This morning, President Obama gave a sad statement on the deaths of an American, Dr. Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, “who were tragically killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation”, in which he took “full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations” and gave “our deepest apologies” to the victims’ families. The two hostages were accidentally killed in a drone strike.
It didn’t take long before the administration was being accused of only apologizing for the deaths because the Wall Street Journal was going to out them. This speculation came via CNN anchor Jake Tapper and was followed by more hopeful CNN speculation, as detailed by Dylan Byers in his On Media blog at Politico, in an article entitled, “No, the WSJ didn’t force the White House to apologize for killing those hostages”.
Byers learned that Adam Entous of the WSJ did not force the White House’s hand. It was the other way around:
In fact, Entous and the Journal did not force the White House’s hand, the On Media blog has learned. Senior U.S. officials approached Entous about the drone strike on Wednesday but asked him to hold it overnight so that they could inform the victims’ families. In other words, the White House was planning to make the disclosure and decided to give Entous a heads up, with the request that he agree to an embargo.
“The Administration approached Entous with some details last night (some details in his story he came to his own conclusions about after he spoke with us, and we did not confirm those details for him) and asked him if he wanted to break the story, so there would be a story out when we made the announcement. That’s why the story popped at the exact same time as the WH statement,” one of the sources familiar with the exchanges said. ”Adam Entous was as surprised last night as you all were this morning.”
Chuck Grassley (R-IA), suffering from GOP fake scandal fever, “questioned why the White House decided to go public with the news months after the strike, wondering aloud if the administration was trying to get ahead of the story.”
Or they just confirmed the information, got it declassified and needed to talk to the families first. Of course that assumes that the administration is not evil — a bridge too far for most Republicans. This morning the President explained that as soon as they determined the cause of their deaths, he directed the operation to be declassified and disclosed:
As soon as we determined the cause of their deaths, I directed that the existence of this operation be declassified and disclosed publicly. I did so because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth. And I did so because even as certain aspects of our national security efforts have to remain secret in order to succeed, the United States is a democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad.
When a Democrat is in office, “wondering” and “just asking questions” is patriotic. When a Republican is in the same office, it is not patriotic to question them – you are either with them or you hate America. Guess which one President Obama is.
It should be obvious, because like a Democrat, President Obama is not afraid to speak the truth about America’s own failings or learn from his own and our mistakes. He also admitted that these tragedies are a “cruel and bitter truth” that occur in the “fog of war” and our “fight against terrorism”.
There are costs. Human costs. It would be helpful if this fact could be brought up and connections made for the public when certain presidential candidates don their best Dirty Harry imitations as they war-monger.
During his statement this morning, the President said, “We will continue to do everything we can to prevent the loss of innocent lives… in our counterterrorism operations.” He announced that he had already “directed a full review of what happened” and added, “We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy and any changes that should be made.”
The President explained the horrific mistake:
Our initial assessment indicates that this operation was fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region, which has been our focus for years because it is the home of al Qaeda’s leadership. And based on the intelligence that we had obtained at the time, including hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al Qaeda compound; that no civilians were present; and that capturing these terrorists was not possible. And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al Qaeda. What we did not know, tragically, is that al Qaeda was hiding the presence of Warren and Giovanni in this same compound.
It’s important to ask questions — that is the job of the press, but to presume timing is evidence of collusion or cover up or a forced hand without any evidence to suggest that is speculation, at best.
In this case, it turned out that it was the White House that gave the scoop to the Wall Street Journal. Yet no one suggested that. The guesses all went in the other direction — something to file in the discernment department.
Also, it’s been six years and many investigations, but no WMD lie yet for the Obama administration. Doesn’t mean there won’t be one, but when weighing things, it should matter.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.