The newly-released 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi documents the experience on the ground the night of the September 2012 terrorist attacks, effectively debunking a number of old media myths surrounding the tragedy.
The book, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and five former CIA contractors who defended the diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex during the assault, is an interesting eyewitness portrayal of the attacks and the heroism the men displayed. But while the book has received ample media attention, outlets are largely ignoring several key points from 13 Hours' narrative that undermine false media narratives about the attacks.
On CNN's The Lead, host Jake Tapper interviewed three of the authors and specifically focused on what he called the "biggest point of contention" between the authors and administration officials, which is their description of the so-called "stand down" order. According to the contractors, though they were ready to leave the CIA annex to defend the diplomatic post almost immediately following the initial distress call, they were asked to wait for approximately 20 minutes as their CIA base chief attempted to contact local a Libyan militia for assistance and develop a plan. They disagreed with the delay and wanted to move in more quickly.
This disagreement was eventually politicized and inflated by media and political figures, who insisted that members of the Obama administration, or then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ordered rescue efforts to "stand down" permanently and leave Americans to die. But as the contractors explained to Tapper, though they believe they could have done more to save American lives that night had they been allowed to leave immediately, they did not view the decision as one of "malice" towards Americans, nor did they place the blame for the decision on anyone higher up than the base chief.
As the New York Times noted, their story "fits with the publicly known facts and chronology" we already knew about the non-existent "stand down" order. For example, the Associated Press reported last year on the disagreement between CIA leaders and security contractors about the delay to try to gather support from militia allies, citing Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland pointing to the disagreement as a possible source of the "stand down" myth.
The "stand down" order dispute has defined the majority of media coverage on the book. Fox News, which produced a special based on the book, has used the "stand down" reporting in 13 Hours to suggest they've been right all along about it. But Fox figures are moving the goalposts -- they network's obsession with a "stand down" order has revolved around the idea that the administration ordered a forces to not respond that night, which does not resemble the story laid out in the book.
While media have been focused on whether the contractors were ordered to "stand down," 13 Hours actually debunks other myths surrounding the attacks.
WND reporter Aaron Klein's history of outrageous conspiracy theories has already cast serious doubt on the credibility of his new book, The REAL Benghazi Story. But the book itself contains major distortions of reality, including selectively-edited evidence and distorted facts, reconfirming Klein's commitment to pushing convoluted hoaxes.
Klein's book, which Media Matters obtained a copy of in advance of its September 9 release, claims to "expose" the "truth" about the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya, revealing "What The White House and Hillary Don't Want You To Know." Included are a few of the more conspiratorial analyses that Klein has previously pushed at the birther website WND, such as the claim that Benghazi is linked to the Boston Marathon bombing -- because a handful of members of a jihadist group may have taken part in the Benghazi attacks, and that group also "is behind" a magazine "thought to have provided bomb-building instructions" for the accused marathon bombers.
Klein's book does include one seemingly "new" Benghazi theory, which is also entirely false. Klein attempts to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for what he claims is her previously "unreported role" in Benghazi, by falsely claiming she must have personally approved security conditions at the Benghazi compound.
The Benghazi mission was unusual for government buildings overseas, as it featured a CIA annex that was separate from the diplomatic compound, roughly a mile apart. Typically government agencies are housed together in the same building, which is called "co-location." According to Klein, State Department regulations would have required Clinton to personally sign a waiver permitting the Benghazi mission to be set up like this, and thus provided "personal approval of security conditions at the compound":
...it can now be said that Clinton personally provided the legal waivers for U.S. personnel to occupy that death trap of a mission. This largely unreported detail was confirmed in the Senate's January 2014 report on Benghazi. Senate investigators found the Benghazi facility required a special waiver since it did not meet the minimum official security standards set by the State Department.
Some of the necessary waivers, the Senate affirmed, could have been issued at lower levels within the State Department. However "other departures, such as the co-location requirement, could only be approved by the Secretary of State." ... This means Clinton herself approved some aspects of the U.S. special mission, including separating the mission from the seemingly more protected CIA annex. In doing so, did Clinton know she was approving a woefully unprotected compound? If not, then at the very least she is guilty of dereliction of duty and the diplomatic equivalence of criminal negligence.
But the fact is the Benghazi mission did not require this kind of waiver. The State Department regulations Klein is referencing lay out the responsibilities of the Secretary under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act, or SECCA. But as the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) that investigated Benghazi explained, the Benghazi facility was exempted from SECCA. SECCA applies to diplomatic facilities, such as consulates, that are officially notified to the host government. Instead, the special mission in Benghazi was a "temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government," and as such SECCA rules -- waivable or not -- did not apply.
In fact, the document approving the set up and security conditions for the compound has been public since at least September 2013, when it was posted online by Al Jazeera America. It clearly shows the signature of Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, as well as clearance from a number of other low-level officials.
State's ARB report acknowledged that the Benghazi mission's "'non-status' as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult." They recommended State develop minimum security standards for temporary facilities and encouraged co-location in the future. Clinton accepted the recommendation and began implementing it before leaving office.
Real flaws in security at Benghazi do not, however, justify Klein's attempt to ignore the facts and claim Clinton personally signed waivers approving the compound.
A central question of Fox News' latest documentary on Benghazi has already been answered by official congressional and State Department investigations into the terrorist attacks.
On August 27, Fox announced "13 Hours at Benghazi," a new documentary hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier that will reportedly include "exclusive" interviews with three American security personnel who were present for the September 2012 attacks. The production, scheduled to air September 5, is based on a forthcoming book written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and the CIA contractors.
According to Fox's announcement, the production will specifically explore "Whether or not military assistance was requested by the security team and whether orders from above hindered their response to the violence that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans."
The problem with this premise is that both of those questions have already been answered by official intelligence investigations.
As the Daily Beast's Eli Lake has explained, on the night of the attacks there was a 23-minute delay between the initial distress call from the diplomatic mission and when the CIA contractors departed the nearby Annex to respond. Despite suggestions from some in the intelligence community that this delay hindered their rescue effort, investigations found no evidence that the CIA operatives were delayed by "orders from above," as Fox's announcement suggests.
Instead, the Senate Intelligence Committee's January 2014 review of the attacks found that during that delay, the CIA's Chief of Base "attempted to secure assistance and heavy weapons" from US allies in the region, and that (emphasis added):
Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.
The State Department's independent Accountability Review Board also found the CIA team was not obstructed by officials:
The departure of the Annex team was not delayed by orders from superiors; the team leader decided on his own to depart the Annex compound once it was apparent, despite a brief delay to permit their continuing efforts, that rapid support from local security elements was not forthcoming.
Finally, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republicans, also found no evidence that any response effort was blocked by official orders. According to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the "bipartisan, factual, definitive report" on the Intelligence Community's actions the night of the attacks "shows there was no 'stand down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening."
Fox's Bret Baier, the host of the upcoming special, reported on the House Intelligence Committee's findings on August 5.
Baier has hosted previous Fox specials on Benghazi and has repeatedly used his Fox News program to promote myths about the attacks and their aftermath. The false claim that CIA contractors received "orders to wait" was also pushed by 60 Minutes' infamous since-retracted Benghazi report, which featured a discredited "eyewitness" account from a British security contractor.
Routine sexist attacks from the National Rifle Association's media outlets are undermining the organization's political effort to reach out to women as a growing demographic.
On August 25, NRA magazine America's 1st Freedom attacked prominent gun safety advocate and Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts. As Gawker's Adam Weinstein explained, the article featured images of Watts "as a cutout mom with kitchen and housekeeping accoutrements, because moms oughta know their place!" The accompanying article accused Watts of lying about being a stay-at-home mom, because she had for a time run a PR firm out of her house while raising her children.
This offensive depiction of a woman from NRA media seems in stark contrast to the political arm of the NRA, which the very same day debuted several new ads narrated by women -- in a series titled "Good Guys" -- promoting the message that guns are a sign of empowerment for women and that women are an important part of the NRA community. One features a woman lauding the importance of "Mom and Dad"; one stars a woman emphasizing the "courage" it takes to be one of the "Good Guys." Another ad released earlier this month also featured a female narrator driving a pickup truck and attacking Everytown for Gun Safety founder Michael Bloomberg, telling him to "keep your hands off our guns."
Right-wing female commentators have long argued that "guns are the great equalizer between sexes in crimes against women," falsely claiming that guns make women safer. CNN's S.E. Cupp, The Blaze's Dana Loesch, and Fox News' Katie Pavlich have regularly appeared on cable news and published books to promote the NRA as a pro-women organization.
But as Media Matters noted in a feature on the NRA's annual meeting, 2014 seemed to mark a shift for the organization towards focusing increasingly on women and moms. In part that shift is monetary, as advertisers see women as a largely untapped market. It also seems, however, that the shift is in part in response to gun safety organizations, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, who increasingly emphasize how dangerous guns can be for women in abusive situations.
This recent recognition of women by the NRA is undermined, however, by the attack on Watts and the numerous misogynistic and sexist comments from NRA commentators and spokespeople.
Controversial filmmaker and Republican operative David Bossie accompanied Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) when the senator took several reporters to watch him perform surgery in Central America. Bossie's past work, which includes deliberately doctoring evidence to smear the Clintons, has been denounced by fellow Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and former President George H. W. Bush.
According to The Washington Post, Paul visited Guatemala this week to spend some time practicing medicine again (Paul is an ophthalmologist), but the presence on the trip of Citizen's United President David Bossie "cast aside any doubt that the trip was merely an opportunity for the senator to reconnect with his medical roots":
Bossie is the [president] of Citizens United, the group whose lawsuit led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that corporations and labor unions can spend unlimited funds on direct advocacy for or against political candidates. A documentary filmmaker who has shadowed Paul before, he traveled here with his daughter and a film crew equipped with lights, cameras and an unmanned aerial drone for overhead shots. Bossie said little about his plans, other than that his footage would appear in a film either about Paul or an issue of importance to him.
Paul's association with Bossie links him to the operative's shady past. In 1998, Bossie was fired from his job as chief investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- which was investigating alleged Clinton White House finance abuses -- because he released selectively edited transcripts that gave the false impression that then-first lady Hillary Clinton had been implicated in wrongdoing. The full comments revealed that Clinton had done nothing wrong. The Washington Post reported in a May 1998 article that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) told the chairman of the committee upon Bossie's removal, "I'm embarrassed for you, I'm embarrassed for myself, and I'm embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee."
Bossie's shady tactics go back even further. In 1992, during the Clinton-Bush presidential race, he was repudiated by George H.W. Bush, who filed an FEC complaint against Bossie's group after it produced a TV ad inviting voters to call a hot line to hear almost certainly doctored tape-recorded conversations. George W. Bush, on his father's behalf, "even sent out a letter to 85,000 Republican contributors encouraging them not to contribute to" Bossie's campaign effort.
Bossie was also reportedly behind the notorious "melon-shooting, staged re-enactment of the death of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr.," in which then-GOP congressman Dan Burton was widely ridiculed for shooting a melon in his backyard ostensibly to prove that Foster had been murdered, despite reports showing Foster had committed suicide.
This is not the first time Bossie has promoted Paul. In a March 2013 Hill article, Bossie was quoted as praising Paul's filibuster over drone policy, saying "These are the types of events that make you a player, so that in three years you've laid the groundwork and [it's] not just assumed you're going to be a fringe Libertarian and Tea Party-only candidate." Later in the piece, Bossie suggested that Paul could be "taken seriously by establishment Republicans":
Bossie said GOP voters who crave a leader who stands on principle -- and who often questioned Romney's conservative bonafides -- are more likely to view Paul as one of their own.
"Post the 2012 general election debacle, with a nominee who was not a conservative and who lost a race that was winnable ... the Republican institutional voters, as well as the conservative movement within the Republican Party, are desperately looking for principled leadership," said Bossie.
"That is something that has been lacking, and that's where his filibuster will make him stand out."
Bossie noted Paul has already taken "methodical" steps to differentiate himself from his father, "in order to be taken seriously by establishment Republicans."
Paul also attended an event in 2014 in New Hampshire called the Freedom Summit, which was co-sponsored by Bossie's Citizens United. The event was described by Politico as a "cattle call of potential Republican 2016 hopefuls," and the "unofficial start to '16 GOP primary" by the Washington Times.
Image via Gage Skidmore
The Washington Post reporter Dan Balz portrayed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as a key figure who can help GOP outreach to racial minorities, following Paul's criticism of Ferguson, Mo., law enforcement and their role in the Michael Brown killing. But Balz ignored Paul's previous opposition to the Civil Rights Act, despite having reported on it in 2010.
In his August 14 article, Balz highlighted Paul's opinion piece in Time decrying the response of Missouri police to protests in the wake of the police shooting of the 18-year-old Brown. Paul acknowledged in his piece that race skews "the application of criminal justice in this country" and criticized the "militarization of our law enforcement" -- which Balz characterized as "a shift away" from typical conservative rhetoric. According to Balz, Paul's acknowledgement of racial disparities in particular "sets him apart from others in his party," allowing him to help expand the GOP's base (emphasis added):
Paul is a prospective 2016 presidential candidate and the leading proponent of libertarian philosophy among elected officials. In Ferguson, he has found circumstances almost tailor-made to advance his worldview. In doing so, he continues to set himself apart from others in the Republican Party with the hope of expanding the party's coalition and advancing his own political future.
In this case, he blames the militarization of local police on big government and especially Washington's willingness to provide such materiel to local communities. His comments on race mark another moment in which he is trying to show an openness to the issues affecting African Americans that sets him apart from others in his party.
But in 2010 Balz himself reported that Paul had "embarrassed the GOP establishment" by "questioning parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act."
In an interview while running for his Kentucky Senate seat, Paul had said that while he supported portions of the Act, particularly in regards to ending discrimination by the government, he also believed "in freedom" and "private ownership." When asked if "it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth's," Paul responded that such action would be "abhorrent" but implied he would support the private owner's right to discriminate.
Racial discrimination by private actors is prohibited by both Title II and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Fox News host Keith Ablow defended his attack on First Lady Michelle Obama's weight, telling Politico that it was "hypocrisy" for her to act as a "role model" on diet when she "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
Ablow came under fire for his comments on the August 12 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, where he argued that Michelle Obama is not a credible voice on school nutrition because "she needs to drop a few" pounds. Even one of Ablow's colleagues at Fox, Janice Dean, criticized his remarks, tweeting "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself."
Nevertheless the next day Ablow told Politico that he was "not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America" and "has not been consistently a picture of fitness":
"I do dislike hypocrisy and I really do believe that people speaking about diet should be role models themselves, and I'm not sure if the First Lady is that role model," Ablow said in an interview.
"I'm not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America, who in many photographs during her tenure as First Lady is obviously not fit, and who has a record of saying things that show that she's two-faced," Ablow said Wednesday. "This should be obvious, I don't know why it isn't."
Ablow is standing by his comments and saying that people "should be less sensitive about talking about [weight]."
One reason for his criticism, he says, relates to consistency.
"It happens to be the case that the First Lady during her tenure has not been consistently a picture of fitness," he said. "That's all, it is just a fact."
UPDATE: In an August 13 blog post, New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal praised Maureen Dowd for the "masterful" analysis in her latest column of a recent Hillary Clinton interview. He did not address the criticism of that column.
Maureen Dowd's long descent into anti-Clinton self-parody hit a new low last night when she managed to transition from discussing the death of Robin Williams to an attack on Hillary Clinton.
In her August 12 column following the news that Williams died in an apparent suicide, Dowd opened by recounting an interview she once conducted with the comedian, before abruptly transitioning into an attack on Hillary Clinton (emphasis added):
As our interview ended, I was telling him about my friend Michael Kelly's idea for a 1-900 number, not one to call Asian beauties or Swedish babes, but where you'd have an amorous chat with a repressed Irish woman. Williams delightedly riffed on the caricature, playing the role of an older Irish woman answering the sex line in a brusque brogue, ordering a horny caller to go to the devil with his impure thoughts and disgusting desire.
I couldn't wait to play the tape for Kelly, who doubled over in laughter.
So when I think of Williams, I think of Kelly. And when I think of Kelly, I think of Hillary, because Michael was the first American reporter to die in the Iraq invasion, and Hillary Clinton was one of the 29 Democratic senators who voted to authorize that baloney war.
Dowd's bizarre segue was immediately greeted with widespread ridicule from both conservatives and liberals.
Conservative website Twitchy -- which Media Matters agrees with very seldomly -- asked, "How does that make any sense whatsoever?" The site also highlighted criticism from numerous pundits, including NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, who wondered whether "the New York Times is too embarrassed to edit Maureen Dowd anymore"; Bay Area News Group editor Daniel Jimenez, who called the column "stupefyingly embarrassing" and posited that Dowd was "destroying" the Times' brand; and Forbes contributor Tom Watson, who said the Times should "be ashamed."
Fox News contributor Mary Katharine Ham, writing for conservative site Hot Air, called Dowd's transition from Williams to Clinton "the most graceless, tacky, incoherent segue in recent memory." Referencing Dowd's ill-fated experiment with edible marijuana, Washington Examiner senior writer Philip Klein wrote, "From now on, I'm just gonna assume that Maureen Dowd writes all her columns from a Denver hotel room." (Examiner colleague Tim Carney replied, "I literally assumed there was an editing error.")
Several critics noted Dowd's tendency to turn any news event into an attack on the Clintons. Wonkette's Rebecca Schoenkopf called the piece "as glowing an example of Maureen Dowd's Hillary vendetta as any we've seen yet," while Mother Jones' Kevin Drum asked, "I wonder if there's anything left in the world that doesn't remind Dowd of Hillary Clinton?"
The answer is no. Dowd's bizarre obsession with Hillary Clinton dates back more than two decades, during which she has attacked the former secretary of state and first lady in at least 141 columns. A Media Matters analysis of Dowd's work since 1993 found that the columnist has repeatedly used popular culture references to attack Clinton, managing to link her to everything from the movie The Stepford Wives to a Picasso painting.
A federal trial begins today challenging the medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's health clinics which were passed into Texas law one year ago. The restrictions, which have forced half of Texas clinics to close already, were voted in by lawmakers based on a myth about abortion that the media perpetuated.
On August 4 a federal trial begins in Austin challenging a Texas law passed last summer which requires abortion clinics in the state to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" starting this September. The ambulatory surgical centers requirements say that a clinic must have doorways and hallways of a certain width, and "additional infrastructure like pipelines for general anesthesia and large sterilization equipment." As Mother Jones noted, "These requirements aren't medically necessary for an abortion, and they cost a lot of money to implement."
Abortion clinics already have safety requirements, according to medical experts there is no evidence that the additional surgical center restriction "positively affects health outcomes," and these requirements could severely reduce the number of clinics. There are more than 13 million women in Texas, but according to the Wall Street Journal, only seven clinics in the entire state currently meet the extra requirements.
Texas has already lost half of its women's health clinics in the year since the law was passed. Another portion of the law which went into effect last year, and which is currently being appealed, requires doctors who perform abortions to have "admitting privileges" at nearby hospitals. The Texas Medical Board already regulates all physicians in the state, but the requirement forces doctors to also be judged by a nearby hospital -- which some hospitals have refused to do, and which is impossible if there is no hospital within the vicinity.
The rapidly closing clinics have created a health crisis in Texas, leaving millions of women hundreds of miles away from accessing basic health services, and forcing many to resort to using unsafe and illegal procedures. The crisis is not just on lawmakers' hands, however; it was also championed and perpetuated by the media, who failed to investigate an anti-choice myth about the clinics before it was too late.
Just as News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch was attempting to put scandal behind him and acquire a major media corporation, two more of his former editors were charged with phone hacking while working at his now-shuttered tabloid News of the World.
According to Reuters, former deputy editor Neil Wallis and former features editor Jules Stenson have been charged with "conspiracy to intercept voicemails on mobile phones of well-known figures or people close to them." The tabloid's widespread hacking of the voicemails and phones of crime victims, celebrities, politicians, and British royalty in order to find fodder for stories became major international news after it was reported that News of the World had accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager.
Murdoch was forced to shutter News of the World in 2011 when the scandal broke, and his company News Corp. has admitted that they have paid out millions in legal fees relating to the scandal. In June, former editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to intercept communications at the end of a lengthy trial, though his fellow News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Stuart Kuttner were acquitted at the time.
Meanwhile, Murdoch's other company, 21st Century Fox (which owns Fox TV and Fox News), is trying to take over Time Warner, which would make it one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. However, his initial offer of $80 billion was rejected, and voices in media have suggested that putting the phone-hacking scandal behind him is key to his ability to expand and maintain his empire.
Now that more charges have emerged reminding the media of his past ethical blunders, whether such a risky merger could go forward remains to be seen.