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 Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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A Wall Street Journal article highlighted Republican complaints that references to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations were removed from unclassified talking points on the Benghazi, Libya, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility but failed to note that those references were removed to avoid compromising a criminal investigation and tipping off those terrorist organizations.
In a May 14 article about the Obama administration's release of more than 100 pages of emails showing the editing process behind unclassified talking points about the Benghazi attacks, the Journal channeled Republican critiques that references to Al Qaeda were removed to intentionally mislead the American public about what occurred in Benghazi:
The talking points were meant to provide a first public account of the attacks on U.S. posts in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The very first set of talking points said "extremists with ties to al Qaeda" took part in the attacks. The final product made no reference to al Qaeda, but to extremists.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used the talking points as the basis of the administration's explanation of what happened in the assault in a series of television interviews Sept. 16, 2012, five days after the attacks.
Republicans have said the talking points show the administration misled the public about the role of al Qaeda. Democrats charge the GOP with trying to damage the standing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a 2016 Democratic presidential prospect.
But the removal of references to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations weren't designed to mislead anybody but terrorists. The New York Times reported in November that former CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers in congressional testimony that the names of terrorist organizations suspected of participating in the attacks "were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them."
Additionally, the release of the talking points emails shows that the CIA's general counsel was concerned about naming specific groups because it could "conflict 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." The emails also show State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressing concern that naming the terrorist groups possibly involved might "prejudice the investigation."
In contrast to the Journal's report, The Washington Post included explanations about why references to specific terrorist organizations were removed from the talking points:
According to the e-mails and initial CIA-drafted talking points, the agency believed the attack included a mix of Islamist extremists from Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and angry demonstrators.
White House officials did not challenge that analysis, the e-mails show, nor did they object to its inclusion in the public talking points.
But 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 New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal provided incomplete reporting of GOP criticism that President Obama downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. None of these newspapers provided their readers with Obama's actual comments labeling the attacks an "act of terror," thereby giving undue weight to Republican attacks.
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.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Conservative columnist Erik Rush thinks President Obama or his administration "orchestrated" the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
In a column for conspiracy website WND, Rush writes that he has "always leaned in the direction of the administration having orchestrated the attack for reasons of its own" because of the president's supposed connections "to the Muslim Brotherhood and legendary understanding of all things Islamic."
As Right Wing Watch points out, Rush cites the "unresolved Trinity United murders" as evidence that Obama could be capable of planning such an attack. This is the outlandish conservative conspiracy that President Obama or his associates murdered members of Obama's old Chicago church in order to conceal his supposed hidden homosexuality.
From Rush's May 8 column:
I suppose that depends on two things: One, what is revealed in the hearings, and two, whom one asks. I have always leaned in the direction of the administration having orchestrated the attack for reasons of its own - given his connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and legendary understanding of all things Islamic, it is possible that President Obama could even have arranged for the assault on the compound without the foreknowledge of his Cabinet.
A bold charge, to be sure, but I am operating with such questions as the unresolved Trinity United murders before me. Then there are the possibilities that the tragedy came about as the result of less grave criminal action or a series of irresponsible and craven decisions.
The burning question at present (and which may remain so for some time) is why efforts were not made to rescue the beleaguered staff at the facility and whether or not a stand-down order was given to military personnel in the area. If the latter becomes the case, then obviously we want to know who issued the order. Depending on the outcome, measures might be as severe as charges filed against Cabinet officials or the impeachment of Obama himself. While this president reasonably deserves to be occupying a cell in some federal penitentiary anyway, impeachment presents many troublesome aspects.
In the run-up to the May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing on the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News personalities repeatedly attempted to smear President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by equating their response to the crisis with the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s that resulted in the impeachment -- and ultimately resignation -- of President Richard Nixon.
Right-wing media figures have desperately tried to illustrate the existence of an Obama administration "cover-up" since news of the Benghazi attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, first reached U.S. airwaves. The right-wing outcry culminated in a House Oversight Committee hearing showcasing the testimony of self-described "whistleblowers," which Fox News promised would help make the case that the White House had lied to the American people about the timeline of events in Benghazi.
This wasn't the first time Fox pundits have made the Benghazi-Watergate claim. In September 2012, The Five co-host Eric Bolling described the "cover-up" as "the biggest news story since Watergate." In fact, right-wing media have a long history of trying to tie Obama to the Nixon scandal.
David Martosko of the Daily Mail Online provided former Vice President Dick Cheney a platform to criticize the Obama administration's failure to anticipate the September 11, 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, without noting that seven attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities occurred during the Bush administration.
In his article, Martosko quotes Cheney saying that the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks was "a failure of leadership" for not anticipating an attack on September 11, which Cheney said the Bush administration always expected following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Martosko's interview of Cheney was promoted by the Drudge Report, Fox Nation, and Breitbart.com.
But none of these outlets promoting Cheney's opinion noted that the U.S. suffered fatal attacks on embassies and consulates during the Bush administration. Between 2002 and 2008, seven attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates took place in Pakistan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Serbia, and Yemen.
Additionally, there have been many attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets -- including embassies -- for decades, and far more have occurred during previous administrations than under President Obama. Mother Jones put together the following graphic based on data from the State Department and the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism:
Cheney also served as Secretary of Defense during George H.W. Bush's presidency, when there were many times more attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets than under Obama.
Right-wing media are using a congressional hearing to push new myths about the Obama administration's response to the September 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, these myths are discredited by previous congressional reports and testimony, which show that the politicized nature of the hearings come from right-wing media and Congressional Republicans, that the military could not have rescued personnel from the second attack, that the administration was in constant communication at all levels during the attacks, and that the intelligence community believed there was a link to an anti-Islam video at the time of the attacks.
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News anchor Bret Baier misrepresented the testimony of a witness for the Republican-led hearing investigating the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. While the witness reportedly told congressional investigators that a small group of special forces were told not to board an aircraft heading to Benghazi to help with the attacks -- an aircraft that departed after an attack that killed two more Americans occurred -- Baier claimed the witness said the special forces team would have arrived in time for that attack.
The GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing on the September 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi on May 8. The committee had released a list of several witnesses that will be called on to testify, among them Gregory Hicks, who was the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya.
During the May 6 edition of Special Report, anchor Bret Baier claimed that Hicks said in his testimony that a team of special forces troops would have arrived in time for an attack on the CIA annex had they not been told not to go [emphasis added]:
BAIER: Charles, in this testimony that -- we have already seen some of this interview with Greg Hicks, the number two guy, again, on the ground, he specifically says that special forces in Tripoli were told to stand down and not get on a C-130 that was going to go from Tripoli to Benghazi that would have been there in time for the second attack, the second wave. They were told to not get on that plane.
Baier's claim is contradicted by Hicks' testimony, a statement from one of the lead Republican congressmen investigating the attacks, and of the timeline of events from the attacks.
Transcripts of an interview Greg Hicks gave to congressional investigators show that he said that the flight these special forces were scheduled to take, but did not, was scheduled to take off after 6:00 a.m., local time -- approximately 45 minutes after the attack at the CIA annex that killed two people [emphasis added]:
Q: And was there a second team that was organized? Could you tell us about the second team?
A: Right. The second team -- the Defense Attache worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning -- sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time -- at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly.
Q: So what time did the second rescue team ??
A: Well, again, they flew -- I think that flight took off sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of the House Oversight Committee who has actively pursued investigations into the Benghazi attacks, told The Washington Post that the special forces team that Hicks and Baier are referring to "would have arrived after the attack":
Chaffetz said the troops who were not allowed to travel to Benghazi would have arrived after the attack on the CIA base but may have provided first aid to wounded personnel. He noted that the order to keep them from traveling was given before the second attack.
Fox News is launching a new round of smears against the Obama administration over the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, using old, long-debunked falsehoods as ammunition.
The day after the Benghazi attack, on September 12, President Obama spoke from the White House Rose Garden about Benghazi, saying, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America." Obama referred to Benghazi twice more as an "act of terror" on September 13, two days after the attack.
But Fox spent months pretending Obama never labeled Benghazi as an act of terror, omitting his statements in video montages, and claiming that Obama was referencing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks instead. Fox so successfully omitted Obama's words that even presidential candidate Mitt Romney believed Obama delayed calling Benghazi an "act of terror."
Fox also conducted a witch-hunt against United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who appeared on five Sunday news shows on September 16 and reported that the intelligence community's best current assessment of the attack was that a small number of extremists appeared to have taken advantage of a larger protest at the compound over an anti-Islam video made in the U.S. Fox twisted Rice's remarks and accused her of altering the intelligence community's original talking points in order to cover up its belief that Al Qaeda played a role in the attack. In reality, as The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes inadvertently pointed out, the CIA's original talking points draft read that a spontaneous protest in Benghazi evolved into the consulate attack, just as Rice reported.
Eight months later, Fox is back to parroting these same untruths to reprise their Benghazi smear campaign.
On May 6's Happening Now, host Jon Scott spoke with anchor Bret Baier about upcoming congressional hearings on Benghazi. Fox again ignored Obama's declaration that Benghazi was an "act of terror," airing this graphic during Baier's interview:
Fox News is denying the partisan nature of the Republican campaign to tar Obama administration officials with allegations of misconduct following the September 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. A Republican-led hearing on the issue follows recent claims of a Republican lawyer -- whose partiality has been questioned -- that she is representing Benghazi "whistleblowers," and comes only weeks after the release of a partisan congressional report on Benghazi authored by five Republican committee chairmen.
On Wednesday, May 8, the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold a new hearing, titled: "Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage." The hearing will include three named witnesses -- the so-called whistleblowers -- one of whom has testified in Congress about the Benghazi incident before.
During a May 6 discussion about the hearing on Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade declared that "politics is out, and whistleblowers are in," apparently deciding that because there are self-identified whistleblowers on an issue, it's no longer a politicized topic. Kilmeade subsequently complained that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't pursue Benghazi as an issue enough during his campaign. He then returned to denying that the GOP's obsession with Benghazi is "politically driven":
KILMEADE: [A]nyone who says this is politically driven, or it's against the president, that's out the window. Because if there's a non-political season in this world in American politics, it's now. The mid-terms aren't close --
STEVE DOOCY [co-host]: Sure.
KILMEADE: And the president is not running.
Beyond the Republican-controlled House continuing to hold hearings on Benghazi, the lawyers claiming to represent some of the witnesses at the hearing, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, are long-time Republicans known for pushing false claims in the media and for having conflicts of interest in their professional work. In November, Toensing pushed a false link between the Benghazi attack and the resignation of former CIA director David Petraeus. Toensing also pushed the false claim that former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame was not, in fact, covert, and that her position was widely known. Additionally, Toensing and diGenova were involved in a 1998 news report about President Clinton that was discredited and later retracted. They have also been criticized for a conflict of interest for serving in a dual role in separate Justice Department investigations and for dropping "the air of impartiality, non-partisanship, and professionalism required" by their roles as leaders of a congressional investigation.
A congressional report on Benghazi that was hyped by Fox News to smear Hillary Clinton was authored by five Republican committee chairmen. The ranking Democrats on those committees sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner criticizing him for releasing such a partisan report, which they said is "unnecessarily politicizing our national security":
We are writing to strongly object to your decision to issue a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi and dispense with House procedures for vetting official committee reports to correct inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. By abandoning regular order and excluding Democratic Members entirely from this process, you are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions.
That report, which singled out Clinton for supposedly signing a cable about security concerns in Benghazi in the months before the attack, was undermined by media reports which showed that every cable that leaves the State Department bears the name of the Secretary of State, regardless if the secretary saw or approved it. A member of the independent Accountability Review Board that investigated the Benghazi attack called these accusations by the GOP against Clinton "total bullshit," and the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler called the claims "absurd." In a Fact Checker blog post he concluded that Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa had "no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable."