Biden Wiggles Out of Fact Checker Trap

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After last night's debate, fact-checkers at the Associated Press, The Washington Post and Foreign Policy accused Vice President Joe Biden of misstating facts about the security situation in Libya, but this morning, Biden has found a way to wiggle out of the salivating maw of his fact-checking foes.

To put it bluntly: Plausible deniability, my friends.

It all started like this: On Thursday night, debate moderator Martha Raddatz asked him why the Obama administration didn't beef up security ahead of the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi. "We weren't told they wanted more security there," he said. 

It was red meat for any fact-checker even remotely familiar with events in Washington this week. "We weren't told?" Didn't Biden realize that at Wednesday's House Oversight hearing on the security failures in Libya, the whole point was that security officials repeatedly requested additional security personnel to State Department officials, and that State Department officials openly acknowledged rejecting those requests? What do you mean "we weren't told"?  

 The Washington Post's Erik Wemple expressed disappointment that foreign affairs savvy Martha Raddatz didn't question him on it. "Raddatz: Just a bit soft on Libya" read the headline. In a separate post, Wemple's colleague Glenn Kessler referenced Wednesday's hearing, saying "Maybe Biden was too busy in debate prep to watch?"

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But this morning, the White House found an escape hatch and relayed it to Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin. You see, when Biden said "We weren't told," he meant himself and the president, not the Obama administration, as everyone else understood his statement to mean. The plausible deniability claim came via Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes. 

Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time ... The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. 

Bam! Knock out punch. Take that, fact-checkers! What, did you expect the government was some monolithic, omniscient force? It's not, and Biden never knew about your precious security requests.

But like all clarifications, it deserves a wee bit of scrutiny. Biden says he and the president never knew about the repeated security requests in Benghazi. Did Biden really think Raddatz was asking him why he wasn't personally briefed on micro-level issues like security complaints coming from low-level officias like Lt. Col. Andrew Wood? No disrespect to Wood, but he was the head of a 16-member security team on the other side of the world. Why would anyone think he was reporting to the White House? That's why most assumed Radditz and Biden were referring to the Obama administration at large, which would include the State Department. It's worth noting, the White House has not yet criticized the State Department for failing to report these security threats to it directly. 

But the problem for fact-checkers is they're in the business of cold hard facts. And while Biden's morning-after explanation might be suspect, it's totally and utterly plausible.

In any event, you can make up your own mind on what Biden really meant in the exchange. Here's the video:


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.