Help me, a layman, understand the scandal in simple yes or no answers to the following questions.
1) Is this the first time a US embassy was attacked on foreign soil which resulted in the deaths of US citizens?
No. But I believe it's one of only two times that a US ambassador has actually been killed in such an attack. And it's only the second time in my lifetime (that I can think of) where a US embassy/consulate was actually "taken over". Attacks usually involve people throwing grenades, planting bombs, or driving bomb laden vehicles into the sides of the building to kill random people. It's a whole different thing to actually assault a consulate building and kill/capture everyone inside.
I believe the last time that happened was 1979 in Iran. So yeah, it's kinda significant in terms of a failure of security.
2) If the answer to 1 is no, is the problem that there wasn't full disclosure to the public a few hours after the incident, thereby a different response to similar situations in the past?
The problem is that the Obama administration appears to have latched onto a politically convenient, but incorrect, explanation for why the attacks occurred. They attempted to sell this motivation to the public, even in the face of fairly clear evidence that it wasn't true. Then when it became obvious that this story wasn't going to fly, they attempted to cover up the fact that they'd attempted to do this in the first place. That cover up continues to this day every time Obama or one of his flunkies goes on TV and insists that the intelligence was somehow confusing, or they didn't know, or whatever excuse they use on any given day.
was the attempt to convince the public that the attacks were the result of protests over a video and not a planned terrorist attack long after the administration clearly knew that the opposite was true. The cover up
is everything they've done since then to attempt to convince people that they didn't do that. That's where the scandal comes from. It's not about covering up details of the attack. It's about covering up their own attempt to lie to the American public about what happened.
To put it in context, it would be like if Carter, back in 1979, tried to argue that the hostages taken in Iran really had nothing to do with retaliation for his decisions regarding the Shaw, but instead was because they were offended that we'd canceled Fantasy Island (or something equally silly). If you put that out there, had the media repeat it enough times, and even put an official on the talk shows to repeat it as well, you might be an idiot for trying such a stupid lie, but you still did ultimately lie.
That's why this is important. Regardless of how foolish the attempt was, they did make it. And in typical "the cover up is worse than the crime" fashion, had they simply owned up to the initial statements being an overzealous case of projected wishful thinking and moved on, they might have suffered a minor black eye but that's it. But it was an election year, so they chose to deny that they did anything wrong at all. And much like Nixon's delays during Watergate, it helped them push the scandal down the road long enough to win re-election, but at the cost of it becoming a bigger deal over time. As I pointed out earlier, the cover up wasn't some single action in the past. It's ongoing. Every day they play games with selective document dumps and classifications, and executive privilege, they dig themselves into a deeper hole. They make it more clear that they have something to hide, and that's often far far worse than what you're hiding.