On Front Page, NYT's Mark Landler Shields 'Stand-in...Bystander' Susan Rice From Benghazi Blame

On Sunday's front page, New York Times reporter Mark Landler took the heat off United Nations ambassador Susan ("stand-in...bystander") Rice for her media tour spreading false statements about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were murdered by terrorists. Rice went on the Sunday shows after the terrorist attack and falsely suggested that the outburst was spontaneous, blaming an anti-Islamic YouTube video for inciting a spontaneous riot on the anniversary of 9-11.

Both the headline ("A Diplomat's Detour Into the Benghazi Spotlight") and subhead ("Fill-in Role Becomes Obstacle for Rice as State Dept. Choice") favorably emphasized Rice's evasion of responsibility from what she actually told the nation after the attack.

Susan E. Rice was playing stand-in on the morning of Sept. 16 when she appeared on five Sunday news programs, a few days after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would have been the White House’s logical choice to discuss the chaotic events in the Middle East, but she was drained after a harrowing week, administration officials said. Even if she had not been consoling the families of those who died, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Mrs. Clinton typically steers clear of the Sunday shows.

So instead, Ms. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, delivered her now-infamous account of the episode. Reciting talking points supplied by intelligence agencies, she said that the Benghazi siege appeared to have been a spontaneous protest later hijacked by extremists, not a premeditated terrorist attack. Within days, Republicans in Congress were calling for her head.

In her sure-footed ascent of the foreign-policy ladder, Ms. Rice has rarely shrunk from a fight. But now that she appears poised to claim the top rung -- White House aides say she is President Obama’s favored candidate for secretary of state -- this sharp-tongued, self-confident diplomat finds herself in the middle of a bitter feud in which she is largely a bystander.

If she was "largely a bystander," then why was she serving as White House spokesman in the first place? And while Landler waved blame away from Rice, he also didn't offer any counter-criticism of the "drained" Secretary of State Clinton, or of the man ultimately responsible for the administration's Libya policy and response: President Barack Obama.

Landler concluded with a positive portrayal of Rice:

In some ways, friends say, Ms. Rice’s appearance on the Sunday shows underlines how she has evolved from a headstrong young staffer into a disciplined senior member of Mr. Obama’s team.

“She’s really tough, but there is a difference in how she’s tough,” said Harold H. Koh, the State Department’s legal adviser. “During the Clinton administration, there was a feeling that she had to be tough to earn her place at the table. Now she’s more comfortable.”