Republicans leaders are reportedly concerned that the scandal machine that has been kicked into high gear in recent days will lead to similar backlash the party faced over its endless and costly investigations into President Clinton in the 1990s:
To veteran lawmakers, the sudden proliferation of investigations cannot help but raise the ghost of 1998. After seizing control of Congress in 1995, Republicans opened investigations into the White House Travel Office, allegations of malfeasance around the Whitewater Development Corporation, and claims of campaign finance improprieties in the 1996 presidential campaign. Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, famously shot a melon in trying to prove that the White House lawyer Vincent W. Foster Jr. did not commit suicide.
But it was the impeachment of Mr. Clinton that cost Republicans seats in the House, cost Newt Gingrich his job as House speaker, and ultimately lifted a moribund Democratic president from the political depths.
Right-wing media have been quick to invoke Whitewater, the real estate scandal that developed during Clinton's first term, as part of their endless quest to scandalize the Obama administration over the tragedy in Benghazi.
And reliance on shady Whitewater tactics - which involved leaking selectively edited transcripts to the media to push forth the scandal -- was on full display this past week, leading to a critical question: how will the media respond to the campaign of press manipulation?
CBS News reported on May 16 that Republican staffers have been selectively and deceptively leaking information to reporters in order to keep the Benghazi "scandal" alive. As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained:
So here's what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week's Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
ABC News, which initially reported that it had "obtained" the actual emails showing greater White House involvement editing the talking points than administration officials had acknowledged, was forced into a slippery acknowledgement that its "exclusive" report was based only on summaries of emails, a method of reporting that journalism experts called "highly problematic ethically" and "sloppy."
ABC's flawed reporting on the emails, based on selective leaks, has led to questions about reporter Jonathan Karl's future, vividly demonstrating the consequences of this type of press manipulation. But whether fellow journalists - and viewers - will demand accountability from Karl remains to be seen.
It's the Whitewater experience, which GOP leaders are reportedly skittish of repeating, that provides a blueprint for accountability over this type of press manipulation.
In the 1990s it was David Bossie, at the time an investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight, who leaked selectively edited transcripts to the press in order to advance the scandal mongering of President Clinton. Bossie was reportedly fired for his role manipulating the press.
Will the media, which once again saw one of their own get burned by relying on selective leaks in furtherance of a hunting of a president, demand accountability this time?
Fox News is desperate.
The Roger Ailes scandal machine, watching its Benghazi witch hunt crumble all around it, is now trying to stoke outrage that President Obama downplayed the tragedy in Benghazi and insulted the survivors by calling it an "incident" during his May 16 comments to the press.
Here's Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett on the May 16 Happening Now reacting to comments Obama made on the Benghazi tragedy:
He referred to Benghazi as an incident, which I'm sure is an insult to the survivors and the family members of the four murdered Americans.
Got that? Obama, whom Fox figures have accused of letting Americans die for political gain, now stands accused of insulting the survivors by downgrading the tragedy to an "incident."
Except Obama also called Benghazi a tragedy in the very speech that triggered Jarrett's outrage:
We lost four brave Americans, patriots who accepted the risks that come with service because they know that their contributions are vital to our national interests and national security. I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening.
But that means we owe it to them and all who serve to do everything in our power to protect our personnel serving overseas. That's why at my direction we've been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board after the incident.
It is a fitting coda to Fox's months-long scandal mongering over the tragedy in Benghazi. Jarrett is deceptively attacking the president over comments he made in the Rose Garden, the very spot where Obama first labeled the attack an act of terror, comments that have been decontextualized and parsed endlessly to help promote the entire pseudo-scandal.
Fox's desperate attempt to breathe life back into the "scandal" comes days after the network's scandal machine began a campaign to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the president. This is how the voice of the opposition works. Turning Benghazi into Obama's Watergate is central to the Fox goal of bringing down the administration.
Which is why Fox is desperate to keep it going.
The right-wing's Benghazi witch hunt is turning its attention to Thomas Pickering, a career diplomat, and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, in a campaign to discredit their non-partisan report on the Benghazi attacks and push for a permanent, partisan investigation -- an investigation Republicans are actively using to raise money and campaign against Democrats.
Pickering and Mullen led the State Department Accountability Review Board, which in December issued its findings as to what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya, surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on a diplomatic facility that led to the deaths of four Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported in a May 12 article that Pickering and Mullen would be the next targets of the right-wing campaign to politicize those attacks:
House Republicans on Monday plan to take another step in a widening Benghazi investigation, by asking leaders of an independent review board to agree to be questioned about their investigation of last year's attacks in Libya.
The formal request, to be submitted in letters on Monday, comes as GOP lawmakers move to discredit the investigation by the Accountability Review Board, a panel appointed under federal law last year by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to size up the adequacy of U.S. security measures and preparations at the diplomatic mission that was overrun in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist assault.
This move to discredit the Accountability Review Board and push for a permanent investigation comes after Victoria Toensing, a Republican lawyer who represented a "whistleblower" who on May 8 testified for the third time about the attacks, penned a Weekly Standard blog post challenging Pickering and Mullen's report:
The White House has touted the Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation of the Benghazi massacre as a review "led by two men of unimpeachable expertise and credibility that oversaw a process that was rigorous and unsparing." In fact, the report was purposefully incomplete and willfully misleading.
The two men in charge of the ARB, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, a diplomat and military man respectively, have no meaningful investigative experience. Instead of letting the facts lead the direction of the investigation, the report appears designed to protect the interests of Hillary Clinton, the State Department higher ups, and the president.
But Toensing's criticism, the foundation of the attacks on the ARB, itself is incomplete and misleading.
According to Toensing, a fatal flaw in Pickering and Mullen's investigation was their failure to interview then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Pickering addressed that decision during a May 12 appearance on Meet the Press, saying that he did speak with Clinton and that the conversation was "more than sufficient for the preponderance of evidence that we had collected to make our decisions."
Toensing also built her call for further investigation on the discredited claim that the State Department's counterterrorism bureau was cut out of the decision-making process while the attacks were underway:
Mark Thompson, my husband's client, testified that he asked twice to be interviewed by the ARB and was not. Mr. Thompson was the deputy assistant secretary in charge of coordinating the deployment of a multi-agency team for hostage taking and terrorism attacks. Yet, he was excluded from all decisions, communications, and meetings on September 11 and 12, 2012. Why?
But during his May 8 Congressional testimony, Thompson, an assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, acknowledged that the counterterrorism bureau was involved. That acknowledgement supports an earlier statement from the head of the State Department's Counterterrorism Bureau, who said: "at no time was the Bureau sidelined or otherwise kept from carrying out its tasks."
At this point, the indictment of Pickering and Mullen amounts to little more than criticizing the length of their conversations with Clinton and manufactured outrage over how far down the chain-of-command a meeting invite went.
These and other already answered questions are the basis of the right's continued push for yet another hearing. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
Interest in the Benghazi attacks was rekindled by a hearing last week in which the former No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Tripoli, Libya, testified about his experiences the night of the attacks. The diplomat, Gregory Hicks, testified as a whistleblower, criticizing administration statements in the first days after the attack that it had grown out of a demonstration.
As a result of Mr. Hicks's testimony, Republican lawmakers said Sunday that additional whistleblowers are likely to emerge. They also are pushing for the appointment of a special select committee to probe the attacks, bringing together investigations now under way at five different GOP-controlled panels.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has called the administration's response to Benghazi--including inaccurate "talking points" used as the basis for early public statements--a "coverup" and endorsed the idea of a select committee, as did Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.). Mr. Inhofe predicted last week that the Benghazi investigation would lead to an impeachment debate.
A hint as to why the right continues to ask questions that have already been answered came May 10 with the revelation that Republicans were using the endless Benghazi investigations to raise money. Benghazi is more than just a fundraising opportunity for the right. It's also, and perhaps more importantly, an early attack on Hillary Clinton in advance of the 2016 election cycle, a fact driven home by conservative ads pivoting off Benghazi and by Fox News' graphics team:
In coverage of a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, conservatives are pushing new myths about the Obama administration's response to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Here is the truth about what really happened.
ABC News is buying into right-wing scandal mongering over the tragic September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, with an "exclusive" report that doesn't stand up to minimal scrutiny, with flaws that are being used by the right to call for a major investigation.
The so-called "exclusive" report, posted at ABCNews.com, purports to uncover dramatic new developments in the right wing's Benghazi witch hunt, but in reality it is little more than a rehash of previously covered debates over whose input was given to the early draft of intelligence talking points put together in the early days of the investigation into the attacks. None of this largely rehashed debate disproves what Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified in November: that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points, and that references to terrorist groups in Libya were removed in order to avoid tipping off those groups.
The May 10 ABC News report focuses on the much discussed CIA talking points that were prepared in the days immediately after the September 11, 2012, attack, and which were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in her appearance on several news programs to discuss those attacks. Nothing in the ABC News report focuses on the actual events of September 11, 2012, only on the editing process of a talking points memo and what information should be made available for public dissemination during an ongoing investigation into a terrorist attack:
ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.
White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.
Karl goes on to explore whether this disproves comments White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made in late November 2012, more than 2 months after the attack, about the role the White House and the State Department played in editing the final version of those talking points; whether the editing process proves that the White House was engaged in an effort to downplay the role of terrorism in its public statements immediately after the attack; and whether the editing process proves that the talking points were scrubbed of references to terror solely for political reasons.
Karl's report feeds into the right-wing conspiracy mongering over the Benghazi attacks and the desperate campaign to fabricate a cover-up. Friday morning, Fox News hosts cited the report as evidence that a major investigation was needed.
Yet Karl's speculation is easily disproved.
The entirety of the ABC News report focuses on emails that lay out the process of drafting the intelligence community's talking points and the debate over whether to include references to terrorist groups, and whether those references were "scrubbed" to cover up failures at the State Department. What Karl doesn't point out is that the former head of the CIA said that this is not the case. After Petraeus gave closed-door testimony before congressional leaders in November, The New York Times reported:
David H. Petraeus, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers on Friday that classified intelligence reports revealed that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic mission in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration refrained from saying it suspected that the perpetrators of the attack were Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to avoid tipping off the groups.
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.
Karl also forwards the notion that the White House was aggressively trying to downplay the role that terrorism played for political reasons while the President was calling the attacks an act of terror at the same time. In his first public comments after the attack, President Obama very clearly referred to the attack as an act of terror. One day later, Obama again referred to the Benghazi attacks as an act of terror. Those comments came September 12 and September 13. Yet Karl implies that edits to a document that were made on September 14, after Obama had already labeled the attack an act of terror, demonstrate that the administration was trying to downplay the role that terror played.
This leaves Karl with the "exclusive" that emails weighing in on early drafts of the talking points amounts to a contradiction with comments Carney made in November:
"Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC's best assessments of what they thought had happened," Carney told reporters at the White House press briefing on November 28, 2012. "The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word 'consulate' to 'diplomatic facility' because 'consulate' was inaccurate."
But as Carney notes in comments printed at the end of the ABC News report, there has never been a question that multiple agencies had input into the formation of the talking points, which in the end were drafted by the intelligence community:
"The CIA drafted these talking points and redrafted these talking points," Carney said. "The fact that there are inputs is always the case in a process like this, but the only edits made by anyone here at the White House were stylistic and nonsubstantive. They corrected the description of the building or the facility in Benghazi from consulate to diplomatic facility and the like. And ultimately, this all has been discussed and reviewed and provided in enormous levels of detail by the administration to Congressional investigators, and the attempt to politicize the talking points, again, is part of an effort to, you know, chase after what isn't the substance here."
ABC is left with a major exclusive dissecting the distinction between input and editing.
Fox News contributor John Bolton delivered a devastating blow to the right-wing scandal mongering over Benghazi when he acknowledged that it was impossible to know at the exact moment of the September 2012 terrorist attack whether it was appropriate to shift security resources away from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
A key aspect of the right's conspiracy theory posits that an Obama administration official refused to send reinforcements to the Benghazi diplomatic outpost to defend Americans under sustained attack by terrorists. It's been amply established at this point that a team of reinforcements was dispatched from Tripoli, where the main embassy is located, to Benghazi, some 400 miles away, after the attacks began. That security team arrived after a first attack ended, the attack that ended in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, but before a second attack began.
Bolton, appearing on the May 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, took issue with the decision not to send a second reinforcement team to Benghazi - a central component of hyper-partisan congressional hearings underway this week. Critics of the administration have pointed to that decision as evidence that it abandoned Americans who were under attack. But the additional reinforcements would not have been able to get to the Benghazi compound before the second attack was concluded. Here's Bolton's response:
When the attack began, no one could know when it would end. No one could know what the geographical limitation was. Was it simply an attack in Benghazi? Could terrorists be poised to attack the embassy in Tripoli? Were other posts around the Middle East in jeopardy? So the notion that you're just going to sit and wait for this to work itself out left a lot of other people at risk.
But it's precisely the fact that it was unclear that the embassy in Tripoli was safe that informed the decision over whether to send a second reinforcement team away from the embassy. NBC News reported that Department of Defense officials confirmed that a second unit was denied authorization to leave Tripoli for Benghazi during the night of the attack, in part because the security situation in Libya remained unclear:
U.S. military officials confirmed late Monday that a four-man Special Operations Forces team was denied permission to leave the US Embassy in Tripoli following reports that the consulate in Benghazi had been attacked.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the team was reviewing security at U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East and was not prepared for a combat assault mission, being armed with only 9mm sidearms.
They also noted that the situation at Benghazi remained unclear and there were concerns the Embassy in Tripoli also could become a target.
Bolton's seemingly accidental acknowledgement should put an end to the campaign - enabled and encouraged at every step by Fox News - to drum up a scandal of Watergate-sized proportions.
During a key moment in her congressional testimony on the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effectively exposed the witch hunt that conservative media helped Republican lawmakers lead:
[T]he fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?
It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.
That was Clinton's now famous response to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who questioned the secretary over the State Department's role in editing the administration's public talking points - questioning that no doubt delighted a legion of scandal mongers in the right-wing media desperate to spin those talking points into a Watergate event that would bring down the Obama administration.
Since the moment news broke that a U.S. ambassador was among four Americans killed in terrorist attacks on a diplomatic outpost, the right has desperately tried to prove that the administration was engaged in a "cover-up." Meanwhile, serious, independent investigators have worked to uncover how to prevent such attacks from happening in the future.
This week, as House Republicans prepare to renew their hyper-politicized Benghazi trials, that question - what difference does it make whether the immediate talking points were exactly right on the motive - has again been thrust to the forefront. Fox News analyst Brit Hume, appearing on the May 7 edition of America Live, offered something of a response to Clinton's testimony and in the process provided a hint as to why this matters at Fox:
The murdered ambassador there was her subordinate. The staff there at the embassy were her subordinates. So if she took a walk during this, that doesn't exactly recommend her for the person that who's going to receive the middle-of-the-night phone calls, does it? I mean, I don't think there's any way for her to escape this even if she succeeds in arguing that she didn't her fingerprints on it. If she didn't, she should have.
See, for Fox, the tragedy does not lend itself to asking how to do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again. Instead, the tragedy creates an opportunity for Fox News and the Republican Party to try to bring down the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton over questions like who edited the talking points after the fact.
Anti-choice activists, playing on media bias toward sensationalism, have manipulated journalists into making an exceptionally rare procedure the face of abortion in America.
Lila Rose, the proprietor of the group Live Action and a veteran anti-choice crusader with a long history of mounting deceptive campaigns targeting abortion rights, released a video on April 28 of an undercover activist's experience at a New York women's health clinic that she dishonestly said illustrated "illegal and inhuman practices" that should lead to a murder investigation.
On cue, Washington Post blogger Melinda Henneberger quickly tied the video campaign to Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.
Henneberger was quickly forced to correct a central point of her post and tacitly acknowledge that she did not view the entire, unedited video before writing a blog post that drew sweeping conclusions about what this video means to the larger abortion debate. The New York Times also took the bait, noting that Live Action is tying its videos -- a second video was released Monday -- to Gosnell and adding:
The release comes as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has thrown his support behind legislation that will guarantee a woman's right to an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, if her health is in danger or if the fetus is not viable. The current law permits abortion after 24 weeks only if a woman's life is in danger, although it is not enforced because federal court rulings have allowed less restrictive late-term abortions.
But the conversations documented by Live Action have absolutely nothing to do with the realities of abortion in America. Medical practitioners in both videos make clear that the situation they are ostensibly discussing -- what they do when a fetus survives a late-term abortion -- is something they have never had to deal with. So the entire conversation is now based on a hypothetical scenario cooked up by Lila Rose to demonize abortion providers.
This is a longstanding tactic of the anti-choice movement, as noted by Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check:
Third trimester abortions are about 1% of all abortions performed, and frankly, the anti-choice movement only focuses on them 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 dwellling on graphic pictures of dead fetuses.
The overwhelming majority of abortions performed in the United States -- 90 percent -- occur during the first trimester, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. Note that while Live Action is currently focused on late-term procedures, their stated goal is "ending abortion."
The actions Gosnell allegedly took do not fall under the framework of medical abortion and constitute murder -- murder -- under Pennsylvania law. Yet those actions, along with a hypothetical situation that the experienced practitioners in the video say they have never encountered during procedures that make up a staggeringly small fraction of abortions in this country, now form the basis of the conversation.
In recent weeks, journalists have debated whether ideological bias caused media outlets to ignore the Gosnell trial. The conventional theory in elite media circles is that journalists have downplayed that trial because they are ideologically opposed to a story that sheds a negative light on reproductive rights.
Yet, since Gosnell's arrest, pro-choice advocates have focused on the trial as an illustration of what happens when women do not have access to safe, legal reproductive health services, including legal abortions.
If any bias is at play, it is a bias in favor of sensationalism, allowing anti-choice activists to make the entire discussion of reproductive health defined by an exceptionally rare procedure in order to achieve their political ends.
As the media begin to spotlight the murder trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, it's critical that they also examine the anti-choice policies that force women into what Demos senior fellow Bob Herbert called "the terrible alternatives" - alternatives that the right now hopes to make the face of abortion.
Gosnell has become a poster boy for media conservatives looking to make him the monstrous face of abortion, and while the procedures conducted by Gosnell as explained in a grand jury report are illegal and nothing short of monstrous, the report made clear that Gosnell's business model was to prey on women who had no access to legal abortions. Herbert and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith emphasized this point on the April 15 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
HERBERT: What you want to do, though, is, if a woman is going to have an abortion, because abortion is legal in this country, then you want it to be accessible and safe. You want it to be done under sanitary conditions with qualified practitioners and that sort of thing.
One of the problems is that in so many parts of the country, it's just not available, and then women go to the terrible alternatives.
SMITH: There has certainly been a campaign on the right to make it, in lieu of being able to actually ban abortion, just to make it incredibly difficult to get. And this is obviously the downside of that, right, that people wind up going outside the law.
As the media examine how they should cover this case going forward, it's important to keep in mind that there has been, in fact, a lot of discussion of the atrocious actions alleged to have taken place at the Women's Medical Society in Philadelphia, largely by pro-choice advocates pointing out that the case illustrates the horrible alternatives that rise up in the absence of safe and legal abortion services.
Fox News is adopting Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) unsubstantiated claim that Democratic operatives bugged his office and leaked an illegally obtained recording of a private meeting to Mother Jones.
On April 9, Mother Jones released a recording of a meeting between McConnell and his campaign aides that Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn said was provided to him by an anonymous source. The recording exposed McConnell and his aides discussing, among other things, how they could smear actress Ashley Judd if she chose to run against McConnell, including whether to use her past struggles with depression against her.
The FBI is reportedly working with McConnell's office to determine how the recording was obtained. Meanwhile, without any evidence, McConnell is blaming Democrats and accusing them of engaging in Watergate tactics.
That baseless allegation now serves as the framework for Fox News to discuss the recording while downplaying the audio itself, shielding McConnell from having to explain the shocking revelation that he weighed using Judd's childhood depression against her.
Megyn Kelly discussed the controversy surrounding the recording on the April 9 edition of America Live and repeatedly asked her guests about illegal bugging and the possibility that Democrats were responsible for illegally recording McConnell's private conversations. Kelly provided no evidence to support the premise of her discussion.
Under state law in Kentucky, where the recording reportedly was made, it is legal to record a private conversation if at least one party to that conversation knows that it is being recorded. So it is only by portraying this conversation as a "bugged" recording that Fox can perpetuate the notion that the recording was obtained illegally.
In an update to Corn's original story, Mother Jones issued a statement saying that they were not involved in the making of the tape and that "It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation":
We are still waiting for Sen. Mitch McConnell to comment on the substance of the story. Before posting this article, we contacted his Senate office and his campaign office--in particular, his campaign manager, Jesse Benton--and no one responded. As the story makes clear, we were recently provided the tape by a source who wished to remain anonymous. We were not involved in the making of the tape, but we published a story on the tape due to its obvious newsworthiness. It is our understanding that the tape was not the product of a Watergate-style bugging operation. We cannot comment beyond that.