As part of the latest hoax about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News is distorting a document recently unearthed by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Fox and Judicial Watch are trying to keep alive the phony right-wing narrative that the Obama administration somehow covered up the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed.
A December 12 FoxNews.com article about the Judicial Watch documents says, "Newly released documents show an official at the State Department urged a contractor providing security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi not to respond to media inquiries, in the wake of the September 2012 terrorist attack."
Thus far, the only portion of the "documents" that Judicial Watch has released is an out-of-context, three-sentence quote from an email sent by State Department contracting officer Jan Visintainer to Blue Mountain Group, a firm that helped provide security at the diplomatic post in Benghazi. The email is dated September 26, 2012 -- about two weeks after the attacks.
In reality, the quote from the email shows that Blue Mountain Group first suggested declining to speak with the media, and Visintainer agreed that this was the correct course. Visintainer also said he spoke about the matter with public affairs personnel at the State Department.
Here is the entirety of the quote cited by Judicial Watch and Fox News:
"Thank you so much for informing us about the media inquiries. We notified our public affairs personnel that they too may receive some questions. We concur with you that at the moment the best way to deal with the inquiries is to either be silent or provide no comments."
Yet, in a blog post misleadingly titled "State Dept. Ordered Benghazi Security Co. to Dodge Media," Judicial Watch called this email "scandalous."
No matter. Fox News and others in the conservative media are more than happy to forward this latest exaggeration to continue to push their Benghazi hoax.
Image via Steve Rhodes
Rush Limbaugh seized on a report that government officials attended rallies related to George Zimmerman to accuse the Department of Justice of "instigating race riots" when in fact, the officials acted as peacekeepers to "defuse community anger."
On his radio show, Limbaugh read from a Judicial Watch post which claimed that a DOJ unit called the Community Relations Service (CRS) "deployed to Sanford, FL to organize and manage rallies against Zimmerman." The post highlighted documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests which detailed spending on activities such as providing "technical assistance for the preparation of possible marches and rallies related to the fatal shooting of a 17 year old African American male."
Limbaugh claimed the documents proved that the DOJ was "organizing anti-Zimmerman rallies," going on to say that "the United States government has been converted by Obama and [Eric] Holder into a community organizing agitator bunch." Limbaugh concluded that "this regime saw an opportunity to turn something into a profoundly racial case for the express purpose of ripping the country apart":
But the documents do not show the CRS organizing rallies against Zimmerman, only providing support and technical assistance for them. In fact, as the Miami Herald reported, the unit worked to "defuse community anger hardening along the fault lines of race, color and national origin":
Conservative websites are claiming a new release of documents show that the "White House" gave "classified information" to filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for their upcoming film about the Osama bin Laden raid. However, even the group that released those documents, Judicial Watch, does not claim that the "White House" gave Bigelow and Boal "classified information."
Right-wing media have attacked a proposed Obama administration rule change that would reduce the amount of time required for undocumented immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens to apply for residency as "stealth amnesty" by a "lawless regime." But the proposed rule change would allow eligible immigrants to obtain a lawful return visa without a long separation from their families; moreover, immigrant-rights activists have said that the current system encourages people to remain here illegally.
I've spent a good chunk of this week arguing that Judicial Watch, the right-wing "good government" watchdog, is actually a collection of hackish partisans who use their watchdog status as a fig leaf for fabricating counterfactual anti-Obama narratives.
But I'm tired of doing that. So instead, I'll let Judicial Watch do it for me.
Here's Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton arguing, in all seriousness, that the Obama administration refuses to release the photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse because they are "embarrassed" by "our victory."
FOIA is a disclosure statute, and the public has an affirmative right to know. We're not after legitimate secrets related to operational or intelligence matters. But the historical record of Osama bin Laden's death should be released to the American people as the law requires.
I get the feeling that the Obama administration doesn't want to release these photos because it is embarrassed both by our victory in killing bin Laden and the preposterous burial at sea.
As I've pointed out previously, the Obama administration has no problem releasing documents that the left thinks will embarrass the United States -- say, for example, Obama's selective release of documents disparaging "enhanced interrogation techniques" over the objections of his own national security officials. But when it comes to documents that show the heroism of our military? No deal.
He killed Osama bin Laden.
He instructed Leon Panetta to revamp and refocus the CIA's hunt for Bin Laden, ordered the high-risk military action that took out the Al Qaeda chief, monitored the assault from the White House situation room, delivered a national address announcing Bin Laden's death, thanked the military for their role in the successful operation, and thanked the intelligence community for hunting Bin Laden down.
And all this was done with an overriding sense of shame?
I have to wonder if Tom Fitton is even capable of recognizing embarrassment when he sees it. Only someone incapable of feeling any shame would make an argument this foolish.
Judicial Watch's pearl-clutching "report" on the cost of Michelle Obama's trip to Africa is falling apart pretty quickly.
As I pointed out yesterday, what Judicial Watch tried to paint as a "vacation" was actually an official trip in which the First Lady met with foreign dignitaries and world leaders. She went on a private safari with her children and other family members, but that was paid for by the family. So Judicial Watch had to cherry-pick a few numbers and gloss over important context to gin up some insincere outrage over the fact that the First Lady's travel expenses were paid for with tax dollars. (When Laura Bush traveled to Africa with her kids on the taxpayer dime and went on a private safari, Judicial Watch kept schtum).
Last night, ABC's Jake Tapper spoke to officials at the White House who poked a couple more holes in the Judicial Watch report.
Regarding the $424,000 price tag Judicial Watch calculated for use of the Air Force jet:
"The number stated is misconstrued and out of context," says a senior White House official. "The hourly rate is not the marginal cost of operating the plane -- it is an accounting figure that prices in a number of fixed costs from maintaining the Air Force fleet for this kind of plane over a year. For example, it includes estimated replacement parts, depreciation, repairs, and costs that would have been incurred regardless of this flight."
And regarding Judicial Watch's claim that the Obama children were designated "senior staff" for the trip:
"The Obama daughters were not listed as Senior Staff -- that only designates the area of the plane where they were seated," says the official. "The Air Force categorizes the passengers by compartment on the plane."
Judicial Watch left out a lot of key information, and what they left in they got wrong. But when you're trying to manufacture anti-Obama narratives under the guise of good-government watchdogging, accuracy isn't really a huge concern.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton has taken to the pages of Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com to hype his organization's latest "bombshell" -- a series of mundane emails between FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and media reform organization Free Press regarding the placement of a pro-net neutrality op-ed. As Media Matters has demonstrated, the communications are nothing out of the ordinary. Government officials regularly communicate with outside interest groups and even make arrangements to work with them, like when FCC commissioner Robert M. McDowell gave a speech expressing his opposition to net neutrality at Americans For Prosperity's (AFP) Right Online conference in 2010.
Nevertheless, Fitton and others on the right seem to think they've uncovered a conspiracy of sorts. In his BigGovernment piece, Fitton goes overboard in describing the alleged perfidy his group has discovered, steadily escalating the infraction to something approaching supervillainy:
We recently uncovered documents from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that show officials at the FCC colluded with the radical leftist Free Press organization to publicly push a new plan to regulate the Internet under the FCC's so-called "net neutrality" program.
Judicial Watch uncovered internal correspondence showing unusual coordination by some officials at the FCC and Free Press in pushing the "net neutrality" agenda in the run-up to the controversial FCC vote in December:
So it should come as no surprise that an organization with socialist ties is driving the net neutrality agenda from inside the Obama administration. The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency that follows the law. The American people should be deeply troubled by the fact that the Obama administration, on issue after issue, seems to be run by shadowy leftist organizations.
Mind you, all that Judicial Watch has "uncovered" are emails discussing the placement of an op-ed, and potential speakers for a FCC conference on net neutrality. From this, Fitton starts at "collusion," moves on to "unusual coordination," and then somehow ends up at the Obama administration being "run by shadowy leftist organizations." How he got there is anyone's guess.
It's really maddening that we've reached the point where we can't even have a memorial service without it turning into a partisan witch-hunt.
Armed only with irrational suspicion and the false conjecture of Michelle Malkin, the right-wing group Judicial Watch has apparently launched an investigation into the White House's alleged involvement in "branding" the University of Arizona memorial for the victims of the January 8 mass shooting in Tuscon, at which t-shirts bearing the slogan "Together We Thrive" were distributed. Writing on BigGovernment.com, Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton claims that "many questioned how it was set up and, specifically, whether the White House was involved in the t-shirt controversy."
It's important to note at this point that this claim (which originated as unsupported speculation on Michelle Malkin's blog) has already been debunked by Politifact, which quoted U of A spokespeople saying that the White House had no involvement with the branding of the event, and that the slogan -- which Fitton described as "an obvious play on a popular Obama presidential campaign theme" -- was devised by a university student. (For the comically tenuous link the right is claiming connects the slogan to Obama, click here.)
Nonetheless, Judicial Watch demanded the university send them "any and all communications, contracts or correspondence between the University of Arizona and The White House concerning, regarding or relating to T-shirts bearing the logo 'Together We Thrive: Tucson & America,' distributed to attendees at the January 12, 2011, memorial service for the victims of the January 8, 2011, Tucson shooting."
The result? "On January 20 the University told us it had no documents responsive to our first request."
So, Judicial Watch dug deep and came up with the same result as Politifact: no White House involvement. Case closed, right?
If we are to believe this official response, there are no records showing Obama White House involvement. Not only are we curious, but we're skeptical. And we will push back a bit to ensure we're not being trifled with by yet another government entity that doesn't want to produce embarrassing documents.
Judicial Watch doesn't have any reason to believe that the university is lying to them. They don't have any reason to believe the Obama administration was involved at all. They don't have any explanation as to why the university would construct an elaborate lie about the branding's origin and withhold documents to obscure the White House's involvement.
And yet, they're sure that something fishy is going on, because... well, just because.
Judicial Watch has received much attention from the usual right-wing outlets for its recent mini-report claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent $2 million in taxpayer money on Air Force aircraft. The press release seems rather deliberately underwritten, suggesting that much, if not all, of that money was spent solely on Pelosi and her immediate family -- for example, their press release's headline states that Pelosi's "Military Travel Cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a Two-Year Period." But the release later discloses that the data is actually for "103 Pelosi-led congressional delegations" -- i.e., the congressional delegations set up through the Speaker's office, many of which included other members of Congress as well -- not her personal travel. WorldNetDaily, for one, took that bait.
Judicial Watch is also completely silent about the passenger lists for these CODELs -- perhaps because some of them include Republican members of Congress and their spouses. For instance, Judicial Watch highlighted a May 2008 CODEL to Israel and Baghdad that "included members of Congress and their spouses and cost $17,931 per hour in aircraft alone," as well as a copious stash of alcoholic beverages. Unmentioned by Judicial Watch was that Republican Reps. David Dreier and Adam Putnam were also on that trip (Republican Leader John Boehner was originally scheduled to go as well but later withdrew). Republican members also brought their spouses on Pelosi-led delegations to Europe in 2007 and Europe and India in 2008.
In highlighting how some of these Pelosi-related trips "included members of the House Speaker's family," Judicial Watch curiously fails to mention that family members traveling on Air Force aircraft are generally required to reimburse the government for the cost of flights and food, paying the price of a coach ticket on a commercial airline. Indeed, the authorizations from Pelosi's office for members of her family to travel on CODELs make clear that the "[t]ravel is on a reimbursable basis."
Also glossed over: Pelosi's predecessor as House speaker, Republican Dennis Hastert, also authorized members to bring family members on CODELs. Indeed, the Freedom of Information Act documents Judicial Watch posted to support its attack on Pelosi bear this out -- for instance, a request by Hastert for a 2006 CODEL to Greece, India, and Vietnam shows that of the congressmen going on the trip, all but one were Republican, and all but one brought their wives, including Hastert himself.
Even though Republican Hastert arranged and went on junket-esque CODELs, and even though Republicans were on numerous CODELs arranged by Pelosi, Judicial Watch sees fit to bash only Pelosi.
This appears to be nothing more than the latest round of smearing Pelosi as a prolific abuser of the House speaker's travel privileges. That falsehood-laden accusation was debunked.