CNN's initial reporting on its Benghazi special raises serious questions about the integrity of the special, as factual inaccuracies and uncritical reporting privileges the conservative witch hunt.
At 10 PM on August 6, CNN's Erin Burnett will host an hour-long special, The Truth About Benghazi. To preview the special, Burnett appeared on The Situation Room. When asked by host Wolf Blitzer, "What's the biggest takeaway that you take yourself from this documentary?" Burnett responded, "Among our conclusions, Wolf, is that the administration was focused foremost on re-election. It's a painful truth, but it appears to be the case."
If that is one of Burnett's biggest takeaways from her special, it does not bode well for the factual accuracy of the upcoming report. The day following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, President Obama addressed the nation in the Rose Garden where he referred to the attack as an "act of terror." Obama then referred to the attack as an "act of terror" twice on September 13, 2012, once in Colorado and once in Nevada.
Furthermore, on October 4, 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened an Accountability Review Board "to examine the facts and circumstances of the attacks." Additionally, the FBI began its investigation in the first days following the attack.
Hardly the work of an administration "focused foremost on re-election."
Earlier in the day, CNN's John King previewed the special with a CNN.com piece that was also full of manufactured Benghazi controversies that have been debunked numerous times. King's piece included questions such as "Why, especially given the weeks of threat warnings, there was no viable military option to assist the State Department personnel at the Benghazi mission," and "the warnings didn't reach the point where the State Department either sent more security help or ordered the Benghazi mission closed."
King's question regarding the lack of military options to assist the Benghazi mission has been answered numerous times, but most recently by Marine Corps Colonel George Bristol who told a congressional panel in late July that the site security team in Tripoli was given initial freedom of action to respond to the attack.
Also, King's query into the supposed warnings of a potential attack on the mission has no basis in fact. In September 2012, the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (R-MI), appeared on Fox & Friends and declared, "I have seen nothing yet that indicates that they had information that could have prevented the attack."
Additionally, as The New York Times reported in October, 2012, there were no warnings that the embassy in Benghazi was going to be targeted:
Interviews with American officials and an examination of State Department documents do not reveal the kind of smoking gun Republicans have suggested would emerge in the attack's aftermath such as a warning that the diplomatic compound would be targeted and that was overlooked by administration officials.
State Department officials have asserted that there was no specific intelligence that warned of a large-scale attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which they asserted was unprecedented. The department said it was careful to weigh security with diplomats' need to meet with Libyan officials and citizens.
"The lethality of an armed, massed attack by dozens of individuals is something greater than we've ever seen in Libya over the last period that we've been there," Patrick F. Kennedy, the State Department's under secretary for management, told reporters at a news conference on Oct. 10.
Burnett and King's inaccurate reporting isn't the only reason to doubt the veracity of the forthcoming CNN special. A "Benghazi attack timeline" posted on CNN's website in preparation for the event features multiple errors. CNN gets the name of the deputy chief of mission in Libya wrong (his name is Gregory Hicks, not Gregory Wallace, as CNN claims). The timeline also states that the final attack on the annex began at 4:00 a.m. local time; both the State Department's Accountability Review Board and the Pentagon say it began at 5:15 a.m.
For the second time in a week, Fox host Greta Van Susteren dedicated the full hour of her show, On The Record, to an interview with controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh. The hour long interview was little more than a platform for Limbaugh to ingratiate himself with the Fox audience while completely ignoring his recent controversies and the revelations of his current contractual problems with Cumulus radio.
On July 28, Politico reported that Cumulus Media, "the second-biggest broadcaster in the country," is on the verge of dropping Limbaugh from its 40 stations by the end of the year. The move comes after a year of advertisers fleeing his show following a multi-day attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke.
More recently Limbaugh was widely criticized for his remarks on race in the wake of the "not guilty" verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman.
On the July 16 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that he could say "Nigga' with an a" because "it's not racist." A week later Limbaugh declared "If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it's Caucasians." "It's time for all this white guilt to end," Limbaugh said.
Although Van Susteren asked Limbaugh for his thoughts on the trial, she failed to mention his recent inflammatory comments.
On the August 2 edition of her show, Van Susteren once again asked softball questions and offered Limbaugh a platform to attack President Obama, leftists, feminists, and the welfare state. The interview consisted of questions such as: "Why is there no enthusiasm to go after waste and fraud?", "Why do you do your job?", and "Twitter - what do you think of it?"
This was the fourth time a Limbaugh interview has aired on Fox News in the past month after only three interviews the previous three years.
Fox News' James Rosen claimed that Marine Corps Colonel George Bristol admitted to giving what "some will call" a stand down order to Lieutenant Colonel S.E. Gibson during the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But both Bristol and Gibson have said that no "stand down" order was given.
Rosen appeared on the July 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor to discuss a briefing on Benghazi given to the House Armed Services Committee by Bristol, who commanded an Africa-based task force at the time of the Benghazi attack. Rosen claimed that Bristol acknowledged he had given Gibson, who commanded a small team of special forces troops in Tripoli, what "some will call ... a stand down order":
O'REILLY: Now there was a hearing today, the House Armed Services Committee. General George Bristol who was in charge, I guess, of the African forces that could have helped the four Americans, including the Ambassador to Libya killed in Benghazi, he testified. But I'm reading over the notes here Rosen, and I've only got thirty seconds, Bristol would not say who told him not to help them. Is that true?
ROSEN: Well, first of all this wasn't a hearing, it was a briefing, which was being kind to the guy. He wasn't put under oath, so he didn't really have to testify. But he led this task force in Northern and Western Africa, and he acknowledged that he was the guy, a Marine colonel, who had the conversation with an Army lieutenant colonel who was on the ground in Tripoli and who was ready to get a whole bunch of guys on an airplane and fly from Tripoli to Benghazi to try and rescue our guys, which is the distance from Richmond, Virginia to Chicago, Illinois. It's not a short trip. And Col. Bristol, who is retiring effectively tomorrow, did acknowledge that he told Lt. Col. Gibson "stay in Tripoli." Some will call that a stand down order, Bill.
O'REILLY: Is Bristol taking the rap? That he did it? That he wouldn't order anybody?
ROSEN: He's saying, in essence, "I told them stay in Tripoli in case our embassy there -- "
O'REILLY: Did he say if anybody ordered him to say that?
ROSEN: No. He said it was his decision.
Rosen's claim is at odds with statements by both Bristol and Gibson. The Hill reported that Bristol told the congressional panel that no "stand down" order was given. Furthermore, according to a press release issued by the House Armed Services Committee, Bristol told the committee he gave Gibson "initial freedom of action to make decisions in response to the unfolding situation in Benghazi."
The former commander of a four-member Army Special Forces unit in Tripoli, Libya, denied Wednesday that he was told to stand down during last year's deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
In a closed-door session with the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson said his commanders told him to remain in the capital of Tripoli to defend Americans in the event of additional attacks and to help survivors being evacuated from Benghazi.
"Contrary to news reports, Gibson was not ordered to 'stand down' by higher command authorities in response to his understandable desire to lead a group of three other special forces soldiers to Benghazi," the Republican-led committee said in a summary of its classified briefing with military officials, including Gibson.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum claimed that a "stand down" order was given the night of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi - an order that prevented U.S. troops from saving the lives of Americans stationed there. MacCallum's claim ignores the reality that no "stand down" order was ever given.
In the months following the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate, Fox hosts accused the Obama administration of ordering troops to "stand down" and not respond immediately to the attack. Media Matters analysis shows that on at least 85 different occasions Fox mentioned this accusation during segments in prime time.
On the July 26 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, MacCallum said, "My mind goes back to the order to stand down, and how none of this may have happened if that order to stand down had not been given. And we still don't know who gave that order, so that remains a really serious question here as well."
Fox News cut away from President Obama's July 25 economic speech well before its conclusion, but Fox News personalities claimed to have watched it and gave detailed opinions on the content of the speech, even while it was still happening:
Fox News falsely suggested that Senate Republicans have blocked Richard Cordray from heading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) due to legitimate fears about how he would handle the agency, when in fact Senate Republicans have, in unprecedented fashion, said they would oppose any nominee whatsoever until changes are made to the structure of that agency.
On July 16, the Senate will be voting on several executive branch nominees that Republicans have opposed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that if Senate Republicans refuse to allow an up-or-down vote on those candidates, he will push a change to Senate rules that will prevent the minority from filibustering executive appointments.
Previewing that action on the July 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham said that Cordray's nomination had been blocked for "good reason." Ingraham explained that Cordray has been blocked because he is a "good friend" of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who proposed the creation of the CFPB, and that "a lot of people [are] very concerned about what he'll do in the regulatory process."
In fact, Cordray's potential actions as head of CFPB are irrelevant to the discussion as Republicans have said they would oppose any candidate for that office whatsoever.
In February of 2013, 43 Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama saying that they would block "any nominee, regardless of party affiliation," to the CFPB until structural changes were made to the agency. This is the first time in the history of the Senate that a nomination has been blocked for no reason other than a political party disagrees with the structure of the agency.
Cordray's qualifications include serving as Ohio's Attorney General where he recovered more than $2 billion for Ohio citizens and worked to protect consumers from fraudulent foreclosures and financial predators. Cordray also served as Ohio's State Treasurer.
Despite the right-wing media's most recent attempt to generate a "Watergate" style scandal imploding on live TV, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan continued to push the conspiracy theory that a recent break-in at a Texas law firm was orchestrated by the government in response to a whistleblower's allegations of misconduct among State Department employees.
Following June 29 and June 30 robberies at the Dallas office of Schulman & Mathias, lawyer Cary Schulman has suggested that State Department officials were responsible for the break-in. Schulman & Mathias represents a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General named Aurelia Fedenisn, who provided documents to CBS News alleging misconduct among State Department employees.
In a July 9 Wall Street Journal blog post, Noonan baselessly speculated that the government was behind the break-in at Schulman's law firm, comparing the break-in to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that resulted in the impeachment proceedings -- and ultimately resignation -- of President Richard Nixon. Noonan wrote:
Still, the Nixon-era whistleblower whose psychiatrist's office was broken into has some tough words, in an op-ed piece, for the current administration -- just as word comes that an Obama-era whistleblower's lawyer's office was broken into by . . . someone.
Just hours before Noonan's post was published, Schulman appeared on Fox News' America Live with guest host Martha MacCallum in a segment hyped as "'Watergate' Style Spy Claims." Schulman said that one reason to suspect State Department involvement in the burglary was because the perpetrators "have been unwilling to come forward with evidence of the crimes voluntarily and we don't know their whereabouts." When asked by MacCallum if he had any evidence to support these allegations, Schulman was forced to admit, "No I don't. All kidding aside, I was joking earlier. I don't know who did it."
The admission by Schulman that he has no evidence and was only "joking" about State Department involvement in the burglary did not stop Noonan from speculating that the government was somehow involved. Noonan concluded, "The burglary may or may not be a scandal -- but if it is, it's a big one."
A "Watergate" style scandal alleging the State Department was responsible for a break in at a former employee's office completely fell apart after its progenitor was given a platform on Fox News. Fox guest Cary Schulman, a lawyer representing a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General named Aurelia Fedenisn, was forced to confess he was only "joking" about allegations that the State Department was responsible for a break in at his office after admitting he had no evidence to back up his claims.
On June 10, CBS News reported on allegations of misconduct among State Department employees. Fedenisn, who is represented by the Dallas law firm Schulman & Mathias, provided the documents to CBS and discussed the allegations with Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Schulman publicly questioned whether the State Department or supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have been responsible for a recent break in at his office in which a computer and box full of files were stolen. The Daily Caller, TheBlaze.com, and others quoted Schulman saying that "strongholds of support within the State Department" may have been involved.
On July 8, Schulman joined guest host Martha MacCallum on Fox News' America Live to discuss the break in. In a segment hyped as "'Watergate' Style Spy Claims," Schulman admitted he was "joking" about his allegations after acknowledging he possessed no real evidence to suggest the State Department's involvement in the break in. He concluded by warning that "we should take a hard look at" the State Department if they were to determine there was no involvement by State Department employees in the break in.
Fox News continues to push Benghazi falsehoods in its quest to tarnish President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On June 28, Bret Baier hosted Fox's "Benghazi: The Truth Behind The Smokescreen" in the network's latest attempt to keep the Benghazi myth at the forefront. The one-hour special included repeatedly debunked falsehoods along with misinformation new to Fox's growing Benghazi mythology.
Sean Hannity ignored new reports that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (CA) directed the Treasury Department's inspector general (IG) to "narrowly focus" its audit of the IRS' assessment of tax-exempt status requests to focus on tea party organizations, falsely claiming that "new claims by progressive groups that they were targeted by the IRS are in fact, false."
On the June 26 edition of his Fox News show, host Sean Hannity attempted to resuscitate the dying right-wing media narrative that the improper IRS targeting of groups was directed by the White House in an effort to punish opponents, by citing an IG audit of the IRS which found that some conservative groups received improper scrutiny when seeking tax-exempt status. Hannity dismissed reports that progressive groups had received similar scrutiny and the IG's investigation had been directed by House Republicans, citing the IG report in an attempt -- as he put it -- to "correct the record" saying: "If you've been paying attention to this scandal you know that the inspector general report outlined very clearly the distinct ideological imbalance."
Hannity concluded by asking: "If progressives were unfairly targeted, why didn't anyone say so earlier?"
A June 25 Hill article answered Hannity's question. The Hill reported that a spokesman for the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, said they were asked by Issa "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations":
The inspector general's audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with "Tea Party" and "patriots" in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.
But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of "be on the lookout" lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.
The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: "We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit."
Prior to this report, Issa had leaked incomplete transcripts that were used by right-wing media to suggest that the IRS' use of improper criteria for determining which groups requesting tax-exempt status required additional scrutiny was directed by officials in Washington D.C., and potentially by White House officials. Other transcripts released later debunked this claim.
Furthermore, as a June 26 Associated Press article reported, progressive groups have claimed that they received scrutiny from the IRS, resulting in long delays in their being granted tax-exempt status. James Salt, a spokesman for the progressive Catholics United went so far as to claim the IRS asked the organization nonsensical, "weird" questions. A June 25 Wall Street Journal article similarly reported delays in tax-exempt status assessment for progressive groups: "Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said her "progressive" group has been waiting almost two years for IRS action on an application for tax exemption from one of its entities."
Prior to this revelation, a manager of the Cincinnati IRS office responsible for the assessment of tax-exempt status requests, and self-described "conservative Republican" John Shafer told congressional investigators that neither he nor his office "never discussed any political, personal aspirations whatsoever."
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, during the June 25 Hannity segment Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin went on to accuse the White House of orchestrating the IRS' targeting, saying: "All roads lead to Washington D.C. and all fingers, at some point, will lead straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."