]

She — what?

“Feckless idiot” was one of the expressions she employed, sir.

Feckless idiot?

Yes, sir.

I couldn’t make it out. I couldn’t see what the woman had based her judgement on. My Aunt Agatha has frequently said that sort of thing about me, but then she has known me from a boy.

P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves! (1930) p 124.

The 9/11 assaults on the U.S.  consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo have jumped to center stage since the first reports came out on Tuesday. The press has continued to do a fine job of highlighting the religious and political issues behind the protests — this report from the AP on the Benghazi attack is quite good. The latest round of stories also addresses the question whether the assaults were spontaneous acts of religious outrage in response to an anti-Mohammad film, or where they planned attacks?

Yahoo! News’ The Lookout reports:

The deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya may have been a planned operation and not a spontaneous protest that turned violent, U.S. officials told the New York Times and CNN on Wednesday. Initial reports suggested that protesters in Benghazi, Libya, were angry about an online video that mocked the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and then attacked the consulate, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other foreign service workers. But now, according to the New York Times, officials suspect that “an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.”

There are reports out of Egypt that the Cairo assault was also a planned spontaneous political action that was awaiting a religious provocation — this was the opinion of my Christian Egyptian contacts on Tuesday. MEMRI states:

On September 7, 2012, Nasser Al-Qaeda, a prominent writer on the Jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam suggested burning down the U.S. embassy in Egypt with all workers inside in order to pressure the U.S. to release Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman aka the Blind Sheikh. In the post, titled “How can the U.S. embassy remain in Egypt while [the U.S.] imprisons Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman,” Nasser Al-Qaeda wrote: “Oh people of Egypt, it is time [to launch] a powerful movement to liberate the mujahid Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman.

In contrast to the foreign reporting, I’ve not been that impressed with the even handedness of the domestic stories. For example, Geoffrey Dickens at NewsBusters reports:

The Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) Wednesday evening newscasts devoted more than 9 minutes (9 minutes, 28 seconds) to the flap over Mitt Romney’s statement criticizing the administration’s handling of the Libyan crisis but spent just 25 seconds on questions regarding Barack Obama’s Middle-East policy, a greater than 20-to-1 disparity.

My colleague at GetReligion Mollie Hemingway today also tweeted a telling question:

Has anyone seen any MSM reports about why conciliatory messages from U.S. officials aren’t going over well with some Americans?

I would however like to single out for particular praise CNN’s story “Ambassador’s killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed” by Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi.

This well written, well researched, finely balanced piece from CNN provides the views of Sunni Muslim scholars who explain why a film portraying Mohammad in an unflattering light would provoke religious outrage.

Violence over depictions of the Prophet Mohammed may mystify many non-Muslims, but it speaks to a central tenet of Islam: that the Prophet was a man, not God, and that portraying him threatens to lead to worshiping a human instead of Allah.

“It’s all rooted in the notion of idol worship,” says Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University. “In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong.”

“The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him,” Ahmed says. “So he himself spoke against such images, saying ‘I’m just a man.’”

Do read the whole story. It will give you a good grounding in one of the religious angles in this affair.

My first post on this story also generated several thoughtful comments focusing on the statements issued via twitter from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. “The Old Bill” asked who had tweeted these comments, while “Ben” questioned the timeline. When did the Embassy release the tweet and press statement — before, during or after the compound was attacked?

By day’s end, these questions had entered the U.S. political arena as Mitt Romney criticized the administration over the tweets and statement. Foreign Policy Magazine’s “The Cable” has a solid story that looks at these issues, identifying the embassy staffer who wrote the tweet — and revealing the anger within the State Department over the content, timing and tone of the embassy tweets and statement.

People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.’”

Despite being aware of Washington’s objections, the embassy continued to defend the statement for several hours, fueling the controversy over it, a decision the official again attributed to Schwartz.

“Not only did they push out the statement but they continued to engage on Twitter and retweet it,” the official said. “[Schwartz] would have been the one directing folks to engage on Twitter on this.”

The State Department has long had a reputation of being disconnected from reality. Spiro Agnew is not the author of the title of this post — that honor belongs to a Democratic congressman from Ohio who in a 1948 speech condemned the reluctance of the State Department to engage with China over the fate to two downed airmen. The actions of its public affairs officer in Cairo has done the administration no good — adding yet another stanza to the song of the feckless idiots of Foggy Bottom.

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  • Ben

    What did you think of the journalist ethics of Rogin naming the public affairs officer and DCM in Cairo — who can’t defend themselves — but giving anonymity to his accusers? I kind of think it stinks. And frankly, the story doesn’t really comport with the State Dept in general, which is highly bureaucratic and hierarchical. An officer just blatantly ignoring direct orders from above? Seems unlikely. Seems like CYA in Washington. But it’s hard know because the PAO in Cairo isn’t allowed to give his side of the story publicly, and we don’t know the names of the accusers in Washington. Oh well. And setting aside the political acrimony for a second, I think every American can agree this tweet exchange contained a whole lot of awesome, and showed some “brass.” In the exchange, the Brotherhood in English tells the US embassy in Cairo we’re glad everyone’s safe, but on their Arabic feed they call for protests Friday. US embassy slyly calls them out.

    Regarding Mollie’s question, I just don’t sense a huge amount of disagreement among Americans, including the Obama administration in Washington and the US media, with the idea that the First Amendment speech protections are sacrosanct. I’ve seen a bunch of comments from people in the Muslim world, some writing opeds here, arguing the US needs to enact curbs on free speech, but I just don’t see a whole lot of heads nodding for that. Not yet at least.

  • Mike

    I think the coverage of this event is changing as we get more clarity on what happened. The first day stories are always weaker than follow-ups. Given the reporting from inside these countries, It is clear there s a lot f uncertainty about what’s happening, so it results in a bit of pack reporting until we ave more information. The MSM media responded to the Romney angle because it was a story where criticism was coming not just from the liberals, but also from the conservative chattering classes. In contrast Mollies tweet is consistent with the drumbeat in the conservative blogs–including by Mollie herself–advancing its own attacks. They are the kind of complaints that crop up anytime the US responds to Muslim sensitivities overseas.

    It raises the constant question of when is it news when elite bloggers and pundits on either side of the political divide start floating attack arguments. News by counting Facebook followers is the sibling of news by counting retweets on Twitter. Just because a group of inside the Beltway chattere are blogging and tweeting about it doesn’t make it news.

    • geoconger

      Mike, I agree with your larger point about the press playing follow my leader — being influenced by the opinions and views of the chattering classes as to what is, and is not, important.

      It is in the particular instance of Mollie’s tweet question that I disagree with you. Mollie’s point as I construed it in my story was that domestic reporters were hyperventilating over the Romney/Obama exchange or engaging in film criticism of a Youtube video, and not addressing whether or why the American public would be exercised on the anniversary of 9/11 by the planting of an Al-Qaeda flag on the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and the murder of a U.S. Ambassador in Libya. It may well be that conservative opinion makers are criticizing why the government did not move to stop a clueless state department functionary from sounding the blame America first theme.

      My sense of things (albeit made half a world away from the scene) is that it was not the film that prompted the attacks 9/11, but the craven statements from the embassy about the film that emboldened the rent a mob to act. The salafists have been seeking a provocation in order to confront the U.S. — bringing the tool of the Great Satan into their domestic political battles. This staffer made their job easier.

    • mollie

      Let’s just agree for the sake of argument that only conservatives care about vigorous defense of our First Amendment protections (although I know many liberals who also wish the U.S. would vigorously defend First Amendment protections of religion and speech in the face of protests — like we did when Hitler raised a similar ruckus about Americans mocking him). But let’s just say it’s just conservatives and not libertarians, liberals or socialists or whatever. What percentage of the population is conservative — Something like 40% of Americans call themselves conservative, right? They are the largest ideological group in the country. Should their views be ignored by the media?

  • Ben

    More on the twitter exchange in NYT report here — sounds like the Arabic feed was more expressing outrage over the film and calling for its banning than calling directly for protests Friday, my bad.

  • FWKen

    The conservatives I’ve heard (on television, at any rate) criticizing Gov. Romney were Peggy Noonan (referred to add a “high-ranking Republican”), and a couple of former McCain campaign staff. It might be interesting to hear from more conservative voices, if not actual ranking Republicans.


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