ABC News' Jonathan Karl hyped misleading accusations from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) that the Obama administration obstructed investigations into Benghazi by not releasing an email showing the White House contacted YouTube with concerns about an anti-Islam video as the attacks unfolded. But the White House's contacts with YouTube were reported by ABC News mere days after the attacks and acknowledged by the White House.
In the days immediately following the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and other members of the administration described the assault as developing from spontaneous protests against an anti-Islam video that had been posted on YouTube, which had inspired riots across the Muslim world. That conclusion was consistent with the analysis of the intelligence community at the time. But because it was later revealed that there was no protest in Benghazi, conservatives led by Fox News have since claimed the Obama administration engaged in a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a May 22 post, Karl quoted Issa's selective leak of a single sentence from a State Department email sent on the night of the attack. That sentence explains that the White House was reaching out to YouTube with concerns that the attack stemmed from the anti-Islam video. Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, claimed the State Department "has attempted to obstruct" the email's disclosure:
A still-classified State Department e-mail says that one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the "ramifications" of allowing the posting of an anti-Islamic video, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The subject line of the e-mail, which was sent at 9:11 p.m. Eastern Time on the night of the attack, is "Update on Response to actions - Libya." The was written hours before the attack was over.
Issa has asked the White House to declassify and release the document. In the meantime he has inserted a sentence from the e-mail in the Congressional Record.
"White House is reaching out to U-Tube [sic] to advice ramification of the posting of the Pastor Jon video," the e-mail reads, according to Issa.
"The e-mail shows the White House had hurried to settle on a false narrative -- one at odds with the conclusions reached by those on the ground -- before Americans were even out of harm's way or the intelligence community had made an impartial examination of available evidence," Issa said.
Issa is calling on the White House to release an unclassified version of the document.
"While the information I have cited from this e-mail is clearly unclassified, the State Department has attempted to obstruct its disclosure by not providing Congress with an unclassified copy of this document," Issa said.
Conservative media hyped a misleading chart attempting to show that the number of Americans receiving federal disability benefits has reached unsustainable highs, comparing the figure of recipients to the population of random countries around the world. Accurate charts putting the figure in reasonable context, however, show that the number of needy Americans in this safety net program is astonishingly low.
On May 21 Fox News and the Drudge Report hyped the findings of conservative news site CNS which pushed the false idea that too many Americans are currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, stating that the number has reached "a new all-time record" and featuring a graph blasting the fact that more people get disability benefits than live in Greece and Tunisia:
There are also more people in the state of Ohio than Greece or Tunisia, but that isn't cause for alarm. A more accurate graph showing the number of Americans who receive this necessary benefit shows that compared to the total number of Americans who have disabilities, and the total population of the U.S., relatively few individuals are on this government program:
CNN President Jeff Zucker reportedly said his network would not "to be shamed into" covering the new special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi by "others who have political beliefs that want to try to have temper tantrums."
Zucker discussed his plans for the network at the Deadline Club's May 19 annual awards dinner during an interview with New York Times television reporter Bill Carter, Capital New York reported. When asked about the new select committee formed by House Republicans this month to yet again investigate the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities, Zucker criticized "other news organizations" who attempt to "shame" journalists, adding, "If it's of real news value, we'll cover it":
And will it cover the special committee hearings by House Republicans to probe the 2012 Benghazi embassy attack? Zucker told Carter he didn't know yet.
"We're not going to be shamed into it by others who have political beliefs that want to try to have temper tantrums to shame other news organizations into covering something," he said. "If it's of real news value, we'll cover it."
Fox News has been the primary media force behind the Benghazi hoax since September 2012. In addition to consistently pushing phony outrage and misinformation about Benghazi, Fox has frequently issued attacks on "mainstream media" for supposedly failing to adequately cover the story. The network began pushing for the establishment of a select committee in July 2013; after one was announced in early May, the network bragged that their coverage was in part responsible. Fox has since attempted to dictate the terms of Democratic cooperation with the investigation.
Despite their excitement, the questions Fox insists the new committee will "answer" have already been well-documented and explained, and given that the attacks have already been examined by an independent State Department panel as well as at least five House and three Senate committees, whether the new committee finds anything Zucker would deem "of real news value" remains to be seen.
The New York Post took quotations out of context to push the sexist smear that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray was a "bad mom," after McCray admitted that she initially found balancing children and her career to be challenging.
A May 18 Post article featuring the headline, "NYC's first lady: I was a bad mom" claimed that McCray admitted in a New York magazine profile that she "was unable to embrace motherhood and initially neglected Chiara," her daughter. The paper went on to claim that McCray's disclosure was "bound to horrify most moms":
In a startlingly frank confession, Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife says she was unable to embrace motherhood and initially neglected Chiara, who last year dropped the bombshell that she was in treatment for abusing booze and pot.
"I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara -- will we feel guilt forevermore? Of course, yes," McCray told New York magazine for its cover story this week.
"But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn't want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reasons not to do it."
The disclosure -- bound to horrify most moms -- shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio's close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.
The Post ran the article as its May 19 cover story:
But the full context of the New York magazine profile makes clear that while McCray initially found "as with so many women" that juggling new-motherhood with her career was a challenge, she became fully "committed" and was "a devoted and relaxed parent" -- a far cry from having "neglected" her child (emphasis added):
Two Bush administration veterans have now stated that Karl Rove's comments about Hillary Clinton's health were an intentional effort to push the story into the media, raising significant questions about whether media will be complicit in his smear campaign.
When Rove was quoted wildly speculating that Clinton might have a "traumatic brain injury" following her 2012 concussion and blood clot -- both of which she fully recovered from, according to doctors -- it continued conservative media's months-long efforts to politicize Clinton's health. But new reports suggest Rove's vicious and false attack was calculated to divert more mainstream media attention to Clinton's age and health.
The May 14 Politico Playbook features an anonymous Bush official email which claims that Rove "accomplished exactly what he wanted to" by forcing media to discuss her health and potentially giving her "more reasons to stay out of the race":
A Bush administration alumnus emails: "Karl accomplished exactly what he wanted to: ... Give Hillary more reasons to stay out of the race. Because if she gets in -- no matter how much people villainize him for saying it -- Hillary's health is now a real issue to be discussed. If having to deal with uncomfortable media scrutiny is what will keep her out of the race, this just upped the ante significantly, especially if there is anything healthwise going on, even a small matter. It was a brilliant shot across the bow, even if it was a cheap shot."
Nicolle Wallace, former communications director for the Bush White House and 2004 re-election campaign, also explained on Morning Joe that "Karl didn't just stumble into this line of questioning about Hillary Clinton's health, OK? He is one of the most prepared and deliberate speakers ... I think that the fact that we're having a three day conversation about Hillary's age and health may have been his objective."
While both of these accounts are illuminating looks into Rove's tactics, they also raise significant questions about the media's complicity in pushing these smears. The Morning Joe panel laughed about Rove's remarks (host Joe Scarborough even questioned if Rove himself was "brain damaged,") but as Wallace noted, they were still discussing Rove's falsehood and giving it significant airtime. Similarly, Politico Playbook featured five separate paragraphs hyping "Rove vs. Clinton."
But if we're all just laughing at Rove's ridiculous, malicious attacks, does it matter? According to Peter Beinart at The Atlantic, it does; the media fixation not only proves Rove's tactics worked, but sets up a dangerous precedent where media become complicit in keeping the smear alive (emphasis added):
Why does Rove allegedly smear his opponents this way? Because it works. Consider the Clinton "brain damage" story. Right now, the press is slamming Rove for his vicious, outlandish comments. But they're also talking about Clinton's health problems as secretary of state, disrupting the story she wants to tell about her time in Foggy Bottom in her forthcoming memoir.
Assuming she runs, journalists will investigate Clinton's medical history and age. Now Rove has planted questions that will lurk in their minds as they report.
The idea of journalists and pundits entirely unable to distance their minds from a smear they know to be false is a frightening image -- but it's not as inevitable as Beinart implies. After all, in the same Morning Joe segment, Scarborough (himself a conservative) refused to legitimize Rove's comments by entertaining any discussion of Clinton's age more broadly. Instead, he accurately noted that the fact Clinton would be 69 when inaugurated (if she were to run in 2016 and win) should not be a factor, as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at 69 and left office at 77. (And as The National Journal has pointed out, because Clinton is female her life expectancy is significantly longer than Reagan's, making any attacks on her age even more nonsensical.)
Media has a responsibility to report the facts, but they also have the ability to choose to not let smears influence how they go looking for those facts. They can laugh at Rove's absurd, desperate jabs without letting them "lurk," and without becoming complicit in his smear campaign. The question is, will they?
Conservative media can't seem to agree whether or not Hillary Clinton's 2012 concussion was faked or was so serious she now has permanent brain damage, but whichever it is they seem ready to ignore all medical evidence in order to politicize her health.
In late December 2012, shortly before she was scheduled to testify before Congress regarding the attacks in Benghazi, Clinton sustained a concussion after she fainted due to dehydration from the flu, and was subsequently hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening blood clot in her head. The State Department postponed her testimony, and she ultimately appeared before Congress in January after her doctors confirmed she would make a full recovery.
Karl Rove reportedly dismissed this medical evidence last week when he claimed Clinton might have brain damage from the episode. Rove doubled down on his remarks today on Fox. Rove insisted that while he did not use the phrase "brain damage," he did believe she had "a serious health episode" and "she's hidden a lot" of information about the extent of her injuries. Wildly speculating about her health was reasonable, according to Rove, because she might someday run for president.
But back in December 2012, conservative media weren't worried that Clinton's health might impede a presidential run; instead, right-wing media immediately accused Clinton of faking her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi, taking a potentially life-threatening incident, which the former Secretary of State thankfully recovered from, and making it a political cudgel.
Fox contributor John Bolton accused Clinton of faking a "diplomatic illness." Monica Crowley dismissed the illness, calling it a "virus with apparently impeccable timing." Fox's The Five took the attacks a step further by mocking the Secretary's health, accusing Clinton of running "a duck and cover" and joking, "How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything [related to Benghazi]?" On Special Report Charles Krauthammer quipped she was "suffering from acute Benghazi allergy," a joke Sean Hannity liked so much he laughed about it later on his own show. When this mockery came under fire, host Greg Gutfeld attempted to defend Fox's actions by dismissing their remarks as mere "skepticism" and accusing journalists of "ginning up fake hatred, or outrage, towards skeptics." It wasn't just Fox, though; The Los Angeles Times, for instance, posted an online poll giving credence to the concussion conspiracy theories, asking readers "did she fake it?"
As The Wire noted, some of these conspiracy theorists quickly flipped when conservatives realized mocking a serious health condition, including the blood clot, was not a winning strategy. The New York Post, which had initially featured the headline "Hillary Clinton's head fake," followed up with a sober report on her condition noting that "Cynics in the media and in Congress sneered that Clinton was faking the concussion to avoid testimony about the attack" -- without acknowledging their own previous coverage. The Daily Caller similarly reported in February that "whispers" suggested Clinton's health was so bad she "may not even be capable of making it to Iowa and New Hampshire," after having wondered two months before why "we're supposed to just take her word for it" that she collapsed and hit her head. Fox, however, seems to be sticking with concussion trutherism; just this month, host Eric Bolling claimed Clinton purposefully "hit her head" so someone else could "take the bullet" on Benghazi.
So she either lied about a serious injury in order to avoid testimony (which she still gave), or she's now lying about being healthy in order to run for president (which she isn't currently doing). Either way, Rove's comments continue conservative media's stubborn insistence to politicize her health in whichever direction suits them at the moment, regardless of medical evidence.
A Daily Beast article relying on anonymous criticism of Hillary Clinton was latched onto by conservative media, who selectively quoted the article to smear the former Secretary of State for not officially designating the Nigerian group Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization.
As Maggie Haberman noted in Politico May 10, following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram, conservatives began hyping a report from the Daily Beast which quoted an anonymous official criticizing the former Secretary of State for previously turning down requests to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, implying that such a designation could have prevented the kidnapping.
The "actual details," as Haberman explained, revealed that experts at State were concerned an official designation would negatively elevate the group and lead to an inhumane response from Nigeria (emphasis added):
Clinton found herself on the receiving end of questions about the kidnap of 300 Nigerian girls. The Daily Beast reported that Clinton's State Department declined entreaties from congressional Republicans and others to label Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings, a terrorist organization. Secretary of State John Kerry gave the group that designation last year.
During Clinton's time at State, "The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials," the Beast quoted a former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussion as saying.
Republicans have widely circulated the original Daily Beast story. The actual details of why the Clinton-run Department declined to affix the group with terrorist status are complicated- her former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, was reportedly concerned about elevating the group among extremist outfits, and potentially giving the Nigerian government latitude to go after them in an inhumane way.
Media Matters has explained that Clinton did put top Boko Haram leaders on the terrorist list, and academic experts on Africa confirmed the Department's fears that a designation for the whole organization could have severe negative consequences. Additionally, before Boko Haram was ultimately designated an official terrorist organization under Secretary Kerry, the group had been a part of peace talks with the Nigerian government which were reportedly "on the verge" of producing a ceasefire. As soon as the designation became official, they abandoned the talks.
Some of this relevant context was included in the original Daily Beast article, but was buried toward the end. Conservative media were able to conveniently ignore the details while promoting the out-of-context attack on Clinton's tenure.
Fox News aired a misleading graphic to cast doubt on the effects of climate change by purporting to show that Arctic sea ice is increasing -- but the graphic only highlighted two years out of context, 2012 and 2013, hiding the fact that 2012 was a record-breaking low for Arctic ice following decades of decline.
On the May 10 edition of Cashin' In, host Eric Bolling attempted to question the existence of global warming trends by airing a graphic of Arctic sea ice thickness while saying to one of his panelists, "it shows that the polar ice has increased between 2012 and 2013, Julie, by 50 percent. 50 full percent and they're calling that a full icecap recovery."
What Bolling and the graphic failed to mention was that 2012 was a record-breaking year for Arctic sea ice lows, reaching the lowest level measured since record keeping began in 1979. The increase in 2013 from such an anomaly was to be expected. Furthermore, the decades leading up to 2012 showed an extreme decline in Arctic ice. Had Fox aired an accurate graphic with full context, it would have looked more like this, which illustrates the fallacy of using a single year's data to discredit a long-term trend:
Fox's climate denial comes on the heels of the release of the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) report on May 6, which outlined how climate change has already hurt the United States, and explained the dire consequences to be expected if no action is taken to mitigate global warming. Fox gave little coverage to the report when it was released, using it mostly to promote more misinformation -- at one point even calling climate change a "superstition."
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has a history of deceiving media by misrepresenting evidence at a congressional hearing, a worrying past given his new role as the leader of the House select committee investigating the Benghazi attacks.
Gowdy was chosen on May 5 to run the new select committee into the Obama administration's handling of the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya, and was described by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as "dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come. His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel."
But Gowdy's apparent "zeal for the truth" has not stopped him from misleading past congressional investigations into the attacks with media figures who are eager to amplify Republican scandal-mongering.
At a previous House hearing on Benghazi on May 8, 2013, Gowdy purported to read from a State Department email sent a day after the attacks, which Republicans claimed revealed State officials knew that terrorists were behind the attacks but initially attempted to cover-up this knowledge for political reasons. Gowdy quoted a State official as saying in this early email, "the group that conducted the attacks...is affiliated with Islamic terrorists."
Fox News immediately ran with Gowdy's line, claiming that the email opened up new questions about the administration's response to the attacks, including questions "about the accuracy of the past testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
But when The New York Times obtained an actual copy of the email in question, they found that it referred to "Islamic extremists," not terrorists. The senior State Department official who sent the email, A. Elizabeth Jones, was noting exactly what senior White House officials and then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice had all acknowledged: the possibility that extremists could had been involved in the assault.
In response to the clear evidence that he had misrepresented an official email in a Congressional hearing, Gowdy deflected, claiming there was no relevant distinction between "extremists" and "terrorists" -- even though making that very distinction was exactly what Republicans were attempting to accuse the administration of doing in their supposed "cover up" of Benghazi. His Republican colleagues once again turned to Fox to push out the new line, now claiming the email said "definitively" that "it was Ansar-al-Sharia, Islamic extremists, that committed this terrorist act," despite the fact that the email still made no reference to terrorism.
As Republicans gear to up use this new select committee to continue to push the Benghazi hoax, media should be wary of trusting Gowdy's interpretation of the record -- he can't always be trusted to accurately quote reality.
Part of the past success of the anti-choice movement has been using the media to convince Americans that abortion is gross and dangerous. As Amanda Marcotte has explained, the anti-choice movement loves to focus particularly on third-trimester abortions, "because they are especially disgusting":
...and therefore make a good cudgel to attack all abortion rights. And since they are so emotionally fraught, they have a great deal of appeal to the ghouls that populate the anti-choice movement, the ones who spend obscene percentages of their lives dwelling on graphic pictures of dead fetuses.
But third-trimester procedures are only about one percent of abortions performed in the US; the overwhelming majority -- 90 percent -- occur during the first trimester, and are significantly safer and easier medical procedures. Most women can take a simple drug; if they opt for surgery, the procedure takes just a few minutes.
But conservative media and anti-choice activists have dominated the conversation about abortion, allowing myths, misinformation, and stigma to perpetuate.
This damaging deficit of accurate information in the media prompted Emily Letts, an abortion counselor, to film her own first-trimester abortion and post the video online. As she explained in an opinion piece for Cosmopolitan, the misinformation about abortion has overwhelmed the reality, and shame and fear of the procedure makes finding the facts more difficult:
I searched the Internet, and I couldn't find a video of an actual surgical procedure in the clinic that focused on the woman's experience. We talk about abortion so much and yet no one really knows what it actually looks like. A first trimester abortion takes three to five minutes. It is safer than giving birth. There is no cutting, and risk of infertility is less than 1 percent. Yet women come into the clinic all the time terrified that they are going to be cut open, convinced that they won't be able to have kids after the abortion. The misinformation is amazing, but think about it: They are still willing to sacrifice these things because they know that they can't carry the child at this moment.
Posting a video about your abortion may seem provocative. But the video is not graphic or scary. It shows Letts' face as she softly hums to herself during the five minute procedure, quietly and calmly, and shows her speaking to the camera before and after the procedure about how she's feeling. At the end, a month after the abortion, she says she knows that it was the right choice for her, and that she wanted to share her story.
After Letts released the video of her abortion, Fox News launched a series of personal attacks on the 25-year-old, going so far as to question her mental stability. Because she tried to help other women who find themselves in similar difficult situations by accurately documenting her own personal experience, Fox's The Five described her actions as everything from a publicity stunt to genocide. Later the same night, Fox host Andrea Tantaros called her "disturbed," while Sean Hannity attacked her need for an abortion, repeatedly suggesting she could have just used birth control, and called the video "sick." Neither The Five nor Hannity actually played the full video for their viewers, which is just over three minutes long.
Letts was trying to help combat the misinformation spread by Fox News and conservative media every day about abortion, so it's unsurprising that they reacted with personal attacks on her. Conservative media have even helped manipulate mainstream journalists into parroting anti-choice lies, and have played a role in shaming women who have abortions or who support those who do.