Conservatives are using the ongoing examination of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails to once again make a series of over-the-top accusations that compare her behavior to former President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. This is the latest in a pattern of distortions which aim to elevate the email story to the same level as the worst political scandal in American history.
The latest round of faulty Watergate comparisons appears to have been sparked by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, who, along with fellow Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein, famously broke the story of the 1972 Nixon-sanctioned break-in at the Watergate hotel.
Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe on August 18, Woodward said the controversy over Clinton's emails, and the latest development involving Clinton handing over her private server to investigators, "reminds me of the Nixon tapes" which "Nixon thought were exclusively his." He went on to claim: "Hillary Clinton initially took that position: 'I'm not turning this over, there's gonna be no cooperation.' Now they're cooperating."
Woodward is perpetuating a falsehood here. As Clinton said in a March 10 press conference: "After I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work-related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totaled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them." This month, Clinton also gave her private server to the Justice Department, in response to concerns that it might contain information now deemed classified.
In the last few years, Woodward has developed a habit of drawing parallels between modern events and Watergate, even if the facts don't always fit. He has compared the Watergate scandal to the Internal Revenue Service after its questionable scrutiny of non-profits first came to light, and to the Obama administration's response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi.
In fact, while discussing the bizarrely-scandalized "talking points" the administration used to discuss Benghazi in the press, Woodward launched a nearly identical line of attack to his current argument; he said that editing the Benghazi talking points could be compared to Watergate "when Nixon put out his edited transcripts to the conversations, and he personally went through them and said, 'Oh, let's not tell this, let's not show this.'" In both instances, it is not clear that Woodward was aware of the facts before using his Watergate legacy to draw inappropriate parallels.
In a segment on the August 18 Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano used Woodward's comments as a springboard into a baseless and factually inaccurate discussion about the emails Clinton has released to the State Department.
Napolitano compared Clinton's personal emails to Nixon's secret recording system that he set up in the White House, with Doocy noting that "with Nixon, they had the 18-minute gap" and "with Hillary Rodham Clinton, you've got what, 30,000 missing emails?"
Neither man told viewers that the supposedly "missing" emails have been described as containing "personal and private" information.
Napolitano also asserted that Clinton's emails contained "satellite photographs of a Middle Eastern country and intercepts of foreign agents," but an Associated Press report already debunked this claim, with sources close to the investigation noting that "nothing in the emails she received makes clear reference to communications intercepts, confidential intelligence methods or any other form of sensitive sourcing."
Doocy also repeated the claim that "perhaps one of her underlings stripped" classified markings from emails Clinton received, but the State Department has already said there was "no indications" of any such behavior.
Finally, Napolitano promoted a fantasy scenario about criminal charges against Clinton, speculating that she could be "indicted for conspiracy to violate the espionage laws of the United States."
He concluded that whether or not "there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against her," the FBI would "reveal it right around the time of the New Hampshire primary about five or six months from now." He added, "You can't make this stuff up."
But clearly you can.
Later in the day, Fox contributor and former UN Ambassador John Bolton appeared on America's Newsroom and called Woodward's comparison "a very apt analogy." He added that "it may be significant" that when Clinton graduated from Yale Law School, "her first job was on the Democratic staff" investigating Nixon, where the speculation that he should have burned his tapes "may be a lesson she learned back then."
These specious Watergate parallels are part of a pattern of behavior by the conservative media.
Over the years, Media Matters has cataloged at least 16 separate "Watergates" the right has accused the Obama administration of. They include Benghazi, the IRS, Obamacare, the BP oil spill, immigration policy, and Obama's birth certificate, among others.
Watergate involved the president of the United States soliciting a break-in of a political party's headquarters, suggesting payment of up to $1 million in hush money to bribe the burglars, being ordered by the Supreme Court to produce secret recordings of the planning for the cover-up of the burglary, and the resignation of a president for the first time in U.S. history.
Unless the discussion is about events of that magnitude, it isn't Watergate.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward suggested that a "neutral" investigation of the Benghazi attacks could be appropriate to "see if there is new information," ignoring the neutral, nonpartisan Accountability Review Board investigation which has already issued twenty-nine foreign security recommendations that the State Department is continuing to implement.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates destroyed the right-wing narrative that his memoir attacks President Obama's approach to the war in Afghanistan, a narrative instigated by Bob Woodward and subsequently perpetuated by Fox News.
Gates' memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, caused widespread controversy preceding its January 14 release because of how Gates characterized the Obama administration's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a January 13 interview on NBC's Today with co-host Matt Lauer, Gates explained that "what has been lost in the news media is that I actually agreed with virtually every decision President Obama made on Afghanistan." Gates opened the interview lamenting that the "book has sort of been hijacked by people along the political spectrum to serve their own purposes, taking quotes out of context and so on."
Following the release of excerpts from Gates' memoir, media figures seized on the selective quotes to attack President Obama. On January 7, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, a vocal critic of the Obama administration, characterized Gates' memoir as a damning critique of Obamathat "unleashes harsh judgements about President Obama's leadership" in Afghanistan. But Woodward's own accounts of the book's contents -- he acknowledged later in the piece that Gates believed "Obama was right" on each of his decisions regarding Afghanistan -- undermined his article.
Fox News personalities quickly followed suit. In a January 8 op-ed on FoxNews.com, Fox national security analyst K.T. McFarland used Gates' memoir to claim that Obama committed troops to a strategy he didn't believe in, saying, "Obama had concluded early on that the surge was a lost cause, but he went ahead anyway," a fallacious conclusion in light of Gates' comments.
In a January 13 column on FoxNews.com, New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin echoed Woodward, claiming:
The former defense secretary offers the most devastating critique to come from an Obama insider. He paints the president as estranged from the very Afghan military surge he ordered and suspicious of and hostile toward top leaders of the armed forces.
On the January 13 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox military analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane claimed Gates' memoir showed "President Bush wanted to win and President Obama, simply put, wanted to get out."
Much of the media is adopting Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's description of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' forthcoming memoir as a damning critique of President Obama -- a narrative undermined by Woodward's own description of the book's contents.
Gates' memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, will be released January 14. On January 7, both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on the contents of the book based on copies they had received prior to publication. Those articles have been the source for a firestorm of coverage on cable and broadcast television, with much of the media adopting Woodward's portrayal of the book as a harsh and nearly unprecedented attack on the president.
According to the anecdotes relayed by the Times and the Post, Gates details his frustration with the White House's civilian national security staff, which he believes took on responsibility that should have been the prerogative of the Defense Department and the military. And he at times offers specific criticisms of President Obama's actions. But Woodward's portrayal of the book, which has been adopted by the rest of the media, depicting it as a bombshell attack on the president simply does not follow from the facts at hand.
Under the headline "Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama's leadership in 'Duty,'" Woodward begins his article by writing that Gates "unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership" and offers "one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat":
In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was "skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail," Gates writes in "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War."
Woodward also writes that "It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president."
Cable and network news programs - whose reporters apparently have not read the book themselves -- are adopting Woodward's frame of the book as an attack on the president.
But elsewhere in his article, Woodward undermines this narrative by pointing out that Gates writes that all of Obama's Afghanistan decisions were correct, as The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner notes. Rather than consider the possibility that he is wrong to present Gates' book as a "harsh critique" of Obama, Woodward suggests that Gates is contradicting himself:
Gates's severe criticism is even more surprising -- some might say contradictory -- because toward the end of "Duty," he says of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials.
Woodward also writes that Gates "writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as 'a man of personal integrity' even as he faults his leadership."
Reading Bob Woodward's recent dissection of previous budget negotiations between Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Obama, readers got to see just how strong the urge is among Beltway media insiders to blame both sides for failed efforts in the past. In the case of Woodward, the urge is so strong it overtakes his own reporting.
Woodward's lengthy September 6 piece, headlined "The inside story of how Obama and Boehner negotiate," examined the weeks-long back and forth between Boehner and Obama late last year as the two tried to work out a budget deal to avoid going over the so-called "fiscal cliff." In the piece, Woodward reports how Obama was willing to make key compromises only to have a larger deal scuttled at the last minute.
Yet after detailing how Obama had offered up significant concessions -- concessions his political supporters strongly opposed at the time -- Woodward concluded that a meaningful deal wasn't struck because Obama, along with Boehner, "would not compromise."
In other words, Woodward's analysis doesn't trust Woodward's reporting.
Touted as a detailed telling based on "congressional aides, meeting notes, and budget documents," Woodward's reporting is quite clear about the string of compromises Obama was willing to make.
Woodward's take-away? Obama shoulders half the blame for failing to craft a deal because he failed to "compromise" sufficiently, despite the fact that the main roadblock to a larger compromise was the unrelenting partisanship of the GOP majority in the House.
No surprise perhaps, since with his book last year about budget negotiations, Woodward previously rallied around the both-sides-are-to-blame narrative: "The ultimate problem, the book suggests, was a lack of leadership by both Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama," noted the New York Times review of the book.
This sort of graphic misreading of the facts reflects the long-running press phenomena of ignoring or glossing over the Republican Party's brand of radical obstructionism since Obama became president in 2009. (And then blaming Obama for that behavior.) Much of the negotiation coverage, from the so-called fiscal cliff to sequestration, perpetuates the myth that Republicans are willing and eager partners in governance, it's just that Obama hasn't yet figured out how the get them to cooperate. (It's so obvious!)
He's not leading.
Right-wing media are dishonestly arguing that senators have not had enough time to read the approximately 1,200-page immigration reform bill the weekend before a scheduled vote on it. In fact, the majority of the bill has been online since May, a fact even Karl Rove acknowledged on Fox News to push back against conservative criticism.
The bulk of the bill's 1,200 pages are available online and have been since May 21. On June 21, the Senate added enforcement provisions submitted by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) to the main text of the bill, which total 119 pages.
Those opposed to the legislation, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol jumped on the Corker-Hoeven addition to make the misleading claim that the Senate only had the weekend to review the entire bill before voting on it. As highlighted by Breitbart.com, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward also implied that the Senate was rushing to pass immigration reform, saying on the June 23 edition of Fox News Sunday: "It's proven time and time again, when you pass complicated legislation and no one has really read the bill, the outcome is absurd." Other conservative outlets, like Red State, picked up the misleading narrative, with The Drudge Report showing a picture of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking from a water bottle with the headline, "Senate to vote on bill before reading it":
The right-wing scandal-mongering crowd has a potent ally in Bob Woodward. Of late, the Washington Post associate editor has been busily hyping -- or outright manufacturing -- White House "scandals," inviting observers to draw unfounded comparisons to Watergate. In some cases, Woodward has been directly making that comparison himself. And pundits and journalists are eager to take Woodward at his word, which is unfortunate since he's all too often wrong on the facts. Such was the case when Woodward appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on June 3 and lent credence to the idea that former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman's visits to the White House were somehow linked to the IRS's inappropriate scrutiny of conservative non-profit groups.
After the Fox News host introduced Woodward as one of the men who "drove the Watergate story for the Washington Post," Woodward told O'Reilly that the IRS controversy "needs to be investigated." He continued: "But you know who should lead the investigation? President Obama. And the White House put out his version of all of these things. I have found in recent weeks they still respond to questions. You say they aren't answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should. They should get on top of this story."
Here are a few facts Woodward could have -- and should have -- brought up. The 157 number itself is something of a canard, as it doesn't accurately reflect the number of times Shulman actually visited the president or other top White House officials. The vast majority of the former commissioner's visits were not to the actual White House but to office buildings that are part of the White House complex. Those visits were mostly meetings with administration staffers charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the IRS plays an important role in administering. All of this information was available, and it goes a long way toward deflating O'Reilly's scandal narrative, but Woodward either didn't know or didn't care to bring it up.
Later in the segment, Woodward told O'Reilly: "I agree this is not Watergate at all. But the road to Watergate is concealment, is not coming clean [...] If [the Obama administration does] that they will dig themselves in a hole. And I think they have the moral and intellectual capacity to stop that." Saying "this is not Watergate" is well and good, since the idea behind O'Reilly's segment was to explicitly link the IRS controversy to Watergate in spite of the evidence. But Woodward should have laid out the reasons why O'Reilly was off base. Instead, he laid out the conditions under which the IRS controversy could become a new Watergate, which is pretty much what O'Reilly wanted in the first place.
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.
Some conservatives who initially cheered Bob Woodward's claim of being threatened by a senior White House aide expressed amazement that media commentators who weren't buying Woodward's story were attacking such a famously "liberal" journalist. Possibly confused by their own rhetoric about how all Beltway reporters lean left -- or by the suggestion that if Woodward helped bring down a Republican president, he must be a Democratic sympathizer -- the talk of liberal journalists and the White House turning on a supposed Obama supporter like Woodward has been steady.
But it's just not true. If Woodward were a liberal icon, it's unlikely operatives close to Mitt Romney would've shown up at the reporter's home just weeks before the election, urging him to meet with their secret source to discuss the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Woodward has certainly shown in recent years that he doesn't have his finger on the pulse on Democratic politics. Three years ago he claimed Hillary Clinton might replace Vice President Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket in 2012. (Then again he once predicted Dick Cheney would be the Republican nominee in 2008.)
In truth, Woodward at key junctures has been a willing conduit for Republicans and has proven instrumental in distributing their talking points. Recently, Woodward suggested, without any proof, that angry Democrats were pressuring the White House to pull Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense. And that Hagel was "twisting in the wind."
During the Clinton years, "liberal" Woodward often took direct aim at the Democratic president, as well as Vice President Al Gore, labeling him 'Solicitor-in-Chief,' a move which conservatives cheered. Years later, when news broke that newly elected president Barack Obama had selected Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State, Woodward lamented that "She never goes away, she and her husband."
But it's Woodward's reporting during the Bush administration that best debunks the farcical the notion that he is a "liberal" ally. He did that both through his fawning coverage of the Bush White House, especially in the early years, and by becoming a major player in the scandal surrounding CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Washington Post editor Bob Woodward appeared on Fox News' Hannity Thursday and attempted to distance himself from his suggestion that a White House adviser used threatening language in an email to him.
On the February 28 broadcast, Woodward discussed his comments to Politico regarding a series of heated exchanges he had with a White House official, who was later identified as economic adviser Gene Sperling. Woodward said that others had described him as labeling an email from Sperling as "a threat" and claimed, "I haven't used that language."
In an interview with his own newspaper published the same day, Woodward said of Sperling's language, "I never characterized it as a 'threat.' ... I think that was Politico's word. I said I think [Sperling's] language is unfortunate, and I don't think it's the way to operate."
Yet Woodward's initial comments in the February 27 Politico article made it clear he found Sperling's use of the word "regret" intimidating.
From the February 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the February 28 edition of Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Matt Drudge is comparing the firestorm over whether Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was threatened in an email by a White House aide to what happened in the Nixon White House, an absurd and ahistorical claim.
Right-wing media frequently compare President Obama to Nixon, highlighting instances in which they believe Obama White House activities rise to the level of the Nixon White House's "Enemies List." But while many conservatives have abandoned Woodward's dubious intimidation claim, late in the afternoon on February 28 The Drudge Report featured the following:
Such a claim displays a staggering ignorance of what Nixon's "Enemies List" entailed. It was an effort directed from the highest levels of the White House to use the power of the federal government to financially damage political opponents, including journalists. And the Nixon White House did more than send mean emails to reporters; its aides actually plotted to kill a critical columnist.
Veteran White House correspondents and political scribes dispute claims that a White House aide threatened Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in a recent email exchange, calling that characterization "overblown."
A media firestorm has followed last night's Politico report that Woodward had received a "veiled threat" from White House economic adviser Gene Sperling for the journalist's reporting on the pending spending cuts known as the sequester, based on a snippet of a Sperling email Woodward provided the paper. The full context of Sperling's comment, released by Politico the next day, made it clear to even conservative observers that no threat had been intended.
"It doesn't seem threatening to me at all, it seems to me based on the email exchange that I read, that it was not threatening, it came at the tail end of a very friendly message, it seemed like it was saying 'you are making a mistake,'" said Bill Plante, CBS News White House correspondent and former president of the White House Correspondents Association. "It does not seem to me to be a threat of any kind in the sense that retaliation is promised."
In the email exchange about the sequestration issue, which followed an angry phone exchange for which Sperling apologized, the aide indicated to Woodward that if he reported the president had been "moving the goal post" related to revenue in the negotiations, Woodward would "regret staking out that claim."
In an interview posted Wednesday night, Woodward characterized the exchange as a threat, according to Politico:
Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. " 'You'll regret.' Come on," he said. "I think if Obama himself saw the way they're dealing with some of this, he would say, 'Whoa, we don't tell any reporter 'you're going to regret challenging us.'"
But the full context of the emails, released by Politico the next day, casts doubt on the claim that Woodward had been threatened. In the email, Sperling had stated, "I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that [President Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Woodward replied to that email in part, "I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening."
From the February 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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