The American Spectator's Jeffrey Lord misrepresented White House visitor logs to suggest that President Obama knew about the IRS targeting of conservative nonprofits because he met with the president of a union that represents IRS employees shortly before the agency began its controversial actions. This is far from the first time a right-wing media conspiracy dependent on those records has fallen apart.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl's statement in response to criticism for the deceptive sourcing in his so-called "exclusive" on administration talking points on the September attacks in Benghazi is fundamentally misleading.
In a statement to CNN, Karl claimed that ABC News "updated our story immediately" when it became clear it was based on misquoted emails from administration officials. But Karl also insisted the story "still entirely stands," and the network has issued no on-air corrections. In fact, in two on-air reports on the release of administration emails that debunked his reporting, Karl said that those emails "confirm" ABC News' original story.
Conservatives have long claimed that the Obama administration edited references to terrorism out of the Benghazi talking points for political reasons. Karl buttressed those allegations with a May 10 report that claimed, based on what appeared to be direct quotes from the emails of White House and State Department aides, that "the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department."
Karl's "exclusive" received widespread coverage even though it was largely a rehash of previously covered debates on who gave input into the talking points. It did not disprove 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.
But Karl's story dissolved after CNN's Jake Tapper obtained a key email from a White House aide that differed substantially from how it had been quoted by Karl. The ABC News reporter then acknowledged that he had never seen the actual emails on which he had reported. Rather, a Republican source had read him their own summaries of those emails.
On May 20, CNN's Howard Kurtz reported the following statement from Karl: "Clearly, I regret the email was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it's become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately."
This statement merely compounds the dubious practices that in which Karl and ABC News have engaged with regard to this story.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, based on a series of dubious factual errors, is now offering a flawed comparison between the Watergate scandal and the Obama administration's response to the September terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.
There's no small irony to Woodward injecting himself into what has become a scandal driven by deceptively edited emails passed off to reporters, given the recent attention he received after using a similar method to support his ridiculous accusation that a White House aide threatened him.
In his latest attempt to jump into the debate on the side of the right wing, Woodward demonstrates a striking lack of familiarity with the basic facts of what happened.
Here's what Woodward said during his May 17 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, and what's wrong with those statements.
WOODWARD: You were talking earlier about kind of dismissing the Benghazi issue as one that's just political and the president recently said it's a sideshow. But if you read through all these e-mails, you see that everyone in the government is saying, "Oh, let's not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let's not tell the public that there were warnings."
If Woodward actually did read through all the recently-released emails from intelligence officials and other administration aides discussing the assembly of the much-ballyhooed talking points used in the wake of the attacks, he seems to have missed a few things. Administration officials suggested removing references to the al Qaeda ties of attackers because they were worried about tainting the investigation of the perpetrators, as David Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time of the attacks, later testified. Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell reportedly advocated for removing references to general CIA warnings about potential attacks -- there had been no specific threat warning for that day. As CBS News pointed out on May 16, the CIA signed off on all changes, and there is "no evidence" that the White House "orchestrated" the changes.
WOODWARD: I hate to show, that this is one of the documents with the editing that one of the people in the State Department said, 'Oh, let's not let these things out.'
Woodward appears to be holding this document, in which hand-written edits were made removing several paragraphs of the talking points during the "deputies meeting" of the National Security Council. But that editing was reportedly performed by the CIA's Morell, not anyone from the State Department. Morell reportedly approved the document for distribution.
Emails from Obama administration aides obtained by CNN should end the right-wing media's nine-month witch hunt regarding the creation and editing of talking points related to the September 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
CNN has obtained more than 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between CIA, State Department, and other Obama administration aides concerning what should be included in talking points for public appearances by members of Congress and administration officials.
Those talking points were used by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in a series of interviews that were subsequently seized upon by conservative critics who claimed she downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks in order to aid President Obama's re-election. On May 10 ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on what he later acknowledged were summaries of a handful of the emails of administration aides, triggering another wave of claims that the administration had engaged in a cover-up.
But while the right has spent more than half a year mired in scandalmongering over the talking points, the emails buttress 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 and preserve the ongoing investigation.
Notably, while the right-wing media has expressed months of outrage over administration statements linking the attacks to an anti-Islam video, claiming that this was based on political desire and not the conclusions of the intelligence community, every version of the talking points stated that the attacks were "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which had been triggered by the video. The emails contain no criticism of that statement.
CNN's Jake Tapper further reports that the removal of portions of the talking points dealing with warnings about the security situation in Benghazi prior to the attacks were supported by the CIA:
Senior administration officials say that long before the CIA heard concerns from the State Department about warnings being put in the talking points, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell advocated for taking the warnings out, since he felt the talking points should focus on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, rather than the previous six months.
He also felt it was unprofessional and unfair for the CIA to cite its own warnings to the State Department, officials said. Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, raised concerns over the CIA's first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her briefings.
ABC News is now claiming that its Benghazi "exclusive" was based on summaries of emails between administration aides, not the emails themselves -- an assertion belied by their earlier reports.
CNN's Jake Tapper reported on May 14 that he had obtained an email sent by White House aide Ben Rhodes that "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations," including ABC's Karl. According to Tapper, previous accounts of the email made it "appear that the White House was 'more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department than Rhodes' email actually stated.'"
The conservative media has spent months obsessing over the Benghazi talking points that administration officials were discussing in those emails. According to right-wing conspiracy, the administration edited the talking points to downplay the role of terrorism in the attack in order to benefit the Obama reelection campaign. In fact, as then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators -- an account bolstered by the full version of the Rhodes email.
ABC News has responded by claiming their original reporting was based on summaries of the emails, not the emails themselves. In a statement to the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, an ABC spokesperson wrote: "Assuming the email cited by Jake Tapper is accurate, it is consistent with the summary quoted by Jon Karl." Karl himself has responded that rather than reviewing the emails themselves, he actually had been "quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes." He added that "[t]he source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails," suggesting that his original report was based solely on that source's summaries, and denied that the summaries provided an inaccurate take on the original email.
But ABC News and Karl himself have repeatedly suggested he had obtained the actual emails, not summaries of emails from Rhodes and others in the administration.
In the third paragraph of his May 10 ABCNews.com article, Karl reported that "White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department" (emphasis added). Three paragraphs later, he wrote that "Summaries of White House and State Department emails -- some of which were first published by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard -- show that the State Department had extensive input into the editing of the talking points" (emphasis added). That was the sole reference to "summaries" in the online article. Instead, he repeatedly produced quotes from what he described as "emails," suggesting that he had personally reviewed the original documents.
Karl and his ABC News colleagues also repeatedly suggested on-air that he had obtained the actual emails.
Reporting on ABC's Good Morning America on May 10, Karl neither said he had personally reviewed the emails, nor said he had reviewed summaries. Instead, he said he had "had emails read to me," then provided what he described as a direct quote from a State Department spokeswoman's email.
Karl likewise cited "an email obtained by ABC" on the May 10 edition of ABC's World News and read the comments from the State Department spokeswoman as a "quote" from that email. (via Nexis).
Similarly, ABC's Martha Raddatz referred to Karl having "exclusively obtained the emails" on the May 12 edition of This Week, while Reena Ninan referenced "emails exclusively unearthed" by Karl on the May 11 World News.
It seems reasonable for readers to assume that when, for instance, a reporter publishes a direct quote attributed to a White House staffer from what is described as "an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m.," the reporter is producing the actual words the aide wrote. Now ABC News is claiming that that is not the case.
For months, the Obama administration has been subject to media criticism for its initial statements linking the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya, to an anti-Islam video that had triggered protests across the Middle East at that time. President Obama has been accused of attempting to deliberately deceive the public in order to benefit his reelection campaign. But several media reports, filed from Libya in September and October and citing the statements of witnesses, show that at the time there was a reasonable case that the video played a role in the events of that day.
Much of the media's criticism has been based on a false premise. They claim that rather than accurately identify the attacks as terrorism, the administration chose to attribute them to the film. But in addition to ignoring the fact that President Obama referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" at least twice in the days after September 11, this line of logic is a false dichotomy: it ignores the possibility that the attackers may have been terrorists, but their reason for engaging in that particular act of terror was because they were enraged by the film.
That is the conclusion that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis came to in the initial draft of the much-ballyhooed talking points on the attack: They reported that the attacks had been "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo" -- protests triggered by the video -- and committed by "Islamic militants with ties to al Qa'ida." The latter point was removed from later drafts in order to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators, but every version of the talking points stated that the attacks had been "inspired by the protests," and thus the video. In fact, CIA director David Petraeus criticized the final version of the talking points for not doing enough to link the attacks to the protests.
By definition, terrorism aims to further a political agenda. That means that terrorists have stated grievances, however horribly flawed those may be. Until the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack are captured, it is impossible to say for certain what their motivations were for engaging in those terrorist acts. But a review of reporting from Benghazi shows that the administration's comments suggesting that the video provided a motivation were not far-fetched.
It's no surprise that in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, reporting was often confused and contradictory. Some of the stories below state that there was a protest outside the diplomatic facility before the attack began, while others say that there was not (the State Department's review of the attacks concluded that there had been no protest).
But all four accounts provide on-the-scene reporting finding that residents of Benghazi - in some cases witnesses to the attacks citing the claims of the attackers themselves -- linked them to the anti-Islam video.
New York Times: "Libyans Who Witnessed the Assault And Know The Attackers" Say They Cited The Video. On October 16, in a story featuring Suliman Ali Zway's contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya, the Times reported that according to "Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers," the perpetrators had cited their anger at the video as the reason for their actions:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
''It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,'' said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. ''There was no protest or anything of that sort.''
United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts. Whether the attackers are labeled ''Al Qaeda cells'' or ''aligned with Al Qaeda,'' as Republicans have suggested, depends on whether that label can be used as a generic term for a broad spectrum of Islamist militants, encompassing groups like Ansar al-Shariah whose goals were primarily local, as well as those who aspire to join a broader jihad against the West.
Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes will reportedly be a recipient of a major award given to "innovative thinkers" whose achievements benefit the conservative movement.
Politico's Mike Allen reported that later today the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a foundation that gives tens of millions of dollars to a "Who's Who" of right-wing movement organizations every year, will announce that a 2013 Bradley Prize will be awarded to Ailes, along with a stipend of $250,000. The forthcoming release will trumpet Ailes as "a visionary of American journalism" whose "innovative business-building strategies have revolutionized the uncovering and delivery of news in America."
Following President Obama's 2008 election, Ailes reportedly said he saw his network as "The Alamo." Fox News became the "voice of opposition," launching a four-year campaign to make Obama a one-term president. Since the president's re-election, Fox has produced a massive quantity of false and misleading coverage of the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as they attempt to turn those events into Obama's Watergate, earning plaudits from Republicans senators.
Past recipients of the Bradley Prize include current Fox News contributors Michael Barone, Paul Gigot, Bill Kristol, John Bolton, and Charles Krauthammer, along with a number of other leaders in the conservative movement.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl is helping to promote a dishonest narrative regarding why then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus expressed disapproval for a set of talking points written in response to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Karl's reporting on the issue has ignored the central reason Petraeus said that he didn't like the talking points: he thought they didn't do enough to connect the attacks to demonstrations in Cairo that were triggered by an anti-Islam video. Since right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have spent months accusing the Obama administration of politically-motivated lying for stating that there was a link between the attacks and the video, this point is crucial.
According to CBS News, in a September 15 email, Petraeus wrote that "he doesn't like the talking points and he would 'just assume they not use them... This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn't even mention the Cairo warning. But it's their call.'"
The "Cairo warning" Petraeus mentioned appears to refer to the following sentence that CBS News reported was added to the original talking points but subsequently removed:
On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy [in Cairo] and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy."
As has been extensively reported, the September demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video. In the days and weeks following the attack, President Obama both referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" and offered criticism of that video for "spark[ing] outrage through the Muslim world."
It was not unreasonable for Petraeus and Obama to cite a link between the attacks and the video - according to the New York Times, the Benghazi attackers told bystanders that "that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video." In fact, the original set of talking points prepared by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that the attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
But in reporting on the same Petraeus email, Karl has left out Petraeus' stated reason for disliking the talking points and in one case allowed his interviewer to suggest that Petraeus actually opposed linking the attacks to the video.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "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." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
Robert Gates is calling out conservatives for the "cartoonish impression of the military" they promote when baselessly criticizing the Obama administration for not sending additional support during the September attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have often criticized the administration for what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan termed their decision to "do nothing" in the face of the attack, with some suggesting that by failing to send additional troops or fighter jets to respond, President Obama had deliberately "sacrificed Americans" as a "political calculation."
But Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, debunked these claims and explained that he would have made the same decisions, during his May 12 interview on CBS' Face the Nation.
Gates explained that he "would never have approved sending an aircraft" due to fears it would get shot down, and that he would not have approved sending Special Forces due to a lack of information about what was happening on the ground:
GATES: I think the one place where I might be able to say something useful has to do with some of the talk of the military response. And I listened to the testimony of both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, and frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think that my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, despite all the turmoil that's going on with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting someone there in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible.
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
And with respect to sending in Special Forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I've read people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to send some small number of Special Forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think would have been very dangerous and personally I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time.
The Pentagon has said that fighters could not have been sent to Benghazi because they lacked the refueling tankers that would have been needed to get them there and that Special Operations Command Africa instructed a team of Special Forces not to leave Benghazi because they would be needed to provide security in Tripoli. That second team would not have reached Benghazi before the attacks were concluded.