After Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave congressional testimony that echoed President Obama's recent statements about the threat that al Qaeda poses, Fox News host Bret Baier claimed that the testimony was a "direct contradiction" to the president's description of the threat posed by the terrorist organization.
On the February 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Baier reported on Clapper's testimony earlier in the day before the Senate Armed Service Committee, in which Clapper testified that al Qaeda is "morphing and franchising itself" throughout the world. Baier categorized Clapper's testimony as a "direct contradiction" to what President Obama has said about the terrorist group in the past:
BAIER: A direct contradiction today from the nation's top intelligence chief, to what president Obama has said about al Qaeda. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee today previous assessments from the president are not accurate.
Baier appeared to suggest that Obama's past claims that al Qaeda was "on the run," made several times during the 2012 campaign, are in contradiction to Clapper's testimony. But Baier failed to note Obama's most recent statements on the terrorist organization. In fact, Clapper's testimony before the Senate that al Qaeda is a "morphing" threat that is "franchising itself" in several countries is similar to recent statements from President Obama. In his State of the Union address last month, Obama acknowledged that al Qaeda still posed a threat to the United States, a threat that he said has "evolved": (emphasis added)
While we've put al-Qaida's core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks.
Fox News continued its habit of inventing Benghazi news hooks by selectively quoting from a Senate report on Benghazi that came out more than two weeks ago to bolster its false claims that the Obama administration changed talking points after the attack for political reasons.
On the February 3 edition of Special Report, Fox's chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge aired an investigation that revolved around a single sentence in the January 15 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review on the Benghazi attack. Introducing the segment by saying the report "sheds new light on the role of Michael Morell, the CIA's former deputy director, in the Benghazi talking points controversy." She continued:
HERRIDGE: The Senate report states that on September 15, one day before Susan Rice's controversial Sunday show appearances -- where she blamed a demonstration gone awry -- Morell and others at the CIA received a critical email that reported the attacks were, quote, "not/not an escalation of protests." It was from the CIA chief of station, who was on the ground in Libya.
Herridge went on to cite several intelligence experts to question why Morell didn't use that email to delete references to demonstrations from the talking points later used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice, when Morell made edits to the talking points that same day -- though Herridge admits that it's not known when Morell read the email from the Libya station chief. Later in the segment, Herridge used other news reports and interviews to tie Morell's edits to the talking points to a possible Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, speculating that they were politically motivated.
Morell's changes to the talking points aren't news. The Washington Post reported in May 2013 that Morell edited the talking points as part of a standard process of inter-agency coordination and a determination that certain information needed to be excluded to protect ongoing terror investigations.
And Herridge's insinuation that this email from the CIA station chief in Libya should have kept any mention of demonstrations out of the talking points is undermined by the next sentence from the Senate report, which explained that it's not standard practice to base analysis on "e-mails and other informal communications": (emphasis added)
The IC also had information that there were no protests outside the Temporary Mission Facility prior to the attacks, but did not incorporate that information into its widely circulated assessments in a timely manner. Contrary to many press reports at the time, eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicate that there were no protests at the start of the attacks. For example, on September 15, 2012,. the CIA's Chief of Station in Tripoli sent to the then-Deputy Director of the ClA and others at the CIA an email that reported the attacks were "not/not an escalation of protests." Yet, the CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review downplays the importance of this email, noting, "... as a standard practice, we do not base analysis on e-mails and other informal communications from the field because such accounts often change when formalized as disseminated intelligence reports."
From the January 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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In a segment criticizing comments made about Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Fox News' The Five incorrectly pointed to him as the only African-American in the U.S. Senate, ignoring Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who was elected in 2013.
On January 22, co-host Andrea Tantaros, in line with an on-screen graphic, stated that Tim Scott was the only African-American senator. The discussion was a response to comments made by North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber about Scott that drew fire from conservatives.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
On January 15, 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan review of its findings in an investigation of the September 11, 2012, attacks on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Much of the report dispels myths perpetuated by Fox News over the last sixteen months.
Fox News' Gretchen Carlson distorted comments by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to accuse him of hypocrisy after allowing some of his staff to remain on their current health plans.
After reports that Reid would allow certain staffers to keep their existing coverage, Carlson aired comments Reid made in September 2013 about whether his staff would join the Affordable Care Act's exchanges and claimed he was "changing his tune." Carlson claimed Reid said his entire staff would be on the exchanges and accused him of "total hypocrisy."
However, Reid's statements from September do not contradict his decision to allow select staff members to remain on their existing coverage. Carlson failed to distinguish between Reid's personal legislative staff, who are enrolling through exchanges as mandated by law, and the staff that serves for leadership committees, who the ACA does not require to enroll through exchanges. He and his personal Senate office staff will indeed enroll for new coverage through the exchanges, as mandated by law:
In September, Reid told reporters, "Let's stop these really juvenile political games -- the one dealing with health care for senators and House members and our staff. We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that."
That's true. Reid and his personal staff will buy insurance through the exchange.
But it's also true that the law lets lawmakers decide if their committee and leadership staffers hold on to their federal employee insurance plans, an option Reid has exercised.
Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
From the November 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Rush Limbaugh ranted that Senate Democrats took a step towards "total statist authoritarianism" by passing the nuclear option in filibuster reform - an option Limbaugh believed was the "Constitutional Option" in 2004, when Republicans ruled the Senate.
On November 21, after years of unprecedented Republican obstruction, the Senate voted to eliminate the ability of the minority party to filibuster most presidential nominees, a measure often called the "nuclear option." The New York Times explained, "Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes."
Rush Limbaugh raged over the filibuster reform, accusing Democrats of seeking "total statist authoritarianism." He complained that, with this vote, "250 years of rules, Senate rules, out the window, as the Democrats have made it plain they're not interested in democracy. And that really is what this means. Not interested in democracy at all," going on to say that now, President Obama gets to "play dictator with judicial nominees."
The next day, Limbaugh even compared filibuster reform to a vote that would "allow women to be raped."
But Limbaugh's outrage is highly selective -- when Republicans controlled the Senate, he believed that requiring more than a majority vote for presidential appointees was "unconstitutional" and enthusiastically supported similar filibuster reform.
In December of 2004, while discussing the Democratic minority's filibusters of Bush's lower court judicial nominees, Rush Limbaugh even called the nuclear option the "Constitutional option," and encouraged Republicans to take it (emphasis added):
From the November 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board attacked Democrats for passing a filibuster rule change as "radicals" who "view the minority as an inconvenience to be rolled," though the Journal supported the same change in 2005, when it pushed Republicans not to "let a willful minority deny the President's nominees a vote."
On November 22, the Journal editorial board attacked the rule change -- which allows the Senate to confirm judicial nominees with a simple majority vote -- as "Rules For Radicals," and claimed that the Democrats' vote was prodded through by "younger liberals in a hurry" who "view the minority as an inconvenience to be rolled." The Journal falsely claimed that the Senate rule change was "bloody-minded" behavior which would allow Democrats "to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals," but found a "silver lining" in the prospect of Republicans using the change for their benefit in the future:
The silver lining is that the end of the nominee filibuster will work for conservatives too. The next time they hold the Senate and White House, Republicans should employ the same weapon. Democrats are pretending that they are only breaking the filibuster for lower-court nominees, not for the Supreme Court. They can dream on.
The Journal seems to have forgotten the fact that it supported a similar push for filibuster reform in 2005. A May 2005 editorial urged Republicans not to "let a willful minority deny the President's nominees a vote on the Senate floor" (emphasis added):
This will not be the world's greatest deliberative body's greatest moment, and the only thing we know for sure about what will happen next is that the reputation of the Senate will suffer. It's a shame it has come to this. But at this point it would be worse if Republicans let a willful minority deny the President's nominees a vote on the Senate floor.
This is at its core a political fight, and elections ought to mean something. Republicans have gained Senate seats in two consecutive elections in which judicial nominations were among the most important issues, including against the Senate Minority Leader. The one Democrat from a red state who won last year, Ken Salazar of Colorado, did so by promising to oppose judicial filibusters; he now seems to have changed his mind after sipping the Beltway's partisan punch.
Perhaps the coming showdown will lead to more political bitterness, but we doubt Democrats will be able to follow through on their pledge to shut down the Senate; the public wants other things done. And who knows? If Democrats can't succeed any longer in legislating through the courts, maybe they'll even return to trying to win power the old-fashioned way, through elections.
A January 2005 Journal editorial also said that a move to change the Senate rules would "restore the Founders' intent when they gave the Senate the responsibility of confirming or rejecting a President's judicial picks. The Constitution requires a simple majority vote and says nothing about a super-majority of 60 being needed to stop a filibuster." The paper added: "Whether it's nuked or not, the judicial filibuster deserves to be defeated."
The Journal's current opposition to the rule change further hides the fact that President Obama's nominees have faced a significantly more hostile political environment than any previous administration. While Democrats under President Bush blocked a handful of nominees whom they considered ideologically extreme, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented effort to obstruct the confirmations of virtually all Obama nominees, including some positions for which they say they will accept no nominee at all. In fact, almost half of all filibusters of presidential nominees in the history of the United States have occurred during Obama's presidency:
Source: Senate Democrats
The language in this post has been updated for clarity.
From the November 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Fox News personalities claimed that a new rule change by Democrats in the Senate is hypocritical because both parties have obstructed when in the minority, ignoring the historically high level of GOP obstruction of President Obama's executive and judicial nominees.
On November 21, Democrats changed Senate rules so that "judicial and executive branch nominees no longer need to clear a 60-vote threshold to reach the Senate floor and get an up-or-down vote."
During a November 21 broadcast of Fox News' America's News HQ, co-host Alisyn Camerota asked Geraldo Rivera whether GOP gridlock was to blame for Democrats moving to change Senate rules. Rivera responded, "You know, I wish we could pull up some of the newscasts from eight years ago during the Bush Administration and you would hear the same thing. ... This is a game that they have played historically since the third president--since Thomas Jefferson":
During a press conference on the rule change, Fox White House Correspondent Ed Henry questioned Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest about whether Obama was being obstructionist because in 2005 he said he would block Bush nominees because he wanted Bush to fix guidelines on lead paint. Henry asked, "wasn't that obstruction?":
But Fox' false equivalency ignores the fact that recent GOP obstruction is unprecedented. Fox personalities ignored the GOP filibustering of Obama's judicial nominees who have been described as highly-qualified, non-controversial, and diverse.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained that GOP obstruction was "the highest that's ever been recorded" during the last Congressional session. People For The American Way (PFAW) pointed out the "unprecedented" level of obstruction in a chart of cloture votes on executive nominees:
In fact, comparing Bush administration nominees to Obama's shows that the GOP is far more obstructionist today than Democrats were during the Bush presidency, with regard to the percentage of nominees confirmed and the amount of time nominees wait until confirmation vote. Right-Wing Watch, a project of PFAW, published several more charts illustrating these points:
Sean Hannity called the Senate's passage of filibuster reform a "lawless maneuver" despite having supported it in 2005 under Republican President George W. Bush.
After the Senate voted to change the rules on judicial nominees to allow confirmation with a simple majority vote, Hannity called the move a "lawless maneuver," saying "Democrats break the rules":
But in 2005, under a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, Hannity called judicial nominations one of the "specific instances in the Constitution where they call for a supermajority," arguing that it was "unconstitutional to filibuster":
HANNITY: Senator [John McCain], one last question before we let you go here.
There are seven specific instances in the Constitution where they call for a supermajority. I believe it's unconstitutional to filibuster. It is not about advice and consent now to ask for a supermajority on judicial nominations. I believe that is not constitutional.
There's been a lot of talk about what we describe as the "constitutional option," which is that the Republicans would unite and vote, and there would be an up-or-down vote on all of the judicial nominations. Do you think that's the right thing to do? Will you support [then-Senate Majority Leader] Senator [Bill] Frist if he does it?
As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, of the 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations that have occurred in the history of the U.S. Senate, half have occurred during the Obama administration.