Libya Embassy Attack: The Tangled Web of Tragedy

on Wednesday, Sep. 12th

It’s been difficult to be focused on anything but the slowly evolving news out of Libya today.

The first thoughts through my head when I learned that a state department staffer was killed as part of a riot at the consulate in Benghazi was of Tehran in 1979. The Iranian Hostage Crisis had a huge impact on American politics. Not only was it a fateful blow to the Carter Administration, it set the stage for both the Iran-Contra scandal and tension that continues between Iran and the United States to this day. Deja vu all over again.

How’d we get here? Read on…

Surrealist note #1: one of the films I’m most looking forward to this fall is Argo, the Ben Affleck picture about the true-life CIA plan to smuggle embassy staffers out of Iran under the guise of a fake science-fiction film. [Remember this, it's going to be important in a second.]

Visions of the hostage crisis, surely, must have been running through Team Romney’s mind as well. Having taking a drubbing in the polls over the last few weeks they leapt at the chance to paint the Obama administration as weak on foreign policy. To their horror they discovered that it’s still taboo to turn a national tragedy into a political volley ball while it is still going on. The day Mark Halperin and Peggy Noonan tear the GOP nominee apart in the national press would be newsworthy if it wasn’t for all the other news.

Because that’s not the strangest thing. No, the strangest thing is that this all began as a protest over a film no one in the States had heard of (other than everybody’s “favorite” grandstanding, Koran-burning Christian fundamentalist Florida pastor) by a filmmaker who isn’t who he claims to be. Bonus points: the film may not be real. Extra Bonus: the protests may have just been cover for a planned attack.

Piece by piece now:

Back in July a “trailer” for the “film” Innocence of Muslims was put up on YouTube on the account of one Sam Becile. It’s a hideously produced piece of propaganda that makes Atlas Shrugged Part II look like an accomplished fan film by comparison. Those who have the stomach to make it all the way through the 14 minutes of the “trailer“– I got about two minutes in before just fast forwarding to see how bad it looked– suggest that it might be cut together from multiple sources. (Also: 14 minutes? Who tried fish?) [Furthermore: you'll totally regret clicking that first link above.]

The Wall Street Journal conducted an interview with “Bacile” and as the day progressed Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic did some real reporting and discovered that Bacile is likely a pseudonym for whomever the Journal interviewed. By the end of the day on the East Coast it looked like much of what Bacile said was pure Bunk.

Even better? The cast and crew now say they were misled by the shadowy producer.  Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one.

So how the hell do religious fundamentalists in Libya find out about a YouTube video for Schrödinger’s Propaganda Film?

Egyptian-American lawyer, Coptic Christian and anti-Muslim fanatic Morris Sadek promoted the film to Egyptian TV. A particularly hardline TV network in Egypt ran with it, and here we are.

A probably fake film by definitely fake people causes real death and destruction. Life imitating art imitating life.

If you’ve got the wherewithal to keep up with the story, check out NPR’s The Two Way , which has been updating as the story evolves. Alyssa Rosenberg’s ‘Death By Fiction‘ piece at Think Progress is also worth checking in on.

Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

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