From the May 20 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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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.
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.
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 CNN's State of the Union:
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From the May 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the May 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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The cover of the June 3 issue of National Review shows a caricature of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with exaggerated features and playing a fiddle in front of what appears to be the attacked U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya engulfed by flames. The cover, as TPM noted, is likely "an allusion to the Roman Emperor Nero, who is said to have 'fiddled while Rome burned.' "
According to PBS, history has implied that Nero himself set the fire that burned Rome, so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking:
History has blamed Nero for the disaster, implying that he started the fire so that he could bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Much of what is known about the great fire of Rome comes from the aristocrat and historian Tacitus, who claimed that Nero watched Rome burn while merrily playing his fiddle. Gangs of thugs prevented citizens from fighting the fire with threats of torture, Tacitus wrote. There is some support for the theory that Nero leveled the city on purpose: the Domus Aurea, Nero's majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire.
Unlike Nero, Clinton is documented to have been active at the time of the attack in Benghazi. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified to a House committee on May 8 that Clinton called him the night of the attack for a report of the events:
HICKS: I think at about 2 p.m. -- 2 a.m., sorry -- the Secretary, Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi. And I told her that we would need to evacuate and she said that was the right thing to do.
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.
From the May 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pushed new and old falsehoods about the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, by misrepresenting recently-released emails that prove that government agencies drafted talking points without references to terrorism in order to protect the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
In his May 16 Washington Post column, Krauthammer misrepresented emails recently released by the Obama administration -- that document the process of drafting the talking points used by officials to discuss the September 2012 attacks -- to claim the emails revealed that the CIA was forced to change the talking points for political reasons. According to Krauthammer, references to Al Qaeda were removed from the talking points after the State Department raised concerns that the talking points needed to reflect "the political interests, the required political cover, of all involved," including "the need to protect the president's campaign." He also dismissed an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, which explained that the talking points in fact needed to protect the investigation into the attacks, claiming this "excuse was simply bogus" because the FBI, "which was conducting the investigation, had no significant objections."
But the 100 pages of emails reveal that removing information from the talking points that could compromise the investigation was the primary priority of multiple agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. Following the initial emails among CIA officials on September 14, 2012, about whether or not references to al Qaeda should be included in the talking points, CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston stressed the need to ensure their work did not conflict with the National Security Section (NSS) of the Department of Justice and the FBI's criminal investigation into the attacks:
Folks, I know there is a hurry to get this out, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it conflicts with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. -- even internally, not to mention for public release. I am copying [CIA FO] who may be more familiar with those instructibns [sic] and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.
Subsequent emails from the FBI reveal that contrary to Krauthammer's claims, the Bureau did have concerns with the initial CIA draft. A 7:51pm email from the FBI Press Office on September 14 requested a review of two of the talking points with recommended edits:
[CIA OPA] in coordination with CWD, we have some concerns:
1. The accuracy of the sentence of the first bullet point which states "On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening tob break into the Embassy." And-- who is the "we" that is referenced?
2. We recommend editing the last sentence in the second bullet point to "That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
A later email sent at 9:19pm on September 14 by the FBI Press Office revealed their concern that the Department of Justice be brought in to approve all further changes, because they would also be conducting key aspects of the investigation:
Just a question- but separate from the FBI concerns, has DOJ provided input? They will have to deal with the the prosecution and related legal matters surrounding the federal investigation.
Furthermore, The Washington Post, Krauthammer's own paper, reported more detail from senior administration officials about the email exchange, explaining that both CIA and FBI officials believed references to Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, should be removed from the talking points to protect the investigation:
CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The emails confirm what General David Petraeus, then-director of the CIA, reportedly testified to Congress in November: that references to terrorist groups were removed from the talking points in order to avoid tipping off those groups that intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, and thus preserve the ongoing investigation.
Krauthammer also pushed the debunked claim that Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of staff to the embassy in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, was "ordered not to meet with an investigative congressional delegation" and subsequently got "a furious call from Clinton's top aide for not having a State Department lawyer (and informant) present." In fact, Hicks' official congressional testimony reveals that the State Department merely instructed him to follow standard procedure and not speak to the congressional investigators without a State attorney present. Furthermore, Hicks made clear that he had received no direct criticism from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and simply said the "tone of the conversation" led him to believe Mills was unhappy with him.
Krauthammer's false accusations are part of the attempt by conservative media and the GOP to save Republican scandal-mongering on the Benghazi attacks, even as the charges of "scandal" collapse around them.
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.
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?
From the May 16 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:
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