A recent Fox News poll of registered voters, which purports to illustrate that a majority of voters agree with the network's dark narrative on the Obama administration's response to the 2012& Benghazi attacks, relies on questions from a foundation of tired distortions and lies.
Fox News conducted a poll of 1,013 registered voters between May 18-20, attempting to discern respondents' opinions on a variety of questions related to the government's handling of the Benghazi attacks. FoxNews.com published the poll on May 21 with the title, "Fox News Poll: Obama could have done more to help those in Benghazi."
Fox's poll questions, however, are predicated on the same distortions and outright lies Fox has pushed for the last nine months, which casts a pall of doubt on the veracity of its results.
For example, see Question 14, to which 62 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative:
Do you think President Obama could have done more to help the Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on the night of the attack?
The very premise of this question is bogus. Fox implies that perhaps Obama didn't do enough to help the Americans at the consulate, which flies in the face of explicit testimony from military and defense leaders regarding the White House's response. Testifying before Congress in February, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both testified that President Obama was fully engaged "pretty constantly" as the crisis unfolded, and that the response was appropriate and normal. What's more, as CNN reported on February 7:
Dempsey said he stood by the conclusion of an independent review board, which concluded the "interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time, given the speed of the attacks, for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference."
New York Times columnist Bill Keller joined Fox News' scandal machine in calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the Obama administration's role surrounding the Internal Revenue Services' (IRS) improper scrutiny of conservative groups. In an opinion piece titled, "Bring Back Ken Starr," Keller ignored the independent investigations already underway as well as the fact that Starr's last round of investigations as special counsel set records for the cost to the American taxpayer and encouraged a hyper-partisan environment that can still be felt today.
After the Fox-led GOP investigation into the attacks in Benghazi collapsed, Fox News geared up its scandal machine to focus on President Obama and the IRS and promptly called for a special prosecutor. In a May 21 op-ed, New York Times columnist Bill Keller followed their lead. Keller even suggested former Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr, who used a real estate deal that emerged during President Clinton's first term as a platform to conduct ever-expanding investigations into the administration over the course of several years, for the role. In fact, Starr topped Keller's list of candidates:
Republicans are howling for President Obama to name a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups. The president should call their bluff.
The president should announce that he has told the Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator with bulldog instincts and bipartisan credibility. The list of candidates could start with Kenneth Starr, who chased down the scandals, real and imagined, of the Clinton presidency. It might include Patrick Fitzgerald, who was special counsel in the Valerie Plame affair, winning the conviction of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and who has successfully prosecuted two corrupt governors of Illinois, one from each party.
Keller emphasized what he sees as the need for an independent special prosecutor to discover what laws may have been broken, stating, "Just to be clear, in case the Republicans have forgotten, that is the high bar a special prosecutor would be expected to get over." But he ignored the fact that the Treasury Department Inspector General, who reported on the scandal originally, is itself independent of the administration and that a criminal investigation has already begun in the wake of the IG's report.
His call for the appointment of Starr is especially concerning. According to Duquesne law professor Ken Gormley, who wrote the book on Whitewater, Starr led a team that "came together to produce a witch hunt." Gormley goes on to blame Starr's investigations for encouraging the country's current polarization. "This is the beginning of the sharp division of red and blue," he says. "It's a tragic story ... and it's essential that we do not let something like this happen again."
Keller also failed to mention that Starr managed to rack up a record bill for his efforts -- a cost of over $30 million.
From the May 21 edition of Current TV's Viewpoint:
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From the May 20 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Extremist radio host Pete Santilli is defending and reiterating his inflammatory attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating on his program that he wants "to shoot her in the vagina and let her suffer right before my eyes."
In a May 17 rant captured by Right Wing Watch, Santilli called for the Bush family and President Obama to be shot and for Clinton to be "shot in the vagina." The Secret Service told TPM Media that they would investigate Santilli's comments in order to "determine what a person's intent is when making comments like this."
SANTILLI: You need to understand that what I said was very clear. I didn't want Hillary Clinton to die. I want her to suffer painfully, right in front of me, after she's convicted for committing crimes against humanity. Tried for crimes against humanity. For drug trafficking, for killing human beings, anybody that opposes that is an idiot.
Now, the penalty for which I would volunteer to shoot her right in the vajayjay. I want her to remain alive, I don't even want the death penalty for that. I think my penalty is more lenient than the penalty for treason.
Fox News distorted remarks from White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer to falsely claim the Obama administration felt recent controversies involving the IRS and the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were "irrelevant." Pfeiffer's full comments made clear, however, that the administration felt the IRS targeting particular groups was "inexcusable" and that the President was fully engaged during the Benghazi attacks.
On May 19, Pfeiffer appeared on five Sunday talk shows to discuss evidence that the IRS unduly scrutinized conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Fox & Friends aired a short portion of Pfeiffer's remarks from his appearance on ABC News' This Week out of context to claim Pfeiffer had dismissed the scandal, with Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. claiming that Pfeiffer said, "[i]t's not relevant that the IRS is looking at people's tea party affiliations and violating their First Amendment rights." On-screen text claimed Pfeiffer defended "scandals as 'irrelevant'":
However, Pfeiffer's full remarks reveal that he said the IRS targeting certain groups was "outrageous and inexcusable" whether it was legal or illegal, and that the administration was committed to ensuring such targeting does not happen again regardless of the Department of Justice's final assessment of legality. From ABC's This Week (portion aired on Fox News highlighted in bold):
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does the president believe? Does the president believe that would be illegal?
PFEIFFER: I can't speak the law -- the law here, but the law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and needs to be -- we need it to be fixed, so we can ensure it never happens again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?
PFEIFFER: What -- what I mean is that whether it's legal, or illegal is -- is not important to the fact that it -- that, the conduct as a matter. The Department of Justice said they're looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again regardless of how that turns out.
Pfeiffer's condemnation of the IRS reflected President Obama's statement released on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable," and Obama's firing of Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions.
Fox News baselessly accused former U.N. Ambassador and potential National Security Adviser Susan Rice of willfully lying about the Benghazi attacks during her September 2012 Sunday news show appearances, despite it being widely reported that Rice used talking points approved by the intelligence community.
In fall 2012, Fox News claimed that Rice lied in her appearances on Sunday news shows because she asserted that the September attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya was related to an anti-Islam video released days before the attacks. Her assertion was based on talking points prepared after the attack by the intelligence community, who at the time believed the Benghazi attacks were inspired by protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo which were linked to the video. Fox News ignored that evidence to smear Rice and claim that her Sunday show appearances disqualified her from being Obama's Secretary of State nominee -- a nomination that Obama had reportedly considered prior to now-Secretary of State John Kerry's nomination and successful confirmation.
Fox News has revived these attacks following a May 15 Foreign Policy The Cable blog post that reported Susan Rice "has become heir apparent to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon":
"It's definitely happening," a source who recently spoke with Rice told The Cable. "She is sure she is coming and so too her husband and closest friends."
"Susan is a very likely candidate to replace him whenever he would choose to leave," agreed Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Obama and counselor at the Washington Institute. "She is close to the president, has the credentials, and has a breadth of experience."
On the May 20 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade once again attacked Rice over her Sunday show appearances. Kilmeade claimed that none of the recently released emails that document the creation of Rice's Sunday show talking points mentioned that an anti-Islam video may have catalyzed the attack, and that therefore Rice made purposefully misleading claims. He also suggested that then-CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus questioned the veracity of the talking points based on changes made following "the State Department's urgings":
KILMEADE: Yeah the CIA signed off on them, Mike Morell, but you know what? The CIA's director at the time, David Petraeus, essentially said this after he got these back and seen how they changed with the State Department's urgings and possibly the White House's input. He said, why even bother? Should we even bother releasing this? That's how different they were from the facts as they knew them.
An on-screen graphic also claimed that Rice used "false talking points":
In fact, every version of the CIA talking points, including the version ultimately used by Rice, stated that the attacks were "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which had been triggered by the video. Indeed, the email that Kilmeade referenced reveals Petraeus had reservations about the talking points because he thought they didn't do enough to connect the Benghazi attacks to the demonstrations in Cairo and the anti-Islam video. Petraeus ultimately testified before Congress in November 2012 that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points.
Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
From the May 19 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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Mainstream media have dismissed recent scandal mongering by sources like Fox News over the initial de-classified talking points used to describe the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, as baseless and a distraction.
Recently released emails that detailed the creation of the initial talking points used to describe the attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi confirmed past reporting that changes made to the talking points were not political and were approved by intelligence agencies. Indeed, CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett concluded on CBS Evening News that the released emails proved that "[t]here is no evidence... [that] the White House orchestrated these changes."
The Washington Post and The New York Times went further, declaring the continued scandal mongering over the talking points drew continued focus to a "phony issue."
In a May 16 editorial, the Post asserted that conservative media and Republicans "[b]y focusing on the phony issue of talking points... are missing the opportunity to press for needed reforms at State, and a more active U.S. policy in the Middle East."
A May 16 New York Times editorial also noted that there was "never a scandal to begin with" regarding the Benghazi talking points, and that the emails recently released by the White House "made clear that there was no White House cover-up." The Times added that the fixation on the Benghazi talking points non-scandal has distracted from continued Republican obstruction:
While Washington was arguing about e-mail messages about Benghazi, it wasn't paying attention to the hundreds of thousands of defense furloughs announced this week because of the Republican-imposed sequester, which will become a significant drag on economic growth. It wasn't focusing on the huge drop in the deficit, which has yet to silence the party's demands for more austerity. And apparently it's considered old news that Republicans are blocking several of the president's cabinet nominees.
For those who are wondering whether this week's political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama's second-term agenda, here's a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)
Despite media's dismissal of a Benghazi talking points scandal and subsequent distraction, Fox has continued to draw from that well. During the May 17 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson falsely suggested that the CIA did not approve the finalized talking points. Co-host Steve Doocy baselessly added that the State Department and the White House said "wait a minute, we can't talk about this" in reaction to the first draft, and that they forced the CIA to remove information in the talking points identifying a group responsible for the attack.
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 apparently desperate for a scandal over President Obama's handling of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups, especially now that the network's campaign to embroil the president in scandal over his response to the Benghazi attacks is falling apart. Fox has gone from ignoring Obama's swift responses to the IRS's actions to downplaying the significance of his firing the IRS's acting commissioner, each time distorting reality in order to call for a special prosecutor.
The release of over 100 pages of inter-agency emails obtained by CNN have threatened to derail months of right-wing scandal-mongering over the administration's response to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The emails appear to counter the conservative narrative that the State Department altered Benghazi-related talking points for political reasons. As Fox News' desperate attempts to resurrect the waning scandal fall flat, Fox pundits have resorted to criticizing the president's handling of the IRS controversy instead.
Fox kicked off its criticism by deciding Obama's initial condemnation of the IRS's actions as "outrageous" was too weak. When the president first addressed concerns over this story at a press conference on Monday, May 13, he asserted, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable." America Live host Megyn Kelly covered his remarks by wondering, "Does the president understate it when he calls this, 'outrageous'?"
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama released a statement on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable. This time, Fox simply pretended Obama made no such statement and continued to attack his remarks from two days prior, all while arguing that a special prosecutor was needed given Obama's supposed inaction.
By Thursday, Fox was fumbling over how to handle the fact that Obama had fired Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions. In the morning, America's Newsroom chose the route of merely ignoring that anyone had been fired so that host Martha MacCallum could declare, "[Obama] could be the big person. He could say, 'This stinks. You're all fired. This doesn't happen in America.' He has every ability in his position right now to take the high road. Why not? Why not do it?"
When the network finally acknowledged that Miller had been forced to resign, it did so by attempting to downplay the decision. Anchor Bret Baier questioned the action on Happening Now, claiming, "He was ready to leave, despite the fact -- I mean, before any of this already happened. He was acting commissioner and was set to leave the IRS. So that's a question for the White House; that's a question for the president. You know, was this guy fired when he was going to leave anyway?"
Fox News ignored President Obama's explicit demand for accountability in the wake of news that the Internal Revenue Service applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups. The network's omission gave it cover to accuse Obama of not taking the IRS's actions seriously and to call for a special prosecutor.
Obama first addressed the IRS controversy during a May 13 joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, where he condemned the IRS's behavior with the caveat, "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported," then "that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable."
After the Inspector General published its report on the IRS's actions, concluding the agency applied "inappropriate criteria" to conservative applicants, Obama granted the IRS no such caveat. He released a statement definitively naming the IRS's actions "intolerable and inexcusable" and directing action to be taken to hold those responsible accountable:
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again.
Yet the next day, America Live host Megyn Kelly and Fox's digital political editor Chris Stirewalt pretended Obama issued no such condemnation.
Instead, Kelly claimed that even after the IG's report was released, "we still have the president saying, 'Well, if they did it, if they did it, if they did it." She ranted, "I don't understand, more so today than the other day, why the president used that word 'if.' 'If these people did this, if these people did that.' Now that I've seen the Inspector General report -- and you're telling me -- now Fox News just got it last night. But other news organizations had it leaked to them early. You're telling me President Obama couldn't have got it when it was complete on Monday?"
Kelly and Stirewalt used their mischaracterization of Obama's response to call for a special prosecutor into the IRS's actions. Stirewalt told Kelly that if he were the president, he would "find a Republican of good standing" to appoint as an independent investigator. Kelly responded with the charge, "Where is the harm to this administration, if as these IRS employees state, no one outside of the IRS had anything to do with this, this was just IRS employees deciding to target conservatives. So if the White House and no one else had anything to do with it, where is the harm? Why doesn't the president just say 'absolutely'?"
Yesterday on Fox News, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered thanks to Fox News President Roger Ailes and his colleague Lindsay Graham (R-SC), giving them credit if heightened scrutiny of the terrorist attack in Benghazi results in "a full investigation."
Host Neil Cavuto agreed with the praise for his boss' handiwork, offering confirmation for McCain's suggestion by replying "yeah... head of this network for not letting go of this."
Graham -- appearing on Greta Van Susteren's program a few hours later -- agreed with McCain's assessment, telling the On the Record host "thank God for Fox" while also praising CBS -- presumably for the reporting of Sharyl Attkisson.
The examples of McCain and Graham serve as a reminder that the network has been an active player in the politicization of the Benghazi story from the beginning. This is part of a distinctive pattern we've previously reported at Media Matters in past attempts to flame supposed Obama administration scandals, known as the Fox Cycle.
From day one, when the network distorted a timeline of the attack to attempt to justify a press statement by Mitt Romney's campaign that in conservative writer David Frum's words attempted "to score political points on the killing of American diplomats," Fox viewed Benghazi as a way to score political points against the president.
It was Fox's Megyn Kelly who linked an Obama campaign poster to a blood-smeared wall left after the attack on the diplomatic facility.
Only two weeks after the attack, Sean Hannity claimed Obama was "covering up for Al Qaeda," a charge repeated by Eric Bolling who went on to blame the president for the attack because he had "spik[ed] the football on killing Bin Laden."
In October, Fox had already turned its attention to Hillary Clinton when network analyst Ralph Peters told Bill O'Reilly: "The blood of the ambassador and the other three Americans is on Hillary Clinton's hands."
Later in the month, the hosts of The Five criticized the president for preparing a response to the attacks because it "was too little far too late" and demonstrated "an inept foreign policy."
A few days later, the hosts of Fox & Friends opined that the president might order military action against Libya to gain the upper hand in the presidential debates.
As Election Day approached, Roger Ailes' personal lawyer and Fox News contributor Peter Johnson, Jr. told the hosts of Fox & Friends that the administration may have "sacrificed Americans" for political purposes.
Fox did not let up after the election. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy asked if General Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White House to toe the company line."
McCain and Graham should be thankful that Fox from the start has viewed the tragedy in Benghazi as a political weapon to use against the White House. No claim too paranoid, no attack too unseemly. They are right; without Roger Ailes' ability to generate a scandal, the media might be discussing how to ensure our diplomatic outposts are properly protected so a tragedy like what occurred on September 11, 2012, never happens again. Instead we are now in step four of the Fox Cycle -- mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
Step six -- the story is later proven to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done -- cannot come soon enough.