What Conservative Media Say About the Benghazi Hearing

Many on the right grudgingly say the former secretary of state avoided missteps and bested her interrogators in Thursday’s House committee marathon.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

How did Hillary Clinton do in Thursday’s hearings of the House Select Committee on Benghazi? Liberals and Clinton supporters are jubilant. Mainstream outlets also confidently declared Clinton the winner.

“As a matter of pure political theater, yesterday’s Benghazi committee hearing was a victory for Hillary Clinton and an overwhelming defeat for House Republicans,” write NBC’s Chuck Todd and Mark Murray. “The hearing was, in a word, boring. And that’s exactly what Clinton wanted,” Chris Cillizza declared.

But what about conservative media? In such a politicized setting, with many liberals having already absolved Clinton of any wrongdoing in the September 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans in Libya, and many conservatives having already deemed her guilty of something, does that divide translate into the media response? Put another way, are declarations of Clinton victory another evidence of press bias?

Maybe not.

A trip around conservative media shows many commentators interpreted the hearings the same way mainstream and liberal reporters did: As a victory for a poised and polished Clinton, and a defeat for Republicans on the panel. One place to start is Fox News, where Ed Henry spoke with Greta van Susteren even as the hearings crawled along to their finish, 11 hours after they began.

“In terms of the narrative on Benghazi, there was no major new development that rocked her side of the story, that changes this in some way,” he said. “What you have here is another big test for Hillary Clinton, and another big test that she appears to have passed.”

Henry cited a source inside a top GOP presidential campaign who said Clinton “looked presidential and was in command” and called the hearings a “total wipeout” for GOP members. Van Susteren agreed, saying Clinton’s performance was closer to the politician she had watched over the years than the tentative, stumbling Clinton of this campaign so far.

Of course, Henry and van Susteren are parts of Fox’s news crew. Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s talking heads, focused not on how the hearings had gone but on whether Clinton was trustworthy.

At the Washington Examiner, columnist Byron York was similarly damning about the proceedings, though he blamed Clinton and committee Democrats for throwing things off track:

A hearing billed as an epic, High Noon-style confrontation—granted, the hype came from the media, not Republican committee members themselves—instead turned out to be a somewhat interesting look at a few limited aspects of the Benghazi affair. In other words, no big deal. And that is very, very good news for Hillary Clinton.


Ashe Schow concurred: “She appeared competent, but she didn’t ‘wow’ anyone. The fact of the matter is that Ms. Clinton simply has to show up and not fail, and she will be declared a winner.” The Boston Herald, a right-leaning tabloid, blared that “HILLARY SKATES THROUGH MARATHON BENGHAZI HEARING,” with a picture of a bored-looking Clinton resting her chin on her hand.

Erick Erickson argues that Benghazi remains worthy of investigation, but dismissed Thursday’s hearing as a manner of achieving that.

The hearings are a waste of time because everything about it is politicized and nothing is going to happen. There will be no scalp collection. In fact, it is clear from today’s hearing that Rep. Trey Gowdy and Rep. Peter Roskam seem to be the only two people on the committee of either party who are capable of asking exacting, precise questions. Most of the rest of the committee just wants to grandstand for the folks back home as either prosecutors of or defenders of Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, he added, “Mrs. Clinton too is far too bright to be trapped in this or any questions.”

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes had a similar view—grudging respect for Clinton’s appearance as theater, resentment at the substance of what she said, and frustration with the way Republicans carried themselves during the hearing:

The coverage of the hearings—from the earliest tweets to the final page-one wraps—focused almost entirely on the style of Clinton’s performance rather than the substance of her testimony. And it must be said: She was impressive. Clinton was unflappable even as some Republicans on the panel took gratuitous shots at her, spun personal theories about her motives, and even questioned whether she cared about the fate of the survivors of those attacks. But she was “impressive” only if the words that passed her lips were immaterial to evaluating her overall presentation.

Some conservative reporters zeroed in on a discussion over the cause of the events—were they a planned terrorist attack, or a spontaneous demonstration by people upset about a video about Islam? “It took two and a half hours, but Republicans members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi just dropped a bombshell on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton,” wrote National Review’s Brendan Bordelon. Sharyl Attkisson made a similar case. (Clinton said that the U.S understanding of what had happened was fluid, and that she continues to believe the video played a role in the attack.)

In general, however, the scorecard in conservative media looks a lot like what everyone else is saying. It’s also generally in agreement with the way other Republican members of Congress judged the proceedings, Robert Costa notes, while Gowdy himself said, “I don't know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous time she testified."

But maybe that was predetermined all along. Ed Driscoll at Instapundit dolefully noted how an article by Rick Wilson Thursday morning had predicted the reaction to a T. “Now if only the GOP could match up their presidential candidates with strategists who can hack the MSM’S OODA loop with that degree of forensic surgery, they might no longer be the Stupid Party,” Driscoll wrote.