A June 4 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee that focused on interviews with alleged victims of IRS targeting was used by Fox News as an opportunity to hype the witnesses and their allegations of unfair targeting.
The hearing was the second of at least three this week, with the first coming on June 3 and a third to come on June 6. It featured several witnesses who have either appeared frequently on Fox or who represent groups that have made appearances on the network
As The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported following the June 3 hearing, Fox News' promotion of the flurry of hearings has become a pattern:
A third House committee joined the stampede to examine the IRS on Monday, and its chairman did exactly what you would expect somebody to do before launching a fair and impartial investigation: He went on Fox News Channel and implicated the White House.
Asked by Fox's Bill Hemmer what he hoped to learn at Monday afternoon's hearing, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) offered this bit of pre-hearing analysis:
"Of course, the enemies list out of the White House that IRS was engaged in shutting down or trying to shut down the conservative political viewpoint across the country -- an enemies list that rivals that of another president some time ago."
On the June 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of Linchpins of Liberty, a group that describes itself as an "American leadership-development enterprise designed to challenge the imagination of the rising generation," appeared in an exclusive interview to preview that day's hearing.
Later in the day, America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), to preview the hearing. Hemmer asked Camp if Obama administration knew about the IRS' targeting of conservative groups, to which Camp replied, "We just don't know at this point."
Then, in the midst of Fox's wall-to-wall coverage on the hearing, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum described hearing witness and Wetumpka Tea Party President Becky Gerritson's "fervent appeal" and informed viewers that Gerritson would be a guest on the show the following day.
On June 3, Fox News' America Live hosted National Organization for Marriage's Brian Brown, allowing him to revive his organization's claim that the IRS stole and leaked their Form 990 to the Human Rights Campaign last year. NOM was also represented at the June 4 hearing, with Dr. John Eastman, the organization's chairman, appearing to make the same accusation that Brown had made just a day earlier on Fox News.
Right-wing media have been pushing multiple dubious claims related to the recent revelation that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to scrutinize some conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Media Matters has compiled five of the worst offenders.
Fox News is celebrating the fact that President Bush had no working relationship with his Internal Revenue Service commissioner in order to stoke fears that President Obama has colluded with the agency to attack conservatives, based solely on a discredited accounting of the number of times Obama's commissioner visited the White House.
Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman appears in White House logs 118 times between 2010 and 2011, when the IRS was engaging in improper scrutiny of the tax statuses of conservative groups, and 157 total since 2009 -- although, as The Atlantic reported, this number is difficult to confirm, and most of those scheduled visits were actually meetings with administration staff at executive office buildings other than the White House. Fox News has suggested that this number of meetings indicates that top White House officials may have been aware and even involved in those controversial actions.
By contrast, during his tenure as IRS commissioner from 2003 to 2007, Mark Everson says he visited the White House only once, leading him to complain that it felt like he had been "moved to Siberia" because the IRS had been kept so out of the loop.
Despite Everson's complaint about the lack of attention and access the Bush administration gave to the IRS, Fox News has continuously used this one visit by Everson to suggest that Shulman made an excessive number of trips that points to nefarious activities between the IRS and White House.
Fox News is attempting to revive the manufactured Benghazi scandal by highlighting a new report that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was labeled a "John Doe" when checked into a Libyan hospital following the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi. While some on the right have described hiding Stevens' identity as "simple" and "common sense," Fox News claims that the decision is further proof of a Benghazi cover-up.
On the May 31 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum hosted former CIA covert operations officer and President of Diligence LLC Mike Baker to discuss this latest revelation from the attacks. Baker recognized the decision to label Stevens as "John Doe" as the right move while simultaneously using the new information to indict the Obama administration over Benghazi. Although Baker views the decision to use a pseudonym as necessary, he cites it as an example of the Obama administration hiding details about the attack, saying: "The problem here is that we're getting these details over 8 months after the attacks, and the administration continues to not stand up and say 'look, this is what took place, these are the details we have.'"
On May 30, CBS News' Sheryl Attkisson -- whose reporting on Benghazi has garnered praise from a host of Fox News personalities as well as rumors that she will be leaving CBS for Fox News in the future -- broke the story that U.S. officials instructed Benghazi Medical Center to use a "John Doe" pseudonym on the death certificate of Ambassador Christopher Stevens after he was killed during the attack. Attkisson reported:
A familiar local to whom Americans refer as "Babakar" sent word to the U.S. embassy that Stevens had, indeed, passed away. Babakar sent some of his associates to recover Stevens' body at the hospital. When hospital officials asked what name should be entered on the death certificate, U.S. officials relayed the message to use "John Doe." Babakar's associates eventually transported Stevens' body to the airport where it was turned over to Americans.
But Stevens' identity was concealed to protect the body of the slain ambassador. As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald wrote:
Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 State Department officer in Libya, testified that the hospital Stevens was taken to was "controlled by Ansar Sharia," the very same jihadi group that had launched the attack on the diplomatic post.
Ansar Sharia -- or, for that matter, any other group that wanted to embarrass or even extract a ransom from the U.S. -- would probably have been thrilled to find the ambassador's body lying in their hospital. So it makes perfect sense that U.S. officials would try to conceal Stevens' identity as much as possible.
Fox's focus on the John Doe revelation marks the latest in a long line of manufactured Benghazi conspiracies being pushed on the network, none of which hold up under scrutiny. In a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, Politico's Mike Allen explained that Republicans' ongoing obsession with Benghazi is an attempt to tarnish Hillary Clinton's potential presidential bid in 2016:
ALLEN: Privately, Republicans say that Benghazi probably wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for Hillary Clinton. Unlike the IRS -
ROSE: If this wasn't for her in 2016, this wouldn't be an issue?
ALLEN: Yeah, because it's something that people don't understand. Even the White House will tell you it's never going to be resolved to anyone's satisfaction, but there is going to be a real effort to make it last.
And when we're talking about these three controversies, we should remember, world event history tells us that world events can change everything. Somebody pointed out to me that if the Boston marathon happened next week, this would all look different.
Despite previously applauding a Bush administration official who invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to testify before a Congressional hearing, Rush Limbaugh is now criticizing IRS official Lois Lerner for doing the same.
On May 22, Lerner, who heads the IRS office for tax-exempt organizations, exercised her Fifth Amendment right during a congressional oversight committee hearing into the IRS' scrutiny of conservative groups. Lerner said she had done nothing wrong, but on the advice of her counsel and due to an ongoing criminal investigation, said she would not answer questions or testify before the committee.
Later that day, Limbaugh said Lerner was using the Fifth Amendment to get out of answering questions and that the Fifth Amendment wouldn't be used by someone who says they "haven't done anything wrong":
LIMBAUGH: By the way, on this Lois Lerner business folks, about the Fifth Amendment -- the Fifth Amendment is not meant to be used as a way to get out of answering questions. The Fifth Amendment is clearly there to ensure that you don't have to testify against yourself.
The Fifth Amendment-- you're charging me? Then you prove it. I'm not going to incriminate myself. But it's not meant to be used as a way of getting out of answering questions. Particularly when you say first, "I haven't done anything wrong! I have not participated in any criminal activity, I haven't done anything wrong." Well then why are you invoking the Fifth? Just so you don't have to answer questions? Sorry, it doesn't work that way.
Limbaugh's statements, however, contradict comments he made about the Fifth Amendment during the George W. Bush administration.
In 2007, the Bush White House came under fire for the allegedly politically-motivated firing of U.S. attorneys. The Department of Justice's White House Liaison, Monica Goodling, was called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, but instead refused to answer questions after citing her Fifth Amendment right.
During a March 2007 broadcast, Limbaugh responded to a caller's question about Goodling invoking the Fifth by describing the hearing as a "perjury trap," praised her attorney for being "wise to have her plead the fifth," and even taking issue with those who assume that pleading the Fifth is an admission of guilt:
LIMBAUGH: It's a perjury trap. A lot of this stuff is just being set up for perjury traps. That's why they want Rove and Harriet Miers under oath on this whole issue. So, the lawyer says that the obvious lack of impartiality of the Senate and conclusions already reached make anybody, especially Monica Goodling's testimony, perilous here. He's wise to have her plead the Fifth. Now, what do you think about this, though, Matt? The Fifth Amendment is what it is. It's certainly a constitutional right. But most people think, "A-ha! A-ha! Fifth Amendment! A-ha, a-ha! Guilty! You're afraid to go up and show it. You're afraid to admit it." You know that's how people react to people who take the fifth.
Fox News continued to push for a special prosecutor following reports that the White House chief counsel knew of an IRS investigation but did not inform the president, a claim that ignores the legal and political problems raised by involving a president in an ongoing investigation.
On Fox News' Happening Now, contributor Nina Easton reported that White House chief counsel Kathryn Ruemmler knew about the investigation into claims that the IRS delayed approval of nonprofit status to conservative groups. After host Jon Scott asked why Ruemmler would know about the investigation and not inform Obama, Easton claimed a special prosecutor should be assigned to find out if the White House was being dishonest about when the president had been informed.
EASTON: I think this all feeds Senator Rob Portman's call this weekend for the need for a special counsel.
A special counsel could be bad news for the administration because whenever a special counsel gets into a situation, it becomes not only "who knew what when," but "are you providing a truthful rendering of events that have occurred?"
But Easton's call for a special prosecutor ignores the actual reason the president was not informed- to avoid the appearance of influencing an independent investigation. The Wall Street Journal quoted two former White House officials who pointed out that the White House counsel made the right decision to allow the investigation to conclude before informing the president:
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was notified in a March 2013 meeting with the Treasury inspector general for the IRS that an audit was "forthcoming," according to the Treasury Department. But at that meeting, the inspector general didn't provide details of his findings, the Treasury said.
Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under former President Bill Clinton, said Ms. Ruemmler's office acted correctly in not sharing the information directly with the president.
If she had instead gotten "involved and called people over to the White House for a full briefing to know all the details, you know what we'd be talking about now? We'd be talking about whether she had tried to interfere with the IG's investigation," Mr. Quinn said.
John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under Mr. Clinton, said: "The worst thing is if you do anything that is perceived to be interfering with an independent investigation" especially if it isn't fully complete. "That gets you in such trouble your head spins."
Since the April release of a House Republican report on Benghazi, Tom Pickering -- co-chairman of the State Department's Accountability Review Board on the Benghazi attacks last year -- has been interviewed only twice on major news programs.
CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger used right-wing scandal mongering to push the discredited allegation that talking points about the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were edited for political purposes. Borger's analysis ignored that the intelligence community signed off on these talking points and that General David Petreaus testified in November that references to Al Qaeda were removed to protect the integrity of the investigation and to avoid tipping off terrorists.
Borger claimed on the May 10 edition of CNN Newsroom that the Benghazi talking points "were edited to the point of inaccuracy" and went on to ask, "is that a cover-up? Is it a whitewash? We don't know the answer to that."
The answer to Borger's question, however, has already been answered in testimony by former Director of the CIA General David Petraeus. In November 2012, Petraeus told lawmakers that the decision not to publicize the suspected involvement of Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers in the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was made so as not to tip off the terrorist groups. As The New York Times reported:
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
The controversy over these talking points has been revived ever since ABC News released what it called an "exclusive" report on May 10. In fact, the report revealed nothing new and is just a revival of previously hashed-out myths and misinformation.
Right-wing media are using a congressional hearing to push new myths about the Obama administration's response to the September 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, these myths are discredited by previous congressional reports and testimony, which show that the politicized nature of the hearings come from right-wing media and Congressional Republicans, that the military could not have rescued personnel from the second attack, that the administration was in constant communication at all levels during the attacks, and that the intelligence community believed there was a link to an anti-Islam video at the time of the attacks.
Fox Business' Lou Dobbs hosted Cody Wilson -- a self-described anarchist who was named one of Wired's top 15 Most Dangerous People In The World -- to promote his 3D-printed gun, which has come under intense scrutiny.
On March 5, Forbes reported that Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas, became the first person to fire a real bullet from a plastic gun made with a 3D-printer. The gun, named the "Liberator," is made almost entirely of plastic, with the exception of a single nail used as the firing pin and a six-ounce piece of steel to comply with the Undetectable Firearms Act, which makes it illegal to manufacture or possess any firearm that is not detectable by a walk-through metal detector. However, this six-ounce piece of steel is non-essential to the functionality of the plastic firearm; the gun would be just as effective without it.
During a May 7 interview with Wilson, Dobbs gushed over the prospect of more of these guns, saying that they could potentially allow "every human being on the planet to go to a printer and come back and be an armed citizen or revolutionary, depending on your perspective."
Later in the segment, Wilson said he is "sympathetic with the traditional school of anarchist thought," to which Dobbs replied: "In that view, which is to assert really individual freedom ... it's not entirely, well, dissident with American exaltation of self-reliance and independence."
The weapon, which Wilson calls the "Liberator," is being both hailed and denounced as a major blow to gun control. Wilson's nonprofit, Defense Distributed, has already put the design plans for the gun online for anyone to download. That means people could start printing out working firearms in their living rooms today. Of even greater concern to lawmakers, criminals could theoretically thwart security measures by carrying the all-plastic guns into secure buildings without setting off metal detectors.
In reality, though, we aren't quite there yet. For one thing, this fully 3-D printed gun isn't fully fully 3-D printed, Wilson explained to me in a phone interview. Because federal law bans firearms that aren't detectable by metal detectors, Wilson added a six-ounce, non-functional metal component to his version. Of course, anyone 3-D printing the gun at home could skip that step. But again, that would be against the law. And there's one other part that actually can't yet be 3-D printed: the firing pin. "We tried a lot of plastic pins," Wilson said. "They were a little too soft," so they deformed when they hit the primer.
New York Congressman Steve Israel has announced legislation to renew a ban on plastic guns. New York Senator Charles Schumer has called for legislation that would ban 3D-printed guns that fire real bullets, noting that this technology makes it possible for anyone to "essentially open a gun factory in their garage."
Even Wilson has acknowledged the dangers of his project. In an interview with Forbes, Wilson said, "You can print a lethal device ... It's kind of scary, but that's what we're aiming to show."
These potential consequences seemed lost on Dobbs, who praised the invention as "amazing" and asked Wilson to direct viewers on where they could go to download the design plans for the gun. Dobbs also said that he would post a link to the plans on his own website.
It should be noted that Wilson's manufacturing of the firearm was done legally. According to The New Yorker, he has received a federal firearms license, and has been in contact with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to ensure compliance.