The conservative Benghazi conspiracy theory has gotten so dense that it's almost impossible for even a well-intentioned, aggressive reporter to get through an interview with a GOP congressman leaving his audience better-informed than it was at the start.
Take the following interview CNN's Jake Tapper did on Friday with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Chaffetz is a member of the Oversight Committee who makes regular media appearances accusing the Obama administration of wrongdoing during and after the attack on our diplomatic facility 20 months ago. Tapper is clearly doing his best to fact-check Chaffetz's claims in real time, repeatedly pushing back against false claims. But Chaffetz is throwing out so many falsehoods and half-truths that it's impossible for him to get them all.
Tapper is right to push back against Chaffetz's attacks on Hillary Clinton for linking the Benghazi attack to an anti-Islam video and his suggestion that no one in the State Department was punished for the security failure. Unfortunately, there were many more misleading and false claims that went unaddressed, including:
None of this is a knock on Tapper, who clearly attempted to hold Chaffetz accountable during the interview. But because there are so many lies at the center of the Benghazi conspiracy, and because conservatives are so willing to promote those lies in interview after interview, some of them will inevitably get through and mislead the audience.
This is a vulnerability in the media environment without an easy solution. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the current strategy for journalists of litigating and re-litigating Benghazi with congressional Republicans isn't going to leave their viewers better-informed.
An overwhelming majority of Americans reject Karl Rove's attempt to scandalize Hillary Clinton's health and age, according to a new poll.
Rove has suggested in several appearances this month that Clinton's age and health should be major issues if she chooses to run for president, baselessly speculating that a concussion she suffered in December 2012 could have long-term repercussions. Rove's smears were echoed by his Fox News colleagues and others in the conservative media but termed a "lie" and "dirty tricks" elsewhere.
According to polling released today by ABC News and the Washington Post, 66 percent of Americans disapprove of Rove's attack, "including 46 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of strong conservatives."
Rove's former colleagues in the Bush administration have termed his comments a deliberate effort to start a conversation that damages Clinton. That effort isn't working.
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers debunked the suggestion that problems at the Veterans Health Administration bode ill for those insured under President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
On May 15, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee after the VA's inspector general launched an investigation into what The Washington Post described as "multiple reports of alleged preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics." Conservative media have suggested these events prove government provides inferior health care and have attacked Obamacare and pushed for the privatization of the VA's health system.
On the May 25 edition of Fox News Sunday, George Will echoed these claims, stating that the unfolding story shows that "big government is too big for meaningful oversight and effective management" and citing the Postal Service and Amtrak as other examples.
Asked by host Chris Wallace whether she agrees with the notion that "it's the VA now and it will be Obamacare later," Powers pointed out that Obamacare and the veterans health system are very different. She went on to explain that "this idea that somehow putting things off into the private sector is going to make everything work also doesn't work if you consider your experiences, at least experiences I've had with insurance companies, health insurance companies," and noted that Republicans "funnel" all their arguments through the notion that "big government is a problem." Watch:
POWERS: They're not the same thing. Of course, the VA is really government-run health care where you have the government controlling everything. That's not what Obamacare is. Obamacare is more like insurance. You don't have the doctors working for Obamacare. So I don't think it's the same thing. I also think the private sector has a lot of problems. You know, Amtrak, if you have a problem with Amtrak, well I have a lot of problems with USAir and American and United. So this idea that somehow putting things off into the private sector is going to make everything work also doesn't work if you consider your experiences, at least experiences I've had with insurance companies, health insurance companies. So this is not a surprising argument coming from Republicans. It is always their argument. Take anything that is happening in the world and this is the argument that they funnel it through. It's always proof that big government is a problem. So it's not surprising.
As The Washington Post editorial board noted, "studies have shown that the VA system, which serves almost 6.5 million veterans annually, as a whole outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric." Indeed, VA hospital patients consistently receive better care than individuals in the private sector and have higher customer satisfaction.
Fox News promoted Colion Noir, the host of a new National Rifle Association web series that aims to promote guns to young people, with a fawning interview.
In a May 20 interview on Fox & Friends, Elisabeth Hasselbeck termed Noir "really passionate," asking him "where does this come for you, the passion for the Second Amendment?" She offered up softball questions such as "will they succeed in silencing you, your critics?" Hasselbeck concluded the interview by promising, "we will continue to check you out there and all that you have to say with regard to our constitutional rights."
Fox News regularly provides a platform for gun misinformation from the NRA and its supporters.
Ben Carson was unaware that the gay community considers it "particularly abhorrent" to be compared to practitioners of bestiality before the firestorm of criticism that came when he linked the two on national television, the Fox News contributor explains in his forthcoming book.
Carson, a famed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, became a rising conservative media star after criticizing Obamacare during a speech attended by President Obama at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. But his reputation took a hit when he compared marriage equality advocates to supporters of bestiality and pedophilia in a March 2013 Fox News appearance, saying, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition. So, it's not something against gays. It's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications."
Carson was harshly criticized for his comments, including by LGBT students at the Johns Hopkins medical institutions. Carson apologized "if anybody was offended" on MSNBC, then called his critics "racist" on conservative talk radio. After more than half of the graduating class at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine called for his replacement as commencement speaker, he agreed to step down.
In his new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America's Future, Carson lashes out at the "secular progressives" he claims twisted his words, as well as the "gay activists" at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who he says acted as "instigators, accusing me of being a homophobe." He concludes by saying that it was only when he spoke to "prominent members of the gay community at Johns Hopkins" before withdrawing as commencement speaker that he learned that they find bestiality comparisons "particularly abhorrent":
Prior to my decision to withdraw as commencement speaker, I spoke to some prominent members of the gay community at Johns Hopkins. In doing so I found out two important things: First, bestiality is particularly abhorrent in the gay community and the mention of it evokes a very emotional response. Had I known that, I would have avoided the topic, since the last thing I wanted to do was to cause unnecessary offense and distract from the matters at hand. [Page 19]
Elsewhere in One Nation, Carson puts anti-gay bigots on the same level as those who harshly criticize such bigotry. He writes that "there has been a long and shameful history of gay bashing in America that thankfully is waning" and that "this bigotry can still be seen in the assumption by many on the Right that gays should not have access to children because they are more likely to commit rape or engage in aberrant sexual indoctrination." He then comments that "the mantle of hatred has been taken up by the other side, which feels that hateful speech and actions toward anyone who doesn't embrace the gay agenda is justified."
In his 2012 book America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great, Carson warned that attempts to "redefine marriage" could cause a "disastrous ending" for America similar to the fall of the Roman Empire. "I believe God loves homosexuals as much as he loves everyone," he wrote, "but if we can redefine marriage as between two men or two women or any other way based on social pressures as opposed to between a man and a woman, we will continue to redefine it in any way that we wish, which is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire."
National Journal's Ron Fournier illustrated in his latest column why it's a bad idea to rely on excerpts from a book for one's commentary rather than actually reading it.
In 2011, a "grand bargain" to lower the long-term debt by $4 trillion by cutting entitlement spending and raising taxes fizzled when Republicans pulled out of negotiations. Some pundits, including Fournier, counterintuitively blamed Obama for Republican refusal to support any bill that increased taxes.
Fournier suggested in a May 12 column that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's new memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, supports that conclusion.
While the book was released today, Fournier clearly has not read it -- he describes it as "forthcoming" and cites excerpts from Politico's Playbook. Unfortunately for Fournier that is a crucial error, as the full text of that section of the memoir makes clear that Geithner blames Republicans, not Obama, for the failure of the debt talks.
Fournier wrote that Geithner's memoir "captures a moment at which President Obama faced a choice between forging ahead with a promise to seek GOP compromise on the nation's debt crisis or bow to pressure from his liberal base. Obama chose surrender." Fournier cites the following paragraphs from Geithner's book, excerpted by Politico, as evidence of that claim:
Dan Pfeiffer, the president's communications director [now senior adviser] and another 2008 campaign veteran, often took the other side of the debate, saying we couldn't afford to alienate our base and split a weakened Democratic Party in pursuit of an imaginary compromise with Republicans who didn't want to compromise.
At another meeting in the Roosevelt Room, I told the president I thought there was a chance that he could break at least some Republicans away from their no-new-taxes mantra and forge a deal to stabilize our long-term debt. It wouldn't be a deal that his base would like, but if he wanted to get anything through the House, he couldn't be bound by the demands of Democrats. "You have a chance to split the Republicans," I said. "But only if you're willing to split the Democrats...."
I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a "dog whistle" to the Left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.
Based on the Politico excerpts, Fournier concluded:
Obama decided not to split the Democrats--or to seriously seek compromise. Yes, he did propose a modest adjustment of entitlement spending in exchange for tax cuts on a "grand bargain," but that now appears to have been a mere signal (or dog whistle) to debt-fretting independent voters. It was a game. Liberals played their part and objected to the reforms. Republicans played their part and said they would never raise taxes. Despite advice from Geithner, fellow Democrats, and top Republicans who recognized the GOP negotiating ploy, Obama seized on it as an excuse to surrender to his base.
In fact, Geithner made clear that Obama had sought to "seriously seek compromise," only to be abandoned at the negotiating table. Here is the very next paragraph in Geithner's book following the exchange about Social Security (Kindle location 7177):
On July 21, Boehner, remarkably, stopped returning the President's calls. He soon announced he was abandoning the grand bargain. This time, his rationale was that the President had moved the goalposts by asking for an extra $ 400 billion in revenues. But that was just a pretext; the negotiations were fluid. We had raised the revenue target, and their drafts still were calling for unacceptable political scalps, but the President hadn't drawn a line in the sand. The problem was that most of Boehner's caucus was unwilling to accept any new revenues, and many had pledged never to vote to raise the debt ceiling; he once told us that he was more interested in doing big things than being Speaker, but ultimately he was unwilling to split his caucus and risk his job. The President, by contrast, was willing to alienate some of his Democratic allies to pass an agreement he believed would be good for the country.
ABC's Jonathan Karl, who was previously burned when he pushed falsehoods about CIA talking points generated in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, is now adopting the conservative distortion of a separate set of talking points authored by the White House for media appearances by then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
On September 16, 2012, Rice appeared on the Sunday political talk shows and suggested that the Benghazi terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests like those that were occurring worldwide in response to an anti-Muslim video. Conservatives have claimed that Rice's comments on the Sunday shows were part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the terror attacks, to bolster President Obama's re-election campaign. This effort has often involved distorting the CIA-approved talking points that Rice used to prepare for the interviews.
Karl came under fire in May 2013 after reporting that the network had "reviewed" emails from administration officials regarding the creation and editing of those CIA-generated talking points. While nothing Karl reported undermined assertions from the CIA that the intelligence community had approved those talking points, Karl suggested that the emails bolstered the conservative critique of the administration's response.
In fact, Karl had never seen the emails in question -- his story was based on "summaries" of the emails and "detailed notes" from a source who, it turned out, had misrepresented what the documents actually said. After media observers slammed Karl's "sloppy" reporting, ABC News issued a statement saying that the network "should have been more precise in its sourcing of those quotes, attributing them to handwritten copies of the emails taken by a Congressional source. We regret that error." Karl himself apologized in a statement to CNN.
Now Karl is returning to the subject of talking points used to prepare Rice for those September 16, 2012, interviews, seizing on a separate email authored by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes that was released yesterday. The email details "Goals" and "Top-lines" for Rice's interviews and provides sample questions and answers.
Conservatives have fixated on one of Rhodes' recommendations for the interviews, detailing one of the goals as "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy." Conservatives claim this is evidence the White House was seeking to deliberately mislead the public by blaming Benghazi on the anti-Muslim video rather than terrorism in the region.
In what Mediaite described as a "heated back and forth" during the April 30 White House Press Briefing, Karl hyped this false attack, repeatedly challenging White House Press Secretary Jay Carney over the Rhodes email and Rice's interviews.
During their exchange, Carney sought to make clear that the Rhodes email was not just about the Benghazi attacks but was a more extensive document detailing the situation in the Middle East more broadly, and thus that the comment that "these protests are rooted in an internet video" was not about Benghazi specifically. According to Carney, Rice depended on the CIA talking points for information on Benghazi and the White House talking points for other topics.
Conservative media have been quick to use the exchange to attack Carney and the White House. But the White House documents upon which Karl based his misleading questions support Carney's argument.
In December 2012, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins reported that in the wake of their devastating electoral defeat, Republicans were looking to "break their Fox addiction" by working with mainstream outlets, not just conservatives ones. "As operatives are increasingly realizing," Coppins wrote, "many of these outlets have limited reach beyond the fervent Republican base, and the talking points politicians declaim often resonate only in the conservative echo chamber."
A year and a half later, the reaction to Coppins' latest piece shows one roadblock to GOP efforts to reach out to mainstream media and the voters who don't get their news from ideological sources: a jealous right-wing media that wants increased access to Republican leaders.
Coppins' April 28 BuzzFeed profile chronicled how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is "doing something rather unprecedented for a Republican: He is spending unchoreographed time with poor people," purportedly in order to inform his policy-making in that arena. The BuzzFeed writer was given exclusive access to Ryan during one such trip to visit the impoverished. His article drew swift criticism from progressives who said that Coppins credulously accepted Ryan's rhetoric on the issue while downplaying the impact that the massive cuts to poverty-fighting programs in Ryan's budget would have on the poor if it were implemented.
But right-wing outlets have a very different critique of the article: They think it made Ryan look bad, proving that he never should have cooperated with Coppins in the first place.
Breitbart's Matthew Boyle writes that Ryan "comes across as a deeply awkward millionaire paralyzed by political correctness as he struggles to identify with a black church congregation," citing two anecdotes from the piece. He concludes that Ryan's aides should not have granted Coppins access in the first place. The idea that the Republican congressman from Wisconsin might actually have been awkward in that situation goes unmentioned, with the implication that if Boyle had been the one traveling with Ryan, he'd have reported a more flattering piece.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt likewise writes that the Coppins profile did not "do much or even any good" for Ryan, and bemoans how Republican press aides "resist having their bosses sit down with their natural allies in the center-right press" instead of giving access to mainstream reporters. He provides a list of reporters at The Daily Caller, TownHall.com, the Weekly Standard, and The Washington Free Beacon, concluding, "Don't ask me why they were not invited along with Ryan but McKay was. Part of the ongoing epic fail of Beltway GOP communications strategy. Hopefully it will change before 2016 arrives."
Boyle and Hewitt are criticizing Ryan for following a strategy that Republican operatives had identified as necessary to improve the party's national standing and win presidential elections.
The Republican National Committee's analysis of the 2012 election found that if the GOP wanted to win national elections, it had to change the minds of voters who believe the party "does not care about people," particularly those living in poverty. Ryan's effort to speak out on poverty seems consistent with that report's advice.
But as the operatives Coppins spoke with in 2012 pointed out, it's difficult to shift the poverty narrative if Republicans only talk about the issue with conservative reporters, as Hewitt and Boyle suggest.
Of course conservative journalists will always want more access and scoops. But demanding them at the expense of mainstream outlets traps the GOP between their conservative media supporters and their desire to win elections.
Fox News is distorting a memo used to prepare an Obama administration official for media appearances to falsely suggest that the administration was lying about the Benghazi attacks for political gain.
On September 16, 2012, five days after the September 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday political talk shows and suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests. At the time, there were riots at American facilities across the Muslim world, inspired by an anti-Islam video. Since then, conservatives led by Fox News have claimed that Rice's comments on the Sunday shows were part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks, to bolster President Obama's re-election campaign. This effort has often involved distorting the CIA-approved talking points that Rice used to prepare for the interviews.
On April 29, Fox renewed these claims, seizing on a newly released September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to other key national security aides -- which details goals for the Sunday interviews and a series of potential questions and answers -- that was released under public records law by the conservative group Judicial Watch. Over on-screen text which claimed "New Benghazi Documents Lead Directly To The White House," Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge highlighted that according to the email, one of the goals for Rice's appearances was "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy." She concluded that Fox had asked the White House "for comment on the Rhodes email, and what intelligence led to that conclusion that somehow an Internet video was responsible for the protests in Benghazi."
But contrary to Herridge's contention, the Rhodes email reveals nothing new. It is consistent with other intelligence briefings circulating at the time which have already been well-documented, and discusses a wide range of issues, not just Benghazi -- in fact, the specific comment Fox highlighted was an accurate depiction of the multiple riots occurring in the region at the time. When the email was sent, there were global anti-American protests in response to the video, often violent, many of which targeted U.S. diplomatic security posts, including in Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Yemen.
In his twenty paragraph email advising Rice on her upcoming TV appearances, Rhodes made only two direct references to Benghazi -- first highlighting support from the Libyan government for U.S. diplomatic efforts in the country, and later debunking the false claim that there was any "actionable intelligence" prior to the attack on the facility in Benghazi and stating that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex." That language is identical to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day, suggesting that Rhodes had seen that early document and was using it to ensure the administration's statements were consistent with the intelligence community's conclusions.
A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January 2014 stated that "[s]ome intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video." Indeed, former CIA acting director Mike Morrell has testified that the CIA chief of station in Libya believed at the time that the video might have motivated the attackers. The Senate report also determined that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes" -- a reality that Fox has refused to accept.
Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, praised lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's actions in a sparsely attended speech outside the National Rifle Association's annual meeting.
"I think that this is a very positive development that came out of the confrontation out on that ranch," said Pratt, who regularly sits for credulous interviews with mainstream media outlets. "And hopefully we will look back on what happened there as a turning point in modern American history. The American people are saying 'Enough, no farther.'"
After Bundy refused for decades to pay the government fees required for his cattle to graze on public land, federal officials attempted to execute court orders to confiscate and sell the cattle to pay off the more than $1 million he owes the public. Bundy became a right-wing folk hero after he threatened violence against those officials, drawing the support of both conservatives in the media and hundreds of armed men -- including militia extremists -- who descended on Bundy's ranch, triggering an armed standoff with the government.
When the government stopped the confiscation fearing an outbreak of violence, Bundy's supporters cheered, but most of those allies abandoned him last week after The New York Times reported Bundy's racist comments, in which he questioned whether black Americans were "better off as slaves" or "better off under government subsidy."
But on April 26 Pratt praised the rancher's standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, which he described as "an illegitimate entity" whose employees "shouldn't have guns, not as government officials." He linked the event to the surge in sheriffs who have said they will refuse to enforce expanded federal or state gun laws.
"I think we really are hopefully on an upswing," he said to a group of roughly 20 onlookers, including a Media Matters reporter. "We are seeing, finally, a proper, legitimate, lawful response to illegitimate, unlawful exercise of government power, particularly on the federal level."
Pratt frequently appears in the media as an advocate for gun rights, most recently responding to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's expanded gun safety efforts in a New York Times article earlier this month. The Times profiled Pratt and his "upstart group" that takes positions "farther right" than the NRA in April 2013, featuring praise from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dean Heller (R-NV), and reported that the organization has been successful in "freezing senators, particularly Republicans" from taking positions in support of gun violence prevention legislation.
But Pratt also has a long record of anti-government extremism; he was forced out of his position as co-chair of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential run following the "disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements," as the Times reported at the time. More recently, he has suggested that the shooting at the Aurora, CO, movie theater may have been staged and flirted with the claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was a government "programmed event" designed to build support for stronger gun laws.
Pratt's speech came during a "Safety & Self-Protection Showcase" held in the park across the street from the Indiana Convention Center, where 70,000 members of the NRA were meeting this weekend. The event was sponsored by groups including Moms With Guns Demand Action, Gun Rights Across America, American Gun Rights, Indiana Moms Against Gun Control, 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control, 2A Friendly, and Armed American Women. Other speakers included Jan Morgan of Armed American Women, Indiana state representative Jim Lucas, Doc Greene of Raging Elephants Radio, and Nikki Goeser, author of "Denied A Chance."