Fox News' campaign to use the September terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, to damage President Obama may not have succeeded in defeating his bid for re-election, but it has resulted in Congressional Republicans issuing a politicized report that echoes longstanding conspiracy theories in an obvious attempt to damage Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The report, compiled by House Republicans on five committees for the House Republican Conference, has already come under fire from the Democratic leaders of those committees, who have reportedly sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner accusing him of politicizing the inquiry by shutting out Democratic views. Fox News, however, is already promoting its conclusions, with a segment on the "scathing report" leading Fox's Special Report:
This is no surprise. The right-wing media -- led by Fox News -- has spent more than half a year blaming the Obama administration for the tragic deaths of U.S. personnel in Benghazi and wielding that attack as a cudgel in an attempt to cause political damage. They have politicized the attack since day 1, claiming that the Obama administration's actions are directly responsible for the deaths and pushing conspiracies about administration officials deliberately misleading the public.
Several Fox talking points on the attack were later used by Republican senators seeking to criticize the administration during that hearing. So it's no surprise that similar talking points have found their way into the report itself.
Notably, the document accuses the Obama administration of "deliberately misleading" by asserting that an anti-Islam YouTube video had triggered the attack, echoing claims by Fox News. But The New York Times has reported that the attackers themselves said they were motivated by the video.
Likewise, the report pins the blame for the Benghazi facility's level of security directly on Clinton. A nonpartisan review conducted by a State Department Accountability Review Board, led by Ambassador Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, made no such finding with regard to Clinton, attributing the security conditions to lower level bureaucrats.
Expect Fox to continue to push the report in the days and weeks to come. They've been pushing these partisan attacks for months, and apparently have no intention of backing off now.
We're not yet a month into Barack Obama's second term, and already Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin can see the president's "second-term curse" taking shape. At its core, according to Rubin, is last year's terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- or rather, several audacious and blatant falsehoods about Benghazi that Rubin is trying to hang around Obama's neck.
Rubin wrote in a February 7 blog post [emphasis in original]:
We are barely out of January and all this has occurred: We learned the economy contracted in the 4th quarter of 2012. President Obama is trying to wriggle out of a sequester, which he insisted upon in the 2011 budget negotiations. The Congressional Budget Office says our debt is dangerously increasing. Obama was forced to push Susan Rice aside and should have pushed Chuck Hagel off the boat. Jack Lew is now under scrutiny for ignoring federal law regarding Medicare insolvency warnings. And Benghazi -- you remember the story the mainstream media would not cover? -- has turned into a debacle. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified today that the president was absent during the Benghazi, Libya, attack(s) and neither he nor Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to anyone in the White House after briefly telling the president an attack was underway. What?!?
None of this is particularly compelling, as far as "curses" go. The Q4 GDP contraction was due to decreases in government spending (mainly defense spending), and other leading economic indicators actually showed some good news. "Personal consumption, fixed investment, and equipment/software all grew nicely. This is the real economy humming along," wrote Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal. And as for Obama "trying to wriggle out of the sequester" that he "insisted upon in the 2011 budget negotiations," that's only half the story. The sequester was a compromise agreed to by both parties after the GOP took the debt limit hostage and demanded spending cuts in order to raise it. And it's true that Susan Rice is not Secretary of State, primarily due to the fact that she was never nominated. Instead Obama nominated John Kerry, who sailed through confirmation, and Hagel is looking like he'll be confirmed as well. That's some curse!
Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched "real-time" video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: "There was no monitor, there was no real time." As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis. But the "real-time" video falsehood did not start with the Fox News host. In fact, one of the first mentions -- perhaps the first -- of the spurious Benghazi video was on Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog.
The whole story starts with an October 10, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that hearing, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, had this exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), describing how she followed via telephone the developments in the Benghazi attack as they were happening:
LANKFORD: Mrs. Lamb, can you clarify for me, where -- where were you working September 11? Were you in the Washington area -- were -- in the main facility there?
LAMB: Yes sir. I was in the D.S. Command center on the evening of the event.
LANKFORD: You -- you -- you note that in your testimony that you were in the Diplomatic Security Command Center and then you make this statement, "I could follow what was happening almost in real time."
LAMB: That's correct.
LANKFORD: So once they hit the button in Benghazi, you're alerted, it says you could have. Did you follow what was happening in real time at that point?
LAMB: Sir, what was happening is they were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back.
LANKFORD: But you're -- but you're tracking it back and forth what's going on.
LAMB: Yes absolutely. [Transcript via Nexis, emphasis added]
That night on Fox News' Hannity, Liz Cheney seized on Lamb's testimony, but characterized it correctly:
CHENEY: Today, we learned from Charlene Lamb under oath that she followed, you know, the diplomatic security official, that she followed what was going on, minute by minute. She was following it in real time. So the administration knew in real time, there wasn't a mob, they knew in real time that this was a well-coordinated attack. They knew in real time that it involved heavy weaponry, this was clearly a terrorist attack and the American people have clearly, as you've said, been lied to.
The following morning, October 11, Jennifer Rubin posted a video of Cheney's Hannity appearance in a post headlined "Real-time Libya: Who knew what, when?" In that post, Rubin claimed (citing no other sources) that Lamb had watched a "real-time video" of the attack -- something neither Lamb nor Cheney had said:
Seriously, something doesn't make sense. Do we think no one else ever got the benefit of that information that mid-level bureaucrat Charlene Lamb had? This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone (the White House, the public, the media) wanted to know what happened in Benghazi. So why not look at the real-time video? Why not ask Lamb what she saw and heard?
That next day, October 12, CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow wrote in his syndicated column that "State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time." [emphasis in original] Later that night on Fox News, Hannity made his first reference to "real time video" of the attack: "The president knew within 24 hours what the truth was, and what I am told, they actually saw this in real-time. There is a video, real-time, of everything that went down in Benghazi."
From that point forward, Hannity flogged away at the State Department for "watching" the attack unfold "real time," repeating it almost every day as it spread to other corners of the conservative media. Wemple debunked the allegation in November, citing a State Department official's denial that anyone at State "had the ability to watch either of the attacks in real time." According to an administration official quoted in Wemple's report, the Benghazi compound had closed-circuit video surveillance that could not be monitored from outside the facility.
Tom Ricks' bit of impromptu media criticism on Fox News over their Benghazi coverage, for which the Pulitzer-winning national security journalist had his interview cut short, was a rare thing to see. Self-criticism doesn't often happen on Fox airwaves, and they insist against all evidence that they play it straight and "have no agenda." But what makes Ricks' commentary especially noteworthy is the fact that the anchor who cut Ricks' interview short, Jon Scott, is himself Fox News' resident media critic.
Scott hosts the weekly program Fox News Watch, which approaches every media story from the premise that the media are liberally biased and, to borrow from Ricks, "a wing of the Democratic Party."
To give just a taste of how Fox News Watch does business, here's the intro to the November 10 edition, the first post-election show:
Scott asked if "media cheerleading" helped President Obama win reelection, whacked the "liberal press" for "tak[ing] shots" at Karl Rove and Fox News for their embarrassing election night squabble over Ohio, asked if the Obama second term will be "four more years of a media love fest," and suggested that CBS News helped the White House "hide the truth" about Benghazi. Then he introduced his panel: two conservative pundits (Cal Thomas and Jim Pinkerton), one disgraced former journalist (Judith Miller), and Kirsten Powers.
Scott's broad-ranging set of allegations put just about every sector of the media in the tank for the Democrats and specifically indicted one outlet for assisting in a White House cover-up (a cover-up for which there is no evidence). Meanwhile, Tom Ricks told Jon Scott that on one story Fox News has been pulling weight for the GOP, and he got thrown off the air, called "rude," and had his "strength of character" questioned by network brass.
One thing you can be sure of is that, in keeping with the moratorium on self-criticism, Scott and Fox News Watch will approach the Ricks fiasco in one of two ways: ignore it, as they've so often done with the Fox News' and News Corp.'s various and sundry ethical lapses; or cast themselves as the wrongly maligned victim of the "liberal media."
Fox's coverage of the September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi has increasingly been prone to extreme paranoia, excluding key evidence, and plain misinformation. Last night on his show, Stephen Colbert examined how Fox has been covering the Benghazi attack and why the network may be covering it that way.
From the October 24 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin joined the transcript truther crowd on CNN's Reliable Sources this morning, claiming that President Obama was not referring to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi when he used the term "acts of terror" in his September 12 Rose Garden statement on the attack.
Specifically, Rubin claimed Obama's use of "acts of terror" was "not in the same paragraph with Benghazi." That is flatly untrue. The president's very next sentences were: "Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done."
Current TV host David Shuster, appearing with Rubin, tried to correct her, noting that just two sentences prior to saying "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," the president said: "[L]ast night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi." Rubin denied this was true even though, as the transcript shows, Shuster was right:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
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. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
Keep in mind that we're several days out from the debate at which this quibbling over "acts of terror" became an issue. Rubin has had more than enough to time to read over the transcript of Obama's remarks, and she's clearly quite familiar with what it says. That raises the question as to why she's so blatantly lying and mischaracterizing the president's words.
The answer can be gleaned from a comment she made towards the end of the video above about the "acts of terror" flap: "I don't think this hurt Mitt Romney whatsoever. His campaign doesn't think it hurt Mitt Romney whatsoever." That lock-step synchronicity with the Romney campaign crystallizes the broadly held opinion of Rubin's increasingly embarrassing work for the Washington Post.
Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum attacked the Obama administration for referencing an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. in statements about the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, calling mentions of the video a "red herring." In fact, the video was linked to protests in at least 20 Muslim countries, and recent reporting says that the attackers at the Benghazi compound were motivated by the video.
Ed Klein, terrible journalist and prurient hack, writes today for the Daily Caller (naturally) that Hillary Clinton's statement taking responsibility for security lapses at the American consulate in Benghazi were motivated by a secret plan to capture the White House in 2016.
Sourcing his report to "a member of Hillary's inner circle to whom I have spoken" (Klein has a remarkable gift for retaining access to Clinton insiders despite years of peddling trashy nonsense about the former first lady), Klein writes that Clinton threatened to resign if the White House "continued to make her the scapegoat for Benghazi," but her secret team of lawyers and strategists came up with a more "rational" course of action.
Here's how he describes the plan:
After the Clinton legal team had a chance to review the State Department cable traffic between Benghazi and Washington, the experts came to the conclusion that the cables proved that Hillary had in fact given specific instructions to beef up security in Libya, and that if those orders had been carried out -- which they weren't -- they could conceivably have avoided the tragedy.
Clearly, someone in the Obama administration dropped the ball -- and the president was still insisting that it was not his fault.
In the end, then, Hillary decided to assume responsibility to show that she was acting more presidential than the president.
I am told by my sources that she firmly believes that when the State Department cable traffic is made public, either through leaks to the press or during formal House committee hearings, it will exonerate her and shift the blame for the entire mess onto the president.
Let's break this down this "rational" scheme, shall we?
According to Klein, Clinton knowingly and falsely accepted responsibility for Benghazi security in order to cover for President Obama so that he might stand a better chance at reelection. Clinton was also fully aware that there are secret State Department cables showing that, in taking responsibility for Benghazi, she was not telling the truth, and that these cables will soon see the light of day. This calculated effort to cover up the alleged truth about Benghazi under the assumption that the truth will eventually be exposed is, per Klein's telling, all part of a plan to make Clinton seem presidential. Because if there's anything that screams "leadership," it's complicity in a cover-up.
This makes absolutely no sense. None whatsoever.
Nevertheless, Fox News "straight journalist" Bret Baier is on the case, taking his cues from a credibility-vacant huckster's axe-grinding nonsense.
Mitt Romney's attack on President Obama following the deadly assaults on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt yesterday drew no shortage of scrutiny from journalists who pointed out (correctly) that Romney got wrong the basic chronology of the incidents, and questioned the propriety of Romney's comments overall. This in turn has led to a backlash from conservatives who are faulting the media's response to Romney, arguing that we are in a presidential campaign and Romney should be allowed to "criticize" the president on foreign policy.
No argument here. The challenger should absolutely critique the policies of the incumbent. But that's not what Romney did. The core of Romney's response was a personal attack on the president for "sympathizing" with the people who killed U.S. diplomatic personnel, and the conservatives lashing out at the media are trying to mask that personal attack as foreign policy "criticism."
For example, the Wall Street Journal editorializes today that "the parsons of the press corps are offended by the debate. They're upset that Mitt Romney had the gall to criticize the State Department for a statement that the White House itself disavowed." National Review editor Rich Lowry writes in Politico:
When a U.S. Embassy gets stormed by protesters overseas, it's usually a matter of public concern. It might occasion headlines and commentary. Even debate between presidential candidates.
Unless one of the candidates is President Barack Obama and the other is Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Then, everything changes.
In the immediate aftermath of the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic installations in Egypt and Libya, the political debate fastened on the propriety of Romney criticizing the administration for its initial response. You know -- important stuff.
Forget the dead body of our ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, who had been instrumental in aiding the rebellion. Forget the desecration of the embassy's flag in Cairo. Forget the question of what we're going to do to find the perpetrators or respond to two governments unable or unwilling to fulfill their most basic international responsibilities.
The reports from earlier this week about how Obama would use foreign policy as cudgel against Romney had barely faded when the media pack turned around and declared politics must stop at the water's edge, thank you very much.
The old complaint about Romney was that he didn't talk about foreign policy. The newly minted complaint about Romney was that he did talk about foreign policy. He gets it coming and going, and everywhere in between.
Lowry concludes: "If this isn't the time to talk about this record, when is the right time? For the press, politics doesn't stop at the water's edge. It stops wherever is most convenient for Obama's reelection campaign." One thing you'll notice about Lowry's op-ed is that, for all its exhortations of the importance of critiquing Obama's record, he doesn't actually quote anything from Romney's statement on the embassy attacks.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is defending Romney's attacks on President Obama over the deadly assaults on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, writing that Romney's position is drawing support from "conservative foreign policy hawks."
Conservative foreign policy hawks, outraged at the media's circle-the-wagons reaction to the attacks on two embassies, are speaking out in defense of Mitt Romney.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton tells Right Turn: "The perception of American weakness that provided the foundation for these attacks is largely because of Obama administration mistakes and lack of resolve. A repetition of 1979 in Tehran is nor fetched, especially given the weakness of Obama's statement this morning." He dismisses the media storyline as pure boosterism: "The press criticism of Romney's statement is so clearly at the administration's behest that they are giving lapdogs a bad name."
John Bolton is, of course, a Romney campaign surrogate. So the fact that he's defending Romney isn't exactly surprising.
Rubin also notes that a pair of American Enterprise Institute scholars are also rallying to Romney's side, as is Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). But they remain in the distinct minority, as many prominent Republicans are showing reluctance to echo Romney's attacks on the president.
Last night, responding to attacks on the American embassy in Egypt and consulate in Libya in which the ambassador to Libya and several other Americans were killed, Mitt Romney released a statement slamming President Obama for "sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks." Romney was referencing a statement put out by the embassy in Egypt before the attacks which condemned an anti-Islam film that was the pretext for riots in Cairo and Benghazi.
Foreign policy experts (Republicans among them) have criticized Romney's timing and journalists have pointed out that the attack itself "does not stand up to simple chronology." But the content of the message -- that the president is sympathetic to people who attack and kill Americans -- is noteworthy in that it is a direct echo of the fevered and inflammatory smears aimed at the president by fringe elements of the right-wing media.
Indeed, Romney's statement was almost a word-for-word rehash of an accusation leveled against Obama by Dinesh D'Souza in his documentary film, 2016: Obama's America -- a slipshod, pseudo-intellectual smear job that's drawn condemnation from across the ideological spectrum. In the film, D'Souza argues that Obama inherited a "Third World collectivist" worldview from his deceased father that he is secretly implementing in order to reduce America's global stature, which leads the president to be "weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadis" captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This is obvious nonsense, given the administration's record on terrorism, but it appeals to the slice of the population that already believe that Obama is foreign and dangerous and a threat to the country. This inflammatory gibberish -- along with the long-standing canard that the president constantly "apologizes for America" -- has risen all the way from the right-wing fever swamp and is now animating high-level Republican political strategy on foreign policy.
It's a jarring reminder that the fringe, while not always visible, has a distressingly high amount of influence on national politics.
From the April 3 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the April 1 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Many times during the Iraq war, Fox News came to the defense of President Bush, arguing that those critical of the war were "aiding the terrorists" and "undermining" the president. Yet in the past several weeks, Fox has gone all out in attacking Obama for the U.S. military presence in Libya, often painting the operations there as "not [going] well" and criticizing Obama's leadership.
Following Sean Hannity's lead, The Washington Times falsely suggested that the United Nations supported President Bush's invasion of Iraq. In fact, the U.N. Security Council did not back Bush's invasion of Iraq, and then-Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested the invasion was "illegal."