Fox News revived the baseless conspiracy theory that the nearly three-year old federal investigation into former CIA director David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
The New York Times reported on January 9 that the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors recommended federal charges against former CIA director David H. Petraeus for providing "classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A." Petraeus subsequently resigned as director of the CIA after his affair was made public.
But on the January 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge lent credibility to GOP concerns that the federal investigation into David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus' testimony on the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terrorist attacks.
The segment also included a statement from Thomas Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, who explained that "just being quiet, staying mum, invoking your Fifth Amendment rights," while being charged with a felony "could be the safest course." Herridge ended her report noting that the GOP-led Benghazi select committee still hopes to call Petraeus as a witness in their investigation.
In 2012, Fox repeatedly pushed the baseless accusation that Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White house to toe the company line." Fox's smear was parroted by radio host Rush Limbaugh who speculated that Petraeus resigned to escape an attempt by the Obama administration to manipulate him into lying about the Benghazi attack.
The imaginary scandal was later denounced on Fox News, when Fox's Geraldo Rivera called it "absolutely reckless," and pointed out that Petraeus himself cited his extramarital affair as the reason for his resignation.
Fox News originally ignored a House GOP report debunking many of its Benghazi myths but is now attacking the report's credibility to promote the need for more Benghazi Select Committee hearings.
In November, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republicans, released the results of a lengthy investigation that "debunk[ed] a series of persistent allegations" perpetuated by conservative media outlets about the events and culpability surrounding the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The report reaffirmed the findings of several previous investigations and once again determined that "there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria."
Fox News remained mostly silent in the wake of the report's publication, giving the report only cursory coverage while flagship news program Fox News Sunday ignored it entirely. The network's lack of coverage earned condemnation from CNN media critic Brian Stelter and even Fox's own media analyst, Howard Kurtz. The absence of coverage stood in stark contrast toFox's exhaustive focus on the formation of a select committee to investigate Benghazi in June, when the network devoted at least 225 segments to the select committee over a mere two-week span.
With another Benghazi Select Committee hearing scheduled for December 10, Fox has changed its approach from silence to overt attempts to undermine the GOP report's credibility.
Bret Baier, host of Fox's Special Report, claimed on December 3 that "many" believe the House Intelligence Committee's Benghazi report "went soft on the Obama administration and was filled inaccuracies" and emphasized the further investigation by the Benghazi Select Committee. To bolster this allegation, investigative reporter Catherine Herridge noted the "eyewitness accounts" of Kris Paronto and John Tiegen, who, according to Herridge, "say there was an intelligence failure. They were directly warned in late August a strike was likely, yet no Defense Department assets were available on the September 11th anniversary."
Special Report's December 3 panel went to further lengths to undermine the Intelligence Committee report as Baier, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes, and The Hill's A. B. Stoddard suggested that the investigation was insufficient.
But Fox's latest attempts at subverting the committee report amount to nothing more than highlighting a smattering of Republican lawmakers who claim to remember events occurring differently than they were laid out in the final report. In a December 5 article for FoxNews.com, Herridge reported that newly declassified testimony contained the statements of members of Congress recalling that former CIA director David Petraeus connected the Benghazi attack to the protests against an anti-Muslim YouTube video in an off-the-record coffee meeting two days after the attack:
If the lawmakers' recollection is accurate, that means Petraeus' brief on Sept. 14, 2012, was instead in line with the White House, and then-Secretary Hillary Clinton's State Department. It was a State Department press release at 10:07 p.m. ET, before the attack was even over, that first made the link to the obscure anti-Islam video. The newly declassified testimony says $70,000 was spent on advertising in Pakistan, denouncing the anti-Muslim film.
During this testimony, GOP Rep. Jeff Miller questioned Petraeus' original testimony, stating the former CIA director "even went so far as to say that it had been put into Arabic language and then was put on this TV station, this cleric's TV station. I mean, [Petraeus] drove that in pretty hard when he was in here. "
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., added "it was said in here a little bit earlier that the CIA never said Benghazi was part of a Cairo protest and of the video. And we were given just the opposite message by the Director of the CIA on the [September] 14th [2012.]"
Rogers noted there was no transcript for the brief, only staff notes, but after the Petraeus incident in September 2012, the practice was changed to always run a transcript on the briefings. The Sept. 14, 2012, brief was a coffee meeting with members.
USA Today reported that the Fox-promoted Select Committee may cost $1.5 million this year, despite numerous other independent investigations finding no wrongdoing with relation to the events in Benghazi.
From the October 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News claims new bombshell evidence finds that President Obama was in the White House during the 2012 attacks on Benghazi, a fact that was public knowledge since January 2013.
Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge recycled House Republicans' discredited, year-old allegation that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed off on reducing security at the Benghazi compound ahead of the 2012 attack there, scandalizing a State Department cable bearing her signature.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge claims that a classified 2012 Department of Defense (DOD) memo would demonstrate that the Obama administration had deliberately concealed the fact that the Benghazi attack was perpetrated by terrorists. But news reports and subsequent investigations show that administration officials were quick to acknowledge the attackers' apparent links to terror groups.
From the June 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox News wasted no time tying the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American captive held by the Taliban, to the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
Bergdahl, an American captive held by the Taliban since 2009, was released on May 31, pursuant to an agreement between the White House, the government of Qatar (acting as an intermediary), and the Taliban. Right-wing media responded to the exchange of five Guantanamo detainees for Bergdahl with attacks and misinformation.
Fox News quickly linked the prisoner exchange to the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi. Appearing on Fox host Sean Hannity's radio program, Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge speculated on the timing of Bergdahl's release, suggesting it was "interesting" because the deal was struck just as excerpts from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's forthcoming memoir appeared in the news.
HERRIDGE: What I do find significant, and I don't know if you would agree with me or not, is how the talking point coming out of the White House is clearly that they are determined not to leave our service men and women behind. I don't know if this is a coincidence, or whether I'm in effect reading too much into it, but I find it interesting or noteworthy that that is the message out of the White House at the same time that the whole Benghazi controversy is going to be resurrected with Hillary Clinton's book and one of the main allegations is that the administration left our people behind to fend for themselves in Benghazi.
The hosts of Fox's The Five made a more explicit connection. Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle set up a segment on the purported Bergdahl-Benghazi connection by noting that the Obama administration "says it's committed to leaving no man behind. That's why it's spent so much time trying to rescue former POW Bowe Bergdahl. But what about the four Americans killed in Benghazi?" Co-host Eric Bolling followed up by saying that, in contrast to the Bergdahl release, the Obama administration expressed no "sense of alarm" at the fact that Americans died in Benghazi.
Both hosts repeated the tired smear that the Obama administration didn't do everything it could to rescue the Americans under attack. The absurd and baseless implication that President Obama negotiated the release of an American captive in order to secure some kind of political gain demonstrates the lengths to which Fox News and right-wing media will go to politicize the tragedy. From missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the Chris Christie bridge scandal, Yom Kippur, and Monday Night Football, right-wing media and Fox News appear to see everything that happens through a Benghazi lens.
For more on the right-wing media's misinformation campaign on Benghazi, click here.
Fox News repeatedly spun the words of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to suggest she had finally acknowledged the importance of the select committee on Benghazi, when in fact Pelosi had stressed her objections to the committee and called it an unnecessary "partisan exercise."
After airing House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's remarks about appointing Democrats to the Republican-led House select committee on Benghazi, Fox News immediately misled viewers about what she said, claiming that Pelosi conceded the committee is a "serious effort" when she did not.
On May 21, Fox News' The Real Story aired live Pelosi's statement on the selection of Democratic members to the Benghazi select committee. Pelosi prefaced the announcement by making clear her objection to the formation of the committee, outlining the numerous prior investigations and blasting the Republican mismanagement of the investigations. Pelosi labeled this latest select committee "an unnecessary partisan exercise." She went on to explain Democratic participation in the committee as a way to "fight for a fair hearing and process" (emphasis added):
PELOSI: Unfortunately, the Republican obsession with Benghazi has not been about the victims or their families or our country. We had hoped the house Republican leaders would not go down the path forming a select committee. We've already been there. Eight reviews have been conducted in the House and Senate, 25,000 documents released, millions of taxpayer dollars spent. It was not necessary to put the families or our country through this partisan exercise once again. Over the past two weeks, we have engaged in good-faith discussions with Speaker Boehner on the shape and standards of the select committee. We had hoped for a level of fairness and transparency and balance, especially considering the subject matter. We were not able to reach any agreement.
Regrettably, the Republican approach does not prevent the unacceptable and the repeated abuses committed by Chairman Issa in any meaningful way. That is all the more reason for Democrats to participate in the committee, to be there to fight for a fair hearing and process, to try to bring some openness and transparency to what's going on. What is the purpose of this investigation? What is the timetable? What are the milestones? What are they hoping to achieve? I could have argued this either way. Why give any validity to this effort? But I do think it is important for the American people to have the pursuit of these questions done in a fair and open and balanced way as possible. That simply would not be possible leaving it to theRepublicans. That's why I'm appointing my distinguished colleagues here today to serve on the select committee.
Shortly after Pelosi made her statement, host Gretchen Carlson cut away from the press conference to discuss the issue with Fox chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge. Despite Pelosi's clear dismissal of Republicans' handling of the investigation, Herridge baselessly characterized Pelosi's announcement as "a real recognition that this is going to be a serious-minded investigation" while ignoring Pelosi's criticism of the committee as "an unnecessary partisan exercise":
HERRIDGE: I think what we heard is a recognition by the Democrats that they must now engage in a very serious way with the Republican-led select committee. This is a reflection of the fact that the members of this Republican select committee are very serious in nature and are communicating that this will be a broad and vast investigation where they already believe that there are gaps that need to be filled in between the various committees that have already looked at it. So this is a recognition by the Democrats that they must seriously engage and that it would be a political mistake not to be engaged and to leave some of these issues unanswered, especially leading up to the midterm elections.
Looking at the composition of this committee, what strikes me is almost everyone has relevant experience on the requisite oversight committees that looked into Benghazi. What is also striking to me is -- I think you can make the argument that several of the committee members are true partisans and have been on the attack on Benghazi from the get-go. So they seem to have been picked by the speaker as a way to answer these Republican allegations that the administration in effect dropped the ball on Benghazi, they misled the American people and, even more specifically, that there was real negligence at the state department that was led by Mrs. Clinton.
The bottom line for the folks at home is that the Democrats recognize it's going to be a serious effort and it would be a political mistake not to engage in the fullest possible way.
While Herridge portrayed the Democratic members of the committee as "true partisans," she did not attribute partisan motive to the Republican members, asserting that have "the requisite oversight background, also a legal background" and will "move through this in a very methodical way."
Fox News has pushed reset on many of its favorite Benghazi myths that have already been put to rest in the wake of the recently released Rhodes email and the House GOP's announcement of the formation of a Select Committee to investigate the attacks.
From the May 2 edition of Fox News' The Real Story:
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Fox News is distorting a memo used to prepare an Obama administration official for media appearances to falsely suggest that the administration was lying about the Benghazi attacks for political gain.
On September 16, 2012, five days after the September 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday political talk shows and suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests. At the time, there were riots at American facilities across the Muslim world, inspired by an anti-Islam video. Since then, conservatives led by Fox News have claimed that Rice's comments on the Sunday shows were part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks, to bolster President Obama's re-election campaign. This effort has often involved distorting the CIA-approved talking points that Rice used to prepare for the interviews.
On April 29, Fox renewed these claims, seizing on a newly released September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to other key national security aides -- which details goals for the Sunday interviews and a series of potential questions and answers -- that was released under public records law by the conservative group Judicial Watch. Over on-screen text which claimed "New Benghazi Documents Lead Directly To The White House," Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge highlighted that according to the email, one of the goals for Rice's appearances was "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy." She concluded that Fox had asked the White House "for comment on the Rhodes email, and what intelligence led to that conclusion that somehow an Internet video was responsible for the protests in Benghazi."
But contrary to Herridge's contention, the Rhodes email reveals nothing new. It is consistent with other intelligence briefings circulating at the time which have already been well-documented, and discusses a wide range of issues, not just Benghazi -- in fact, the specific comment Fox highlighted was an accurate depiction of the multiple riots occurring in the region at the time. When the email was sent, there were global anti-American protests in response to the video, often violent, many of which targeted U.S. diplomatic security posts, including in Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Yemen.
In his twenty paragraph email advising Rice on her upcoming TV appearances, Rhodes made only two direct references to Benghazi -- first highlighting support from the Libyan government for U.S. diplomatic efforts in the country, and later debunking the false claim that there was any "actionable intelligence" prior to the attack on the facility in Benghazi and stating that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex." That language is identical to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day, suggesting that Rhodes had seen that early document and was using it to ensure the administration's statements were consistent with the intelligence community's conclusions.
A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January 2014 stated that "[s]ome intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video." Indeed, former CIA acting director Mike Morrell has testified that the CIA chief of station in Libya believed at the time that the video might have motivated the attackers. The Senate report also determined that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes" -- a reality that Fox has refused to accept.
From the April 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News spun the testimony of a former CIA deputy director to claim that intelligence gathered by officers on the ground during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was "dismissed" by leadership -- a claim that ignored context provided by Morell as well as a Senate investigative report that debunked the narrative months ago.
On April 2, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell testified before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Fox News covered the hearing extensively throughout the day. On America's News HQ, correspondent Catherine Herridge claimed Morell revealed a "stunning statement," saying that top CIA officials "essentially dismissed" intelligence officers on the ground as a matter of course and concluding that Morell's testimony amounts to "a body blow for many intelligence officers who are putting their necks on the line."
HERRIDGE: One of the extraordinary headlines we had in the last few minutes was also from Morell and it's a pretty stunning statement. What he said is that the analysts -- and we've heard this consistently -- he relied on the findings of the analysts in Washington who were thousands of miles from the scene of the attack. And he also testified that those analysts did not have access to eyewitness accounts on the ground when they said they believed the attacks came out of a protest.
Herridge's report took Morell's testimony grossly out of context and ignored older findings that elaborate on the intelligence gathering process. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence explained in its report on the attacks published in January, a lack of clear eyewitness accounts on the ground in Benghazi made it necessary to rely on other sources:
A dearth of clear and definitive HUMINT or eyewitness reporting led IC analysts to rely on open press reports and limited SIGINT reporting that incorrectly attributed the origins of the Benghazi attacks to "protests," over first-hand accounts from U.S. officials on the ground. CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review found that "[a ]pproximately a dozen reports that included press accounts, public statements by AAS members, HUMINT reporting, DOD reporting, and signals intelligence all stated or strongly suggested that a protest occurred outside of the Mission facility just prior to the attacks."
In fact, Morell himself testified as to the reason the eyewitness accounts on the ground weren't given to analysts in an exchange with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), context that didn't make its way into Herridge's report:
BACHMANN: I thought I just heard you say, Mr. Morell, that the information taken from the eyewitnesses on the ground wasn't given to your analysts. That they looked at the press reports, the intelligence product, SIGINT, HUMINT. Is that true?
MORELL: Ma'am, what you have to understand, ma'am, is that the information didn't come all at one time. The information came in pieces over time. And when the analysts wrote their piece on the 12th, that was published on the 13th, the information that they had said there was a protest. The information, they had no information that said there was no protest. There may have been people, on the ground, who knew there was no protest, but they had not yet been interviewed, and those interviews had not yet been disseminated. In fact they were not disseminated for some time. In fact they were not disseminated until after the analysts changed their judgment about a protest. So there's a flow of information here that is really important to keep in mind as you think about how the analysts are trying to do their job here.