Sean Hannity attacked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her comments during the Senate hearing on the September 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, calling a portion of her remarks "a monumental gaffe." But Hannity is basing his criticism on a baseless conspiracy theory that Fox has been promoting for months.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Clinton about an initial assertion that the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi had originated from protests. Clinton responded: "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to 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, Senator."
Johnson's focus on whether protests played a role in the attack mirrors Fox News' focus on initial reports that the attack began as a protest over an anti-Islam video, which had sparked protests in Cairo earlier that day and later sparked protests in at least 20 Muslim countries. Though initial intelligence suggested the attack had begun as a spontaneous protest over the video, subsequent intelligence suggested the report was a pre-planned terrorist attack.
Fox News figures, including Hannity, have focused on this to suggest that initial reports mentioning the video were part of a "cover-up" conducted by the administration to hide what really happened in Benghazi. There is no evidence that the Obama administration has engaged in a cover-up: An FBI investigation is ongoing, and an independent investigation released a report that was strongly critical of the State Department.
On his January 24 show, Hannity used that conspiracy theory to attack Clinton's remarks to Johnson, calling her comments a "monumental gaffe" that "may haunt her for the rest of her political career":
As Mother Jones' Adam Serwer noted in a post about Clinton's exchange with Johnson:
Conservatives are likely to frame Clinton's contention that the existence (or lack thereof) of any protest doesn't really matter as merely a way to sidestep the administration's initial attempt at a some sort of a cover-up. But her point is that if there had been a protest, the consequences of the attack would not have been any less terrible and the administration would have been no less culpable, so there was no motivation for them to lie. In other words, sometimes a mistake (even one that originates with the CIA) is just a mistake, and not a conspiracy.