William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
Take out your pencil and write 100 times, "It's the cover up that gets you."
And when you're done with that, write 100 more times.
That ought to be an exercise for anyone considering running for public office.
It's been some 40 years since Watergate, which inspired that cliche, yet, incredibly, the Obama administration finds itself, almost two weeks before Election Day, trampling through the wreckage of its own careless cover-up.
Obama and his people badly need to get momentum back on their side, but as long as the Libya story remains unresolved, they cannot get back on the offense. And time is running out.
The Obama-Libya fiasco is mind-boggling, especially when you consider the people involved: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and David Axelrod are famously capable political players. They know better than almost anyone how important it is to get out ahead of a bad story. Secretary of State Clinton could write a textbook on it, and I mean that as a compliment.
Yet here we are, more than a month after the sacking of a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the story is bigger than on the day it occurred. It just keeps growing.
Psychologists can no doubt pinpoint the initial instinct to fudge facts -- to make bad news sound just a little better -- but that doesn't explain why day after day, week after week, this administration has failed to come clean and give a considered and definitive answer on what happened. That's the only thing that's going to make this story go away.
I'm not talking about what happened with the attacks. That's become fairly clear: There was a deadly terrorist assault on a clearly underguarded U.S. consulate on the anniversary of 9/11. What needs to be explained is why the White House spokesman, the State Department and UN Ambassador Susan Rice told the American public a tale about the nature of the attack for more than two weeks that doesn't seem to be true, and that they may have known wasn't true.
Everyone on the debate prep teams knew this question was coming, yet the president and vice president flubbed it. Indeed, they exacerbated it. They had an opportunity on a national stage to put this story behind them and both men kicked it back into high gear.
Biden said at his debate that no one told the White House before the attack that more security was needed for the embassy -- on the very day a top intelligence official testified before Congress that multiple requests for exactly that had been made, at least to the State Department. Obama suggested at his Hofstra debate that he knew the attack was terrorism -- not a spontaneous demonstration against an awful YouTube video -- the Monday after it occurred. But his administration went on to characterize the attack as spontaneous demonstration gone violent for more than another week. What gives? If he knew it was terrorism, why did his administration keep telling the public otherwise?
The story grew larger still on Friday when the CIA reported that it, indeed, told Washington within 24 hours that the United States had suffered an Islamist terrorist attack. The CIA revelation will dominate the presidential election news cycle all the way up to Monday night, when the next and final presidential debate on -- you guessed it -- foreign policy is held.
President Obama has one last chance to put this story to bed Monday. If he can do that candidly and convincingly, he will have a small window with which to try to regain the initiative in the final two weeks of the campaign.
If he blows it again -- if he leaves any questions on the table -- he'll find himself on the defense through the election, and that means he won't be on offense.
The American public could have forgiven a security lapse. There would have been outrage, but honest mistakes happen.
But it's the cover up that gets you.
"It's the cover up that gets you."
"It's the cover up that gets you..."
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.