National Security & Foreign Policy

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  • Farewell To Fox News’ Benghazi Hoax

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    To the surprise of no one, the Republicans’ four-year partisan inquisition surrounding the terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, is likely ending with a whimper. With the House Select Committee on Benghazi finally releasing its findings, and the report representing the eighth and (likely) final government investigation into the deadly event, the Benghazi hoax, as sponsored by Fox News for four years, finally comes to an impotent and ignominious end.

    Early indications are that the report, as expected, provides no major revelations. Already undercut by a report from Democratic members of the Benghazi committee that further debunked right-wing myths about the attack, the GOP’s long-awaited Benghazi report is in danger of being met with collective shoulder shrugs.

    Even Donald Trump seems relatively uninterested in kicking the Benghazi can around the campaign trail this year. Yes, he’s made a couple passing references to it and implied grave misdeeds by Hillary Clinton. But there’s been no serious push on his part to highlight the GOP’s endless pursuit. (Last year, Trump actually criticized the Republicans’ investigations as being incompetent.)

    So if Benghazi isn’t being used as an election year battering ram against the Democrats, what has been the point of committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s comically extended inquiry? Anybody with a pulse and a political calendar realized that the final GOP Benghazi report, with its 2016 summertime release, was designed to disrupt Clinton’s White House run. Why else would the committee’s work be extended for two-plus years when it likely could have been completed in six or seven months? (Two years to hold four hearings?)

    Unsure they could defeat Clinton at the ballot box, and lately even more unsure that Trump is competent enough to run a White House campaign, Republicans were hoping and praying for an investigative intervention to stop Clinton.

    It ain’t happening with Benghazi. But anyone who followed the facts, or who reads Media Matters, knew that a very long time ago.

    The whole mindless, partisan endeavor shines a light on what’s gone completely wrong with the Republican Party and the right-wing media. It’s about how shallow, endlessly debunked conspiracies and money-sucking investigations have replaced any attempt to govern and legislate.

    The fact that the GOP’s Benghazi gotcha pursuits have stretched through the entirety of Obama’s second term, and that Obama stands poised to leave office with surging approval ratings, tells you all need to know about the crippling disconnect between the right-wing media and the real world today. (Fox’s Eric Bolling: “I think Benghazi's a much bigger scandal than Watergate.")

    But let’s never forget that the Beltway press claims partial ownership of this slow-motion fiasco, too. The press certainly owns the first three years of the Benghazi charade when journalists breathlessly amplified every slipshod allegation leaked from Republicans on Capitol Hill, or followed Fox News’ lead in hyping an endless series of supposed revelations about the attacks. Sometimes we couldn’t tell who was more anxious to uncover an Obama or Clinton-related “scandal,” the press or partisan conservatives.

    If I had to estimate, I’d say it took until October 2015 -- three entire years of Benghazi news dead ends -- before the D.C. press mostly conceded there’s no there there with regards to this so-called scandal. It took Hillary Clinton testifying for 11 hours on Capitol Hill and Republicans completely unable to advance, let alone confirm, their wild conspiracy theories before the press largely seemed to acknowledge the futility of the whole enterprise. (Accidental truth telling in 2015 by some GOP House members regarding the motivation about the Benghazi committee likely also convinced reporters the endeavor was largely a scam.)

    Unfortunately, this was after several Beltway journalists’ reputations took serious hits when they were caught trusting dubious sources who lied about Benghazi revelations.

    Meanwhile, here’s some distressing context. I wrote this more than 1,300 days ago:

    Benghazi has entered the realm of churning, right-wing myth making. (Think Waco and Vince Foster). The story has become completely detached from reality, and the twisted narrative feeds off itself with constant misinformation that's repeatedly presented as 'fact.' 

    I certainly never thought in the fall of 2012 that four years later I’d still be pointing the Benghazi hoax and highlighting the obvious absurdity of the pursuit. Overall, Media Matters has posed hundreds of fact-checking items on Benghazi and we’ll continue to do so as long as conservatives cling to the fantasy. But that will be much harder to do now without a congressional inquiry to give the wild claims shape.

    The larger point is that Republicans and Fox News have wasted untold time, money and energy pushing a thoroughly discredited pipe dream about how Obama and Clinton are supposedly monstrous people who chose to let four Americans die at the hands of Islamic terrorists and then lied about it. Worse, Obama watched video "in real time" while the terrorists snuffed out American lives. "Support wasn't given," in the words of Karl Rove.

    Vile, vile lies.

    This whole endeavor has been a depressing reflection on how broken the conservative movement has become, and also how the Beltway press simultaneously takes its marching orders from the scandal-obsessed right wing. Like Republicans, journalists seemed to be eagerly holding out hope for an Obama or Clinton scandal to emerge from the Benghazi investigations.

    And of course that faulty blueprint hasn’t just applied to the Benghazi “scandal.” As noted in September last year, ABC World News TonightCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News together spent just as much time covering Clinton’s email controversy as they spent covering the substance of her entire presidential campaign.

    If we’re truly bidding farewell to Fox News’ Benghazi conspiracy hoax (fingers crossed), there’s another point about context that’s worth stressing one last time. 

    I think one way the GOP and conservative media were able to string the serious press along on Benghazi was that they framed the Benghazi terror attack as an almost-unprecedented event in American history (sadly, it was not) and one that exposed unheard of security failures by Obama’s White House and Clinton’s State Department; it was supposedly an epic fiasco that demanded countless investigations. 

    What the press for most of the last four years refused to do is put the Benghazi terror attack in any kind of historical context.

    Consider these facts under President Ronald Reagan:

    *April 18, 1983: Bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut. 63 people were killed, including 17 Americans, including the CIA’s chief analyst in the Middle East, and the Beirut station chief. 

    *September 6, 1983: Two Marines were killed during a lengthy rocket assault on the Marine base at Beirut's airport.

    *Oct. 23, 1983: Bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut. A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives at a U.S. Marine barracks; 241 U.S. service personnel were killed.

    *Sept. 20, 1984: Bombing of U.S. Embassy annex. A truck bomb exploded in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, outside the annex, killing 24 people, including two U.S. military personnel.

    During an 18-month span, U.S. facilities in and around Beirut were attacked by terrorists four times, killing 330 people, including 262 Americans.

    There was exactly one congressional investigation into the Beirut debacle.

  • Widespread Agreement That House GOP Benghazi Report Has No “Smoking Gun” Against Clinton

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Following the release of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report on the 2012 terror attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, -- which was the culmination of an investigation lasting “two years and [costing] more than $7 million,” -- journalists are pointing out that the report “failed to unearth anything so damning as to change many minds about the events of that tragic night, or who is to blame for them,” and that “there doesn't seem to be a smoking gun when it comes to Hillary Clinton's culpability.”

  • Don’t Get Spun By Bogus “New Revelations” In The GOP Benghazi Report

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi are taking advantage of the complexity surrounding the 2012 attacks by trying to pass off old details as “new revelations.” Reporters should be careful not to fall for their spin.

    Among the “many new revelations” the Benghazi Select Committee Republicans claim to show in the press release accompanying their final report on the attacks is that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was preparing for a trip to Libya at the time of the attacks, and that as part of that trip Ambassador Chris Stevens wanted the Benghazi diplomatic facility to be made a permanent Consulate:

    Emails indicate senior State Department officials, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin were preparing for a trip by the Secretary of State to Libya in October 2012. According to testimony, Chris Stevens wanted to have a “deliverable” for the Secretary for her trip to Libya, and that “deliverable” would be making the Mission in Benghazi a permanent Consulate.

    This has been cited as a “new detail” in The Washington Post, a “new revelation” in The Hill, and a “previously unreported detail” by NBC News.

    In reality, former Deputy Chief of Mission to Libya Gregory Hicks detailed these facts in public testimony before the House Oversight Committee on May 8, 2013 (via Nexis, emphasis added):

    REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Mr. Hicks, why was ambassador Stevens headed to Benghazi? There were a lot of concerns about him. There were a lot of security issues that Mr. Nordstrom had listed in numerous reports leading up to his trip there.

    Why was the ambassador headed there?

    HICKS: According to Chris, Secretary Clinton wanted Benghazi converted into a permanent constituent post.

    [...]

    REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): OK.

    Did you tell the Accountability Review Board about Secretary Clinton's interest in establishing a permanent presence in Benghazi?

    Because, ostensibly, wasn't that the reason that the ambassador was going to Benghazi?

    HICKS: Yes, I did tell the Accountability Review Board that Secretary Clinton wanted the post made permanent. Ambassador Pickering looked surprised. He looked both ways on the -- to the members of the board, saying, "Does the 7th floor know about this?"

    And another factor was our understanding that Secretary Clinton intended to visit Tripoli in December.

    This isn’t the only case where Republicans are pushing out “new revelations” that have been previously reported, as Roll Call columnist and Hillary Clinton biographer Jonathan Allen noted:

    The Benghazi story is extremely complex, and “bombshells” have often turned out to be reheated old news. Journalists should be careful not to be a conduit for Republicans efforts to turn such details into new scandals.

    UPDATE: The Washington Post's Erik Wemple reports on one reason why initial stories on the Republican report have been so vulnerable to spin from GOP: Reporters from several outlets were given embargoed portions of the report, but under the terms of their agreement with the committee were barred from discussing it with Democrats until the embargo ended -- at 5 a.m. ET this morning. Wemple notes that this timeline made it impossible for reports to both be released in a timely fashion and include reasoned responses from sources other than the Republicans on the committee or their staff. 

    He concludes that this "should prompt all the participants to examine how they do business, especially considering that reporting on Benghazi has been marred in the past by highly consequential, skewed leaks," but that that won't happen. From Wemple's post.:

    The embargo against news organizations appears to have lifted around 5:00 a.m.; the report was released to the public at around 8:30 a.m.; Benghazi committee Democrats received a paper copy at 7:45 a.m. and a digital one at 8:00 a.m. What this all means is that organizations that received the early peek at sections of the report could check with their Clinton campaign and State Department sources around dawn. The problem: Those sources themselves likely didn’t have the report at that time.

    Upshot: People at the Clinton campaign and the State Department played a great deal of catch-up today. Politico’s story on all of the alleged stonewalling, for instance, first hit the Internet without any specific rebuttal from the State Department itself, the target of much of Politico’s piece. 

    [...]

    Embargoes have existed for years, so there’s nothing terribly new about this rash of silver-platter stories. And many Washington journalists have played ball with this awful institution — including the Erik Wemple Blog. The stories that today resulted from this journo-exclusive culture will surely do well in terms of pageviews and other Internet metrics. They won’t endure, however: Any 800-page report takes days, not hours under the harrowing rules of an embargo, to digest and properly vet. The notion that news organizations were trying to abridge the thing based on partial spoon-feeding and lightning-quick responses from the targets should prompt all the participants to examine how they do business, especially considering that reporting on Benghazi has been marred in the past by highly consequential, skewed leaks. Nothing of the sort, of course, will happen. In any case, the best stories on this report have yet to be published.

    For more information, visit Benghazihoax.com

  • A Comprehensive Guide To Benghazi Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & OLIVIA KITTEL

    After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.

  • Select Committee Democrats Identify Fox News As Vector For Benghazi Misinformation

    Benghazi Democrats Highlight Seven Instances Of Misinformation On Fox’s Airwaves

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The Democratic members of the Benghazi House Select Committee have released a report that implicitly highlights Fox News as a key vector for perpetuating misinformation about the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya.

    Fox has been obsessed with using the Benghazi attacks as a political weapon to damage first President Obama and then former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After the network pushed for the creation of the select committee, several of its personalities acknowledged its fundamentally political nature following House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) boast that the committee had achieved its goal of damaging Clinton's poll numbers.

    The network’s evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the attacks and their aftermath during the first 20 months following the attacks, with much of the coverage rife with misinformation about debunked conspiracy theories. Those programs also provided a ready platform for Republican members of Congress to parrot Benghazi misinformation, hosting GOP members 30 times more frequently than they did Democrats.

    Here are seven times the Democratic report highlights false statements pushed in interviews on Fox News’ airwaves:

    Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Claim That The Military’s Posture On Night Of Attacks Was Unclear

    The report highlights Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) false suggestion during a Fox News interview that the deployment of military forces on the night of the attacks had not previously been examined (italics original, citations removed):

    On May 17, 2016, Chairman Gowdy conceded during an interview on Fox News that the military could not have gotten to Benghazi in time to save the lives of the four Americans killed that night. However, he claimed that he did not know the reasons behind the military’s global positioning decisions prior to the attacks. He stated:

    Whether or not they could have gotten there in time, I don’t think there is any issue with respect to that—they couldn’t. The next question is, why could you not? Why were you not positioned to do it?

    In fact, this specific question was investigated extensively in 2013 and 2014 by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

    For example:  

    • On February 7, 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled: “Attack on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya.”  

    • On March 15, 2013, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled: “The Posture of the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.”  

    • On Sept. 19, 2013, the House Armed Services Committee received a transcribed briefing entitled: “DOD’s Posture for September 11, 2013” (Part IV, Force Posture).  

    • On Oct. 10, 2013, the House Armed Services Committee received a transcribed briefing entitled: “DOD’s Force Posture in Anticipation of September 11, 2012” (Part V, General Dempsey).

    These hearings and briefings highlighted the challenges facing the Department of Defense in responding to crises and operating in Africa given the geography, size, and political environment on the continent. As a result, the report issued by Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee concluded:

    The U.S. military’s response to the Benghazi attack was severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of the lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding.

    Rep. Louie Gohmert’s False Claim That Help Was Deliberately Withheld

    The report highlights Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-TX) false claim during a Fox News interview that help was deliberately withheld during the attacks (italics original, citations removed):

    Similarly, Rep. Louie Gohmert told Fox News in September 2014:

    They let those people die at Benghazi, they could have gotten planes there sooner, they could have gotten people there sooner, and anybody that knows anything will disregard what some of these high intelligence people have said and will get straight to the truth.

    In his interview with the Select Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta emphatically rejected these Republican accusations that Secretary Clinton or anyone else ordered him to stand down on the night of the attacks:

    Q: Did the Secretary of State ever tell you to stand down or slow the Department of Defense response?

    A: Not at all. You know, that’s a—that’s a big word, “stand down.” And let me tell you, not only did I never hear that word mentioned, but if somebody had said that, I think, you know, it would not have interfered with my orders to proceed.

    Secretary Panetta explained that no one ever ordered military forces to stand down that night:

    Q: And I just want to be clear. To your knowledge, there was no stand-down—I mean, to your knowledge, any stand-down orders given with regard to this operation on that night?

    A: No. Never, never. It would have been against everything that the military stands for. You know, the military, their whole focus is on being able to protect particularly their own. That’s what they do. To even imply that somehow the military, or someone would have said, maybe we shouldn’t go, it’s too risky, it’s crazy. It’s just not the way our military operates.

    Maj. Eric Stahl’s Claim He Could Have Gotten Plane To Benghazi Faster

    The report quotes a vice admiral rejecting the claim now-retired Air Force Reserve Maj. Eric Stahl made during a Fox News appearance that he could have gotten the military transport plane to Benghazi faster (italics original, citations removed):

    On June 11, 2014, Eric Stahl, a now-retired Air Force Reserve Major, appeared on Fox News and alleged that he could have piloted the C-17 plane from Germany to Benghazi in 4.5 hours. He stated:

    A hurried-up timeline probably would take us [an] hour-and-a-half to get off the ground and three hours and fifteen minutes to get down there. So we could’ve gone down there and gotten them [the survivors] easily.”

    [...]

    Vice Admiral Charles Leidig, the Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations at AFRICOM, rejected the C-17 pilot’s allegation:

    I’m going to try to answer this as clearly as I can. I don’t know where the major was or what he was doing that night, all right? But to get a C-17 ready, with the medical capability and the configuration required to medevac the type of injuries that we had, we had the most senior people in the military around the globe working on it. For the major to suggest that he could somehow do it better than three significant staffs is incredulous to me. You often find that officers operating at the tactical level have little understanding of the larger requirements to deploy an aircraft. So again, I find his claims to be largely without credibility.

    Donald Trump’s False Claim That Clinton Ignored Hundreds Of Personal Requests For Additional Security

    The report details presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s false claim during a Fox News interview that then-Ambassador Christopher Stevens had sought additional security “500 or 600 times” (italics original, citations removed):

    Nevertheless, since the hearing, Republicans have used the talking point of “600 requests” ignored by Secretary Clinton to lodge unsubstantiated political attacks against her, including as part of the presidential campaign. For example, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stated on Fox News: “Look at Benghazi, our ambassador. He wired her 500 or 600 times asking for help.”

    The Washington Post Fact Checker addressed Trump’s claim, calling it “a whopper” because no requests for additional security went to Secretary Clinton.

    Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Promotion Of The Unsubstantiated Document “Separat[ion]” Story

    The report says  Gowdy used a Fox News interview to promote the report that Raymond Maxwell, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Maghreb affairs, had claimed that top Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Jacob Sullivan had been “part of an operation to ‘separate’ damaging documents” about Benghazi before they were turned over for review (italics original, citations removed):

    On October 17, 2014, Chairman Gowdy was interviewed on Fox News by Greta Van Susteren, who asked if he believed Mr. Maxwell’s allegation that “documents were tossed out.” In response, the Chairman stated:

    What you would do is what I’m going to do Greta, and that is, give Mr. Maxwell an opportunity to say what he perceived to happen and he’s going to have to give us the names of the other people who were involved and then we’re going to give them an opportunity to say whether or not they have a different perspective. It’s going to be an investigation. And if there is a dispute as to what happened then we’ll let your audience decide who has more credibility.

    By the time Chairman Gowdy made this statement, however, his staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell without including, inviting, or even notifying Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for Republican 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 Chairman Gowdy appeared on Fox News—his 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 ever having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department, and he reported that he never engaged in or was aware of any destruction of documents.

    The report goes on to say that in testimony before the committee Maxwell said he was now unsure of the person who could substantiate his claim, was unable to remember if it was a man or woman, and had no evidence that documents were scrubbed. It also includes denials from the deputy office director in the Office of Maghreb Affairs, Mills, and Sullivan.

    Sen. Rand Paul’s False Claim That Ambassador Susan Rice “Deliberately Misled The Public"

    The report includes testimony from Ambassador Susan Rice regarding whether she had, as Sen. Rand Paul claimed during a Fox News interview, “deliberately misled the public” in an interview shortly after the attacks:

    Q: Similarly, on June 5, Ambassador, June 5, 2013, Senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul appeared on FOX News and stated that you had, I quote, “directly and deliberately misled the public over Benghazi,” end of quote. Did you directly and deliberately mislead the public over Benghazi?

    A: I did not directly or deliberately mislead the public on Benghazi.

    Q: Were you aware of or involved in perpetuating any kind of an intentionally false or misleading narrative about the Benghazi attacks?

    A: No.

    Q: Some have argued that it was false because you should have known by that time that there had not been a protest. How would you respond to those critics?

    A: First of all, I did not know at the time that there had not been a protest. I was going off the best current assessment of the intelligence community. And the intelligence community subsequently made clear that they changed their assessment to conclude that there was not a protest or a demonstration several days after my appearance on the Sunday shows.

    Rep. Trey Gowdy’s False Claim That The State Department Hadn’t Provided Any Documents To The Committee

    The report states of Gowdy’s claim on Fox News that the State Department had yet to deliver “a single, solitary scrap of paper” that the committee had requested (italics original, citations removed):

    The following day, on May 15, 2015, Chairman Gowdy appeared on Fox News to argue that the State Department was intentionally obstructing the Select Committee’s investigation:

    It is a conscious decision not to cooperate with a legitimate congressional inquiry… I don’t want the drama. I want the documents. They’ve had half a year and I have not gotten a single, solitary scrap of paper.

    On May 21, 2015, PolitiFact rated Chairman Gowdy’s claim “Mostly False” after noting that the Select Committee’s own interim report in 2015 stated that the State Department provided 850 pages of documents months earlier:

    The House Benghazi Committee’s own report notes that in response to a November 2014 request for emails from Clinton and her top aides, the State Department has produced 850 pages of Clinton’s emails.

    PolitiFact also noted that the State Department “argues that Clinton’s emails were top priority, that many of the staffers’ emails have been provided in previous document requests, and that their response time is limited by department resources.”

    For more information, visit Benghazihoax.com