The House Select Committee on Benghazi has been unable to corroborate Sharyl Attkisson's latest "bombshell" Benghazi exclusive, which claimed that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents" about the 2012 attacks before they were turned over to investigators. According to the committee's ranking Democrat, a "second witness" allegedly undermined the report.
In September, Attkisson reported for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal that former State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell alleged he had witnessed an "after hours session" at State Department headquarters at which he was told that employees had been ordered to "pull out anything that might put anybody" in the department's leadership "in a bad light" before documents were handed over to the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the attacks. Maxwell claimed the actions were "unethical." Fox News quickly trumpeted the story as "a smoking gun of a potential cover-up," claiming that it showed State had been "scrubbing the documents" which were "destroyed" on Clinton's behalf.
The implication that documents were withheld as Maxwell claimed -- which the State Department told Attkisson was "totally without merit" -- never really added up. Maxwell, one of four State employees to be disciplined for their role in the Benghazi attacks, had testified before two House committees and given multiple interviews in the 18 months before the Attkisson piece. But he reportedly never mentioned the alleged "after hours session" in those previous statements, instead focusing on how he was supposedly scapegoated to protect higher-ups at State from accountability. Slate's David Weigel called the discrepancy "baffling," writing of the account, "Holy ... what the ... why not mention that sooner? Previously, this was a story of a guy who was railroaded in order to protect the Clintons. It could have been a story about a guy who witnessed Clinton allies hiding evidence. ... Why hold off on the 'scrubbing' until now?"
Now, new evidence calls the story further into question. In a November 2014 letter just published by Mother Jones on the eve of the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings writes to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), stating that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a "second witness that he claimed was present during this document review" who could "corroborate his allegations," but that the "second witness" denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleges that Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff.
In the letter, after highlighting an October 17 Fox News interview in which Gowdy said he planned to investigate Maxwell's claims, Cummings writes:
In fact, several weeks before you made those public statements, your staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell, but they did not include, invite, or even notify Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for your staff a second witness that he claimed was present during this document review at the State Department. Mr. Maxwell identified this person as someone who could corroborate his allegations and someone he believes is credible.
Then, on October 16 -- one day before you appeared on Fox News -- your staff interviewed this second witness, again without including Democrats. However, this second witness did not substantiate Mr. Maxwell's claims. To the contrary, he did not recall having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, and he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department. He further reported that he never engaged or was aware of any destruction of documents.
I did not discover any of this information from you or your staff but from the witnesses themselves. When my staff inquired with your staff about what they learned from the witness identified by Mr. Maxwell, your staff stated that he had worked at the State Department during the relevant time period. Beyond that, however, they reported: "we learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don't plan to conduct any additional follow-up."
I am sure you understand -- as a former prosecutor -- that evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their allegations depends on whether the information they provide can be corroborated. Although your staff stated that they learned nothing "of note," in fact they learned that this claim was not substantiated by a key witness. If our goal is the truth and not a preconceived political narrative, these interviews should have been conducted jointly, with both Democrats and Republicans present.
Gowdy has not directly addressed Cummings' claims about Maxwell's story, either in a staff statement or in a letter to the committee's Democrats released after Cummings' letter was published by Mother Jones. He instead warned that Cummings' "characterization of witness testimony... not only risks an adverse effect on the investigation but could also negatively impact the witness' careers."
Research provided by Sophia Tesfaye and Cal Colgan.
Michigan State University reportedly paid George Will $47,500 to give the keynote address at the school's commencement. Hundreds protested before, during, and after Will's December address in light of offensive comments the Washington Post syndicated columnist made last year about campus sexual assault.
Will has been under fire since the publication of a June column in which he suggested that efforts to fight sexual assault on college campuses have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." MSU's decision to select Will and award him with an honorary doctorate drew criticism from students and faculty, women's rights groups, and Michigan's Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). On the morning of Will's address, students silently protested the event, some graduating students turned their back on Will during his speech, and a separate ceremony was held after the event in protest of Will.
MLive first reported on Will's fee, based on documents they obtained from the university through a Freedom of Information Act request:
The contract shows Will's fee to speak, set by the Washington Speaker's Bureau, was $47,500 and the university was also responsible for hotel fees, meals and incidentals.
Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said the fee paid to have Will speak was comparable to the fees paid to bring other nationally-recognized individuals to speak at commencement.
"With George Will, and with other speakers, we're looking to attract national-level talent and having people who make a meaningful impact with their words," Cody said.
According to MLive, filmmaker Michael Moore and University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, who spoke at separate Michigan State commencements in December, agreed to speak without a fee.
MLive also reported the response of Media Matters President Bradley Beychok:
"Given George Will's extensive history of attacks on victims of sexual assault and the massive controversy and harm they caused last year, any monetary amount is too much to pay Will," Beychok said in a statement. "Beyond that, it is especially unseemly for a venerable institution like Michigan State to reward Will's history of zealous climate denial and his recent professional ethical lapses."
Media Matters, which extensively reported on the controversy over Will's speech, noted in December that the university had given itself an extension in responding to our FOIA requests for his contract, delaying its public release until after the ceremony.
The research group whose misleading poll question was heavily touted by the media to suggest "growing public support for gun rights" has acknowledged that the question was flawed.
Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that asked respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or to "protect the right of Americans to own guns." The poll showed increased support for the gun rights answer and a drop in support for regulating guns. The results were reported by numerous media outlets, especially by the conservative press.
But academics from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research criticized the poll question in statements to Media Matters, saying that the query forces respondents to choose between two options that are not mutually exclusive and pointing out that polls consistently show broad public backing for specific gun regulations, such as expanding the background check system to make it more difficult for felons and the mentally ill to obtain weapons.
"Pew's question presents one side emphasizing the protection of individual rights versus restricting gun ownership. The question's implicit and incorrect assumption is that regulations of gun sales infringe on gun owners' rights and control their ability to own guns," the Center's director Daniel Webster explained. "The reality is that the vast majority of gun laws restrict the ability of criminals and other dangerous people to get guns and place minimal burdens on potential gun purchasers such as undergoing a background check. Such policies enjoy overwhelming public support."
Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research, has now reportedly "acknowledged the flaw" in the question. Mother Jones reported:
Carroll Doherty, PEW's director of political research, acknowledged the flaw. "Is it a perfect question? Probably not," he told Mother Jones. "This is in no way intended to say there's not support for background checks and some measures aimed at specific policies either [in Congress] or in the states. Mr. Webster is right to put it in context."
Doherty told Mother Jones that Pew "has asked that same question in surveys since 1993, with the aim of tracking general public sentiment on gun policy over time."
Michigan State University's president has published a 900-word defense of the school's decision to host George Will as a commencement speaker this weekend in response to widespread outrage from students who object to his past remarks on campus sexual assault.
President Lou Anna K. Simon stated that the university did not endorse Will's controversial June 6 Washington Post syndicated column suggesting that attempts to curb campus assaults have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." She wrote in part:
I'll leave it to Mr. Will to defend his comments and values, because this isn't about George Will. This is about us. And it is about the role of universities in a democratic society.
Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault.
What it does mean is this: Great universities are committed to serving the public good by creating space for discourse and exchange of ideas, though that exchange may be uncomfortable and will sometimes challenge values and beliefs. There is no mandate to agree, only to serve society by allowing learning to take place. If universities do not hold onto this, we do not serve the greater good. Because next time it will be a different speaker and a different issue, and the dividing lines will not be the same.
Contrary to Simon's suggestion, Will is not participating in an open "exchange of ideas" in which students can engage with or question his remarks. Instead, his December 13 address will reportedly be a commencement speech to graduates from several MSU programs, who will have the option of either listening to his remarks or skipping their own graduations. Moreover, the "ideas" critics are objecting to are Will's comments about his audience, college students.
Additionally, the Post columnist will not only be addressing students but will be celebrated by the school, receiving an honorary doctorate for what Simon terms his "long and distinguished journalistic career."
Emily Gillingham, an MSU law school student and co-organizer of a protest against Will's involvement, highlighted the destructive nature of Will's participation, telling Media Matters last week,"I feel so bad for the people who are there who have survived sexual assault who George Will thinks are lying or it was some sort of pleasant experience."
Simon's statement comes in response to substantial criticism from the student body. More than 700 have already signed up for a protest the day of the speech, and MSU's Council of Graduate Students has passed a resolution calling on the administration to withdraw their invitation to Will.
In early October, the GOP developed a plan to make the federal government's response to Ebola a central part of its midterm elections strategy. Television media played into Republicans' hands, helping to foment panic about the disease. Following the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. Ebola patients, the major broadcast networks ran nearly 1,000 segments about the virus in the four weeks leading up to the elections. Coverage of the disease plummeted in the two weeks following Election Day, with the same networks running fewer than 50 total segments.
Fox News political analyst Erick Erickson, an influential voice among Tea Party Republicans, is calling on the new GOP Congress to push for a government shutdown.
In September 2013, House Republicans demanded that Obamacare be defunded, delayed, or derailed as their price for keeping the federal government open. The Senate refused to approve their spending bill, triggering a partial government shutdown and the furlough of 800,000 workers. After House Republicans failed to pass a new spending plan, the Senate passed a bill on October 16 that reopened the government. The partial shutdown took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy.
In a November 18 post to his RedState.com website headlined "Shut. It. Down.", Erickson says that the 2013 shutdown provides an excellent model for Republicans to follow now that they control both houses of Congress. He joins Rush Limbaugh in urging the GOP to use the threat of a shutdown to achieve their political goals.
According to Erickson, since the warnings of many Republicans that the party would be blamed for a shutdown and lose ground in the midterm elections did not come true, embarking on a similar strategy -- passing budget bills that defund Obamacare and any future immigration executive action -- makes sense. He writes that this strategy will expose Obama as a "petulant man-child":
Now, let us be clear on the parameters of the debate moving forward. I am not suggesting the GOP just say "to heck with it" and shut down the government. What I am suggesting is that the GOP pass everything except Obamacare funding and funding for any immigration actions the President wants to take.
And he will most certainly balk at all that.
So set the course. Defund Obamacare and block amnesty. Obama can defy the will of the people and refuse to work with Congress. Sure, the GOP may get blamed. But so what?
And that is key here -- so what. They got blamed last time and the public rewarded them with the biggest election wave in modern American political history from the local level to the federal level.
Block Obama. Let him show himself again to be the petulant man-child Americans have started recognizing. And this time, when he shuts down the government, keep it shut till you have your way and then hold public hearings to show how Obama selectively shut things down to hurt the voters intentionally.
At the end of the day, there is no other choice. Either the President will cave to a Congress just elected to stop him or the GOP will cave to a President no one likes.
Sharyl Attkisson was toasted by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) at a party last night promoting her new book. The former CBS News reporter has previously criticized other reporters for being too cozy with those they cover, denied promoting a conservative agenda, and insisted that her extensive reporting relationship with Issa "doesn't mean we like each other."
During the event at a Georgetown home, Issa reportedly praised Attkisson, telling the audience that "his committee wouldn't be able to do its job without journalists like" Attkisson, while criticizing NBC and MSNBC.
A photo posted by David Weigel (@daveweigel) onNov 11, 2014 at 4:22pm PST
In her book Stonewalled and during her book tour, Attkisson has repeatedly denied that she uses her journalism to advance a conservative agenda, saying that her policy preferences are "mixed" and that her reporting has been critical of both parties.
She left CBS amid claims from colleagues that her work, which often focused on trumped-up claims of Obama administration misdeeds, had a "political agenda," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting." She has since reported solely for right-wing outlets like Heritage Foundation's The Daily Signal and the Sinclair Broadcasting Group's network affiliates.
Attkisson lavishes praise on Issa in her book, describing him as a "former CEO and self-made millionaire from Califonia" who is a "dominant personality, quick study, and insanely confident." She laments how he is "viewed even more harshly by some in the news media" than past Oversight Committee chairs.
Ignoring Issa's long record of deceptive media manipulation, she criticizes her journalist colleagues for treating his claims with skepticism. Attkisson alleges that her fellow reporters are implicitly supporting the White House by suggesting that Issa may have political motivations for some of his claims, and suggests those reporters oppose him because he is a Republican.
She shows no interest in the evidence that supports that view of Issa. For example, shortly before gaining the chairman's gavel, Issa called President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times" and described one pseudoscandal as "an impeachable offense, according to [discredited political analyst] Dick Morris." He has frequently compared his investigations of the Obama administration to Watergate and Iran-Contra.
It's not surprising that Attkisson would praise Issa given how her reporting has depended on his committee. At CBS News, Attkisson frequently focused on topics that were the subject of Oversight Committee hearings, and her reports were often based on administration documents seemingly obtained from Issa or his staff.
In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, Attkisson denied claims that "she has uncritically broadcast Issa's allegations without appropriate vetting and scrutiny," but said that "I can see why people would think that, because a lot of times my reporting was in line with the same things Issa was investigating." She added that this "doesn't mean we like each other" and that she doesn't "pretend to be BFFs with him."
A photo posted by Hadas (@hadasdeoro) onNov 11, 2014 at 6:10pm PST
Republican pollster and CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz wrote in a New York Times op-ed that in the wake of the 2014 elections Republicans and Democrats should work together to pass "common-sense solutions." But Luntz's call for bipartisanship is absurd considering his reported responsibility for some of the partisan gridlock he is currently lamenting. On the night of President Obama's first inauguration, Luntz reportedly convened a meeting of GOP leaders to discuss how they could obstruct the president's agenda in order to win future elections.
In a November 6 op-ed, Luntz warned Republicans to "stop blustering and fighting" and urged the parties to work together because Americans want "progress" and "don't care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions":
Americans despair of the pointless posturing, empty promises and bad policies that result. Show that you are more concerned with people than politics. Don't be afraid to work with your opponents if it means achieving real results. Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot, but there are also opportunities of real national importance, like national security and passing the trans-Atlantic trade deal.
Aside from a small activist constituency, Americans are not looking for another fight over same-sex marriage or abortion. This isn't to say that voters want their leaders to co-opt their convictions. People are simply tired of identity politics that pit men against women, black against white, wealthy against poor. More than ever, they want leadership that brings us together.
This isn't about pride of ownership regarding American progress; this is about progress, period. Americans don't care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common-sense solutions that make everyday life just a little bit easier. But they can't get their houses in order until Washington gets its own house in order.
Sharyl Attkisson's new book shows the common interest between a discredited journalist trying to cash in on right-wing credibility and the conservative machine that wants its media worldview confirmed.
Attkisson resigned in March after two decades at CBS News, reportedly in part because she believed the network had stymied her reporting due to "liberal bias." Staffers there reportedly characterized her work, which often focused on trumped-up claims of Obama administration misdeeds, as "agenda-driven," leading "network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting."
In her forthcoming book, Stonewalled, Attkisson alleges that the press has been protecting Obama from scrutiny for ideological reasons. "Attkisson doesn't explicitly accuse CBS and the rest of the mainstream media of a pervasive liberal bias," writes Fox News' Howard Kurtz in a review. "But that view is clear from sheer accumulation of detail in her book."
Based on press accounts, Attkisson's allegations of CBS News' bias rely largely on her own recollections of conversations she says she had with her former colleagues. The network declined Media Matters' request for comment, but one apparent subject of Attkisson's criticism has denied her account.
Attkisson's credibility is central to determining whether to believe her claims. Given her history of conspiratorial claims and shoddy reporting -- including her false and baseless claim that Media Matters may have been paid to attack her -- it is difficult to take her story at face value. But one thing is clear: her message is very valuable to both right-wing media and Attkisson herself.
Several hundred students reportedly protested George Will's speech last night at Miami University in response to his claim that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" on college campuses.
Will, whose column is distributed by the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate, has been criticized by U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups since the publication of his "coveted status" piece on June 6. Will has been making similar comments for more than two decades.
The columnist's appearance at the Oxford, Ohio, campus -- for which he received $48,000 -- became the subject of controversy over the last week. Nearly 1,200 students, faculty, and staff signed a letter stating that hosting Will "sends the wrong message to current students, prospective students, and their families about the tolerance of rape culture and predatory sexual behavior at Miami University," according to the Miami University Women's Center. The speech also drew criticism from professors at the school's Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program and the national women's rights group UltraViolet.
While protesters outside the Farmer School of Business event were denouncing Will's appearance and discussing their experiences with sexual assault on campus, inside, Will was defending his column from student critics. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer:
In response to the student Will said many have misconstrued the points in his column but acknowledged the controversy, saying "I've written columns since 1973, but the one you are talking about has certainly gotten the attention of this campus."
In response, Will defended his column and criticized "the dubious sociology" of ill-defined federal definitions of sexual assault that he contends diminishes the legal rights of the overwhelmingly male defendants assumed "guilty until proven innocent" under the new laws.
A second student who asked about Will about his column, who identified herself as a victim of sexual assault, subsequently told Cincinnati's WLWT:
She said she asked Will about his comments concerning the cost of treatment for sexual assault victims.
"He replied in a series of non-finished sentences at which point I said, 'I have specifically received treatment and is it worth it?' and he said, 'Yes, it is, but only for real survivors of real rape,' and it was very diminishing and deterring my ability to talk about it," she said.
Watch this report on the protests from Cincinnati's WCPO:
Here are some images from the protest, courtesy of the Facebook page of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program: