White House spokesman Jay Carney has spent the last week spinning the Obama administration's position on the 2012 Benghazi attacks in light of a damaging email showing that the response was fabricated to help President Barack Obama's re-election — and his reputation has taken a strong beating for it, observers told Newsmax on Tuesday.
"There are legitimate questions about Benghazi that remain unanswered," Democratic pollster and analyst Doug Schoen said in an interview. "I am, however, hard-pressed to believe that what Jay Carney has said — day after day, week after week — is anything but the most obvious political spin.
"I wouldn't do it, if I were him — and I've known Jay Carney," Schoen added. "I don't think the Jay Carney I know would say the kind of things that this Jay Carney has been saying."
But Carney, 48, a former Time magazine Washington bureau chief who took over the spokesman's job in 2011, is "spinning like a top" on Benghazi, said Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising at Boston University.
"Jay Carney has been doing what many previous press secretaries are doing — and that is spouting the party line for the president of the United States. The press secretary's job is to communicate what the White House wants, not to get pulled off message, not to answer questions from reporters that the White House doesn't want answered.
"What Carney is doing is what is expected of the modern press secretary," Berkovitz told Newsmax in an interview.
Carney has been under fire since he denied last week that talking points given to former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice did not specifically address the attacks that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
He said the points, which linked the attacks to an anti-Muslim video, addressed broader unrest in the region. An email released by Judicial Watch, however, showed White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes advising Rice, now Obama's national security adviser, to focus on the YouTube video as the cause of a spontaneous protest that led to the assaults.
"The fact of the matter is, there were protests in the region," Carney said last week in a tense exchange with Jon Karl of ABC News. "The talking points cited protests at that facility. The connection between protests and video — and the video turned out not to be the case, but it was based on the best information that we had, and the fact that there were protests. ..."
When Karl hammered Carney about why the email was not released to Congress last year when others were turned over in a subpoena, he replied: "I can say it again and again, and I know you can keep asking again and again. This document was not about Benghazi."
Judicial Watch obtained the email last month in documents turned over after the group sued the State Department last year over Benghazi. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee received the email last week.
The email and Carney's response have led Republicans to charge the White House with a Benghazi cover-up — and House Speaker John Boehner said that the chamber would vote this week to form a select committee to investigate the Libyan attacks, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Boehner named South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy to head the panel.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who heads the Oversight Committee, subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about why the panel got the email and other documents last week, despite its subpoena for all Benghazi communications last year.
But Carney's harshest criticism came on Monday from Sen. John McCain, who charged that the spokesman had destroyed his reputation with his explanation of the White House response to Benghazi.
"I have never seen anything like after 19 months the emails concerning their priorities and the president’s spokesperson saying that it had nothing to do with Benghazi," the Arizona Republican told Greta Van Susteren on her Fox News program. "Now, that has reached a new point.
"You know Jay Carney, I knew him for years," McCain added. "I knew him as a pretty straightforward journalist. He has destroyed his own reputation by that statement that what clearly was the talking points, which had nothing to do but Benghazi, saying it had nothing to do with Benghazi.
"That, to me, is an all-time low for a presidential spokesperson."
In his Newsmax interview, Schoen – who described himself as a "Democrat and a fair-minded person" — concurred.
"He deserves to be questioned, as does the administration, so we can have a fair-minded query into what happened in Benghazi: Where the talking points came from. Why they were developed. How they were developed — and where was the president and the National Security Adviser [Tom Donilon] when all of this was happening."
"To my way of thinking," Schoen continued, "what you do as a spokesman, you put the best possible gloss on what is the objective reality. I believe the administration and Jay Carney have done well beyond that to their detriment and to that of the American people."
But Berkovitz, who has worked as a political media consultant, told Newsmax that Carney is doing no differently from any other White House spokesman — despite the Judicial Watch email or regardless of the issue.
"There's evidence and there's the gaggle. What the press secretary does is just stick to the talking points. Benghazi is not the first time that these talking points seem to be in conflict with reality.
"Carney pretty-much did the same thing when questions arose about President Obama saying, 'If you like your health plan, you can keep it.' Carney spun like a top on that.
"That's what press secretaries do, and they're rewarded by extremely high-paying jobs in industry as soon as the crawl from behind a podium in the White House briefing room," Berkovitz said.
Even though four Americans died in Benghazi — unlike during, say, the Watergate scandal of the 1970s or the botched rollout of Obamacare last year — Carney can still "spin" the attacks effectively, he said.
"You keep repeating the same bullet points over and over and over — and the press keeps hammering you — and, then, when the press writes its story, it's a two-parter: 'Carney said this and here's some other facts.' But not every news outlet is going to get to part two: 'Here are the facts.' "
Mainstream news organizations have been widely criticized by Republicans and conservatives for playing down their Benghazi coverage.
"Carney will answer your question, but Carney will answer it the way the White House wants," Berkovitz told Newsmax. "It's up to the press to then make it a truthful story. Some of the press ignores it — and some of the press bangs their heads against the wall to show what's going on down there in the briefing room."
The professor said that Karl's blistering 8-minute exchange with Carney last week will probably hurt ABC News in the long run.
"You don't get very many invitations to fly on Air Force One after that," he said. "No cuff links for Jon."
Still, Berkovitz said Carney is handling the Benghazi "spin" well.
"He hasn't cracked like a witness on the stand in an old 'Perry Mason' TV show. He holds the line. He takes all the abuse. He ruins his reputation with parts of the journalistic community."
The fire is a tradeoff for a more lucrative future, Berkovitz added. Carney has been rumored to be leaving the White House soon — and could easily end up working for a large corporation or in financial services, he said.
Carney's estimated net worth is as much as $3.2 million.
"When this guy leaves the White House, he is going to land on his feet and he is going to be stuffing large paychecks into his pocket. This is not going to make him a pariah who'll never eat lunch in this town again.
"He will do just fine economically. That's the way it goes."
Carney's job also points to another reality among the press corps, Berkovitz said: "Some of the press holds him in contempt. Some of the press thinks, 'Gee, maybe I'll get his job when he retires.' "
But still, Carney's spin on Benghazi does not sit well with Berkovitz.
"Is it reprehensible — absolutely — that the chief spokesperson for the president of the United States is not honest and open, but …, " he told Newsmax before adding, "yeah, 'b-u-t-t.' "
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