Study: News Coverage Shifts on Benghazi Attack

May 13, 2013

Press Release
May 13, 2012
Contact: Katy Davis

News coverage of the Benghazi attack followed the Obama administration’s lead last fall but has recently shifted to include more Republican perspectives, according to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). (See attached graphic.)

According to CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter, “The hearings brought more balance to a story that originally followed the Obama administration’s talking points. This shows both the extent and the limits of a president’s ability to shape the news of a foreign policy crisis.”

CMPA analyzed coverage of the run-up to Congressional hearings on the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, from April 24 to May 9 in 28 stories in four nationally influential newspapers: the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. We compared the results to an earlier computer-assisted analysis of 348 stories in the same newspapers during the first month after the September 11, 2012 attack.

Since House Republicans released an interim report on Benghazi on April 24, 58% of sources in major newspapers have faulted the Obama administration’s response to the attacks, while 42% exonerated the administration for its performance. Most of the criticism came from Republican sources, who were 100% critical of the administration. Among all other sources (including Democrats), 71% supported the administration’s actions and 29% were critical.


Revelations from State Department “whistle-blowers” on the Benghazi terror attack allege that requests for military rescue were turned down. — USA Today, May 8

“…We’re going to find people asleep at the switch when it comes to the State Department,including Hillary Clinton.” — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — Washington Post, May 8

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the [House Gop] report “appears to raise questions that have already been asked and answered in great detail” by the administration. – Washington Post, April 24

By contrast, an earlier CMPA study of the first month’s coverage after the attack found that the coverage mainly followed the government’s perspective. The attack was depicted in terms of a spontaneous protest 535 times, four times as often as a planned attack – 130 times. In addition, the terms mentioned most frequently (868 times) were related to the theme of hate speech vs. free speech. This reflected protests over the film “Innocence of Muslims,” to which the administration originally attributed the attack.

These findings suggest that the early news coverage reflected White House and State Department portrayals of the attack, rather than Republican charges that they reflected a planned act of terrorism. Initially, reporters relied heavily on official sources for breaking news on a foreign policy crisis. In recent days, by contrast, the news peg was House hearings that better reflected a Republican perspective. Even so, the current coverage portrays a partisan split in relatively balanced terms, with only a slight tilt toward GOP criticisms.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored every presidential election and every new administration since 1988 using the same methodology. To find more information on the 2012 election, please visit:

Please see graph below:


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