Micek: The one truth about Benghazi

John L. Micek
John Micek, editorial and opinions editor for PennLive/The Patriot-News.

The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus is often credited with that old chestnut about truth being the first casualty of war.

It's a good thing Aeschylus wasn't around last week for the release of the House Benghazi Committee report.

With four, competing narratives of the September 2012 attacks hitting the street within hours of each other, the truth not only became a casualty, it fell into that bottomless gap that separates fact and internet-fed conspiracy theory.

Far from settling anything, which was its putative goal, the committee's majority report (at a cost of $7 million) and its disputatious, alternate-reality hangers-on only served to push people further into their respective corners.

Democrats, Republicans, rabid conservatives and the conspiracy-minded each came away convinced this week that their version of reality was the right and true one.

Whether they came away any smarter is less clear.

Shocking no one, the Democratic report soft-pedaled any notion of culpability for Clinton and President Barack Obama, putting it all down to campaign season politics.

In this, they were ably assisted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, who pantsed the committee and it's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and his committee by publicly admitting that it was all about politics from the start.

Then Gowdy, who said he wouldn't release his report in the middle of the campaign season, went ahead and did it anyway.

The report by majority Republicans concluded that Clinton and President Barack Obama should have been more aware of the danger to Americans in Libya and done more to protect them.

The years-long probe has already produced its most damaging revelation: That Clinton, openly flouting secrecy rules, used a private email server while she was the nation's top diplomat.

The minority-majority report by U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Jim Jordan of Ohio, concluded that Clinton's actions during the attacks were "morally reprehensible," MSNBC reported.

But when Pompeo was asked by NBC News to back that conclusion up, all he could manage was that it was something he believed "in my heart," which is hardly guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The conclusions by that Citizens Commission should be familiar to anyone who's spent time prowling the dark recesses of the right-wing web. It repeats, for instance, the fantastical charge that Obama and Clinton were running guns to al-Qaeda rebels in Libya.

But it's the perfect metaphor for our hyper-partisan and hyper-polarized times.

In poll after poll, including one as most recently as this month, the divides between Republicans and Democrats are stark. And they have only been deepened by this year's unusually combative presidential election.

For instance, more than half the Democratic respondents (55 percent) to a recent Pew poll said the Republican Party made them feel "afraid," while a plurality (49 percent) of Republicans said the same.

And it's worse among the more engaged, with seven in 10 Democratic respondents and nearly two-thirds of Republicans (62 percent) giving the same answer, the Pew canvass found.

More than half of Republicans (52 percent) said Democrats were "closed-minded," and "dishonest" (47 percent), compared to the seven in 10 and 42 percent, respectively, of Democrats who said the same about Republicans, the Pew poll found.

A 2014 Pew poll, meanwhile, found liberals and conservatives were each more likely to get their information from a small cluster of sources.

So, if you're a voter, who are you going to believe about Benghazi? The short answer is whichever group's account most closely aligns to your worldview.

John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.