NEW YORK -- CBS News President David Rhodes was not involved in editorial discussions on Wednesday about whether “CBS Evening News” should cover a newly released email written by his brother Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, according to a network spokesperson.
The email, written by Rhodes shortly after the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, showed how the White House played a role in shaping the talking points Susan Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, was to use in interviews.
Fox News and other conservative outlets have long claimed that the Benghazi attack hasn’t received enough media attention, even as the subject’s been hashed out numerous times in White House briefing room and journalists have covered the story consistently. The latest email disclosure has only added to the long-running critique that the media is covering up for a Democratic White House.
While “CBS This Morning” reported on the email Wednesday morning, the evening newscast did not -- a decision that caught the attention of the Washington Free Beacon. The website pointed out the Rhodes connection on Wednesday, and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, followed up Thursday with a piece titled: "Two Brothers at Center of Benghazi Controversy: One Runs CBS News, the Other Is Obama’s Adviser."
“White House Correspondent Bill Plante reported the story on 'CBS This Morning,' with a disclaimer about the relationship, as well as CBS News Radio and CBSNews.com,” a CBS News spokeswoman told HuffPost. “There also was a thorough editorial discussion about it at ‘CBS Evening News’ and David Rhodes was not involved.”
The Rhodes brothers angle only adds to suggestions this week that CBS News hasn’t been aggressive enough when it comes to Benghazi.
The conservative website Judicial Watch sued for the release of Benghazi-related documents beyond those included in a document dump last year. Sharyl Attkisson, a conservative media favorite who recently left CBS News amid controversy, claimed Wednesday that her former network wasn’t willing to file a similar lawsuit.
The documents disclosed in response to the Judicial Watch suit, which include the Rhodes email, have renewed interest over Rice's Sept. 16 appearances on five Sunday morning talk shows. During the appearances, she suggested that a crude, anti-Islam YouTube video had prompted the spontaneous attack on the U.S compound in Benghazi five days earlier, leading to the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Both The New York Times and Reuters, with reporters on the ground the night of the attack, reported that demonstrations had occurred in response to the video, which also triggered protests at several U.S. embassies in the Middle East, most notably in Cairo, Egypt. That same night, armed militants -- whether in a pre-planned action or using the protests as pretext -- stormed the Benghazi compound.
This isn’t the first time David Rhodes has been involved in a controversy surrounding Benghazi coverage -- though conservatives weren't the one raising questions the last time around.
Following a botched, year-long investigation of the Benghazi attack by CBS' "60 Minutes" -- a debacle that ended with star correspondent Lara Logan taking leave -- some liberals suggested Rhodes' background in conservative media had played a role in the reporting. Rhodes spent most of his career rising through the ranks of Fox News before coming to CBS, starting as a production assistant when the network launched in 1996 and rising to vice president of news before leaving in 2011.
The now-retracted "60 Minutes" investigation, which indicated a willingness on the part of CBS to cover the Obama administration aggressively on Benghazi, could have been damaging to the White House. But the report was severely flawed, with numerous factual errors and revelations soon after it aired that its key eyewitness had given conflicting accounts of his whereabouts during the attack.