Fox News is heavily invested in turning Benghazi into the scandal that takes down Barack Obama. It's not just the dream of brutishly partisan actors like Sean Hannity, but the stated intention of Fox reporters like James Rosen, who told Bill O'Reilly that "there are certain elements...that are lacking here for this to become Watergate," among them the self-serving notion that the media -- save for Fox News -- refuse to dig into the "major scandal" that is Benghazi. The idea that media outlets have been reticent to investigate the September 2012 attack on the Benghazi diplomatic compound is laughably false. What Rosen really means is that the press aren't covering it in the way that Fox News is.
This plays into the Fox Cycle, a process Media Matters has documented by which false and misleading conservative attacks make the transition from right-wing hobbyhorse to national media narrative, with Fox News playing a key role in pressuring mainstream press outlets into covering the story. Fox has been working hard at doing just that this week with a series of segments on Special Report with Bret Baier featuring an anonymous Benghazi "insider" who purports to contradict the official account of the Benghazi attack.
Here, however, are five instances in which the "insider" describes events that actually took place, were already known, or have been debunked.
1. The presence of special forces in Croatia. Media Matters documented one such instance of Fox's confidential informant breaking news that everyone already knew -- the presence of a special operations force in Croatia. "I know for a fact that C-110 [a special ops team], the EUCOM CIF, was doing a training exercise, not in the region of Northern Africa, but in Europe. And they had the ability to react and respond," said Fox's unnamed source. Everyone knows that "for a fact" because it's been a matter of public record for months now and was included in the Pentagon's official Benghazi timeline. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered those forces to deploy, but they could not arrive in time.
2. Deployment of those special forces. That brings up another point of contention. Fox's source claimed: "We had the ability to load out, get on birds, and fly there at a minimum stage. C-110 had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in four to six hours from their European theater to react." [emphasis added] The phrase "in my opinion" is highlighted there because that's all this is. An opinion. The State Department independent Benghazi review and outside experts have a different opinion: that there were no military assets that could have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference. This is less a contradiction of the official account than a disagreement from a party whose identity and expertise are as yet unknown. (Former Marine officer and special operations team leader Billy Birdzell dismantled Fox's source's claims about the deployment of C-110 here.)
Fox News has been hyping the statements of an anonymous source who has contradicted the account of both the Obama administration and independent findings about the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Now two separate statements by experts in Foreign Policy are casting more doubt about the claims of Fox's source.
Fox's flagship show Special Report ran a series of reports that highlighted an anonymous source who claims to have knowledge about the Benghazi attacks. In one segment, the source claimed that the Obama administration had forces available to aid the victims of the attack, but chose not to utilize them, a claim contradicted not only by the State Department, but by the Accountability Review Board, an independent panel convened to investigate whether there was a breach of duty during and after the attack.
But in a post on Foreign Policy magazine's website, national security journalist Tom Ricks, who previously accused Fox News of "operating as a wing of the Republican Party" on the Benghazi issue, published two accounts from experts who strongly questioned Fox's Benghazi source. Ricks reported that he's hearing Fox doesn't have a scoop with its Benghazi source, and quoted Retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell stating:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
In a separate article, U.S. Marine Corps officer and special operations team leader Billy Birdzell called Fox's source "a clown" and criticized news outlets for "not using Google" before promoting him. Birdzell explained how forces in the area, including the force training in Croatia that Fox's source discussed, would have needed far more time to reach Benghazi than they had.
Fox's Bret Baier hosted a confidential informant to express his opinion that the Obama administration could have aided staff who were killed during the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, an opinion refuted by military experts and nonpartisan analysis.
On the April 29 edition of Special Report, Baier claimed that new details from a confidential source refutes the Obama administration's claim that "there was no help available for the Americans under assault in Libya" that would have changed the outcome of the attack. During an interview with Fox correspondent Adam Housley, a confidential Special Forces operator who monitored the events in Benghazi claimed that "there were at least two military units that could have made it in time" to respond in Benghazi. Fox's source claimed that one of those units was a group that was "training in Croatia":
But the informant's claim is nothing new. Accusing President Obama of failing to mobilize forces in order to respond to Benghazi, including the specific forces referenced by the source, has been a central point in the right-wing media's campaign to use Benghazi to damage Obama politically. However, numerous reports, including nonpartisan analyses, agree with the Obama administration's finding that no other assets than those sent to respond to the attacks were available in time to affect the outcome of the attack.
Since last year's attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News has pushed several conspiracy theories in an attempt to damage President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the same time many of those conspiracies found a new outlet in the form of a House GOP report, Fox issued poll findings critical of the Obama administration.
From the day after the September 11, 2012, attack on the Benghazi facility, the right-wing media has attempted to use the incident to inflict political damage on Obama. Fox News has led the charge on this campaign, spending months inventing new ways to target the president for the attacks. Fox's campaign resulted in a report by congressional Republicans that echoed many of the conspiracy theories that have been promoted by Fox and the right-wing media.
But this smear campaign has fallen apart at every turn. In December 2012, the independent Accountability Review Board further dismantled many of Fox's attacks, including the claim that the Obama administration refused to send reinforcements during the Benghazi attack. The most recent attack to fall flat is that Clinton denied requests for heightened security based on a cable that bore her name. As several media outlets pointed out, "every single cable sent from Washington to the field is sent over the secretary of state's name," even if she wasn't directly involved.
Just days before the report was issued, Fox News conducted a poll that asked respondents questions about Benghazi, including about Clinton and the security cable. The release of the poll coincided with the issuing of a report from House Republicans.
The report, which was released on April 23, claimed that "in a cable signed by Secretary Clinton in April 2012, the State Department settled on a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including Benghazi." On April 20-22, Fox News was polling this exact issue: "Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she did not see a cable from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi asking for reinforcements for its security detail and warning the Obama administration about the dangerous situation the consulate was facing -- How do you feel about that?"
While the fact that the House GOP was publishing an attack on the Obama administration at the same time Fox was conducting a poll on the GOP report's contents could be coincidental, the timing raises questions about collaboration. Fox has been caught in the past acting as the communications arm of the GOP.
Fox News' latest attempt to use the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya to blame Hillary Clinton for the deaths of U.S. personnel has been undermined by several news outlets.
Fox has claimed that a new Republican report on the Benghazi attack proves that Clinton falsely claimed she was unaware of requests for additional security at the Benghazi compound because she personally read and signed off on a cable responding to one such missive. Reporting from The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Foreign Policy, however, demonstrates that all such messages from the State Department to diplomatic facilities abroad are sent out over the secretary's signature.
On April 23, Republican congressional committee chairmen released a report on the September 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. The report claimed that an "April 2012 cable from Secretary Clinton" was a "critical cable" that responded to the U.S. ambassador's request for additional security resources by calling for reductions in security. The GOP's evidence that this cable came personally from Clinton is that it bore her signature [emphasis in original]:
State Department officials in Washington acknowledged that the Benghazi Mission lacked sufficient resources to protect its personnel in a deteriorating security environment. However, in a cable signed by Secretary Clinton in April 2012, the State Department settled on a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including Benghazi. Specifically, despite acknowledging Ambassador Cretz's March 2012 cable requesting additional security assets, the April plan called for the removal of the two remaining MSD teams, the third initially deployed MSD team having been previously removed.
Fox News, which has spent months pushing falsehoods and conspiracies in an attempt to politically damage the Obama administration, subsequently seized on the report to claim that it undermines then-Secretary Clinton's January 23 testimony that the cables requesting additional security did not reach her desk and were handled by subordinates.
But several news outlets have reported that it is routine for outgoing messages from the State Department to be sent under the secretary's name without the secretary's direct involvement. An Associated Press article on the House Republican report stated that "every cable from Washington to the department's field offices is sent over the secretary of state's name." Foreign Policy concurred, reporting:
It's not clear who in the State Department sent the April 19 response. But as a general rule, "every single cable sent from Washington to the field is sent over the secretary of state's name," a former State Department official noted, adding, "Though they are trying to make this new, it's not. After 30+ hearings and briefings, thousands of pages, this has all been addressed."
And The Washington Post similarly reported: "Many State Department cables routinely go out with the secretary of state's name, and it was not immediately clear whether this one was personally written by Clinton."
But Fox News has repeatedly treated the House report's claims credulously. In an April 23 segment on Fox News' Special Report, national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin quoted the section of the report that claims then-Secretary Clinton personally approved of security reductions, and that the action contradicts her prior testimony. On April 24, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed during an interview of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) that the GOP report "sharply contradicts [Clinton's] sworn testimony."
Fox News has often claimed that "liberals" stopped using the term "global warming" in favor of the term "climate change" because the planet is no longer warming. Fox News' The Five, for instance, celebrated Earth Day 2013 by trotting out this talking point to deny global warming - even though 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record and each of the 12 hottest years on record have come in the last 15 years. In reality, it was Republican consultant Frank Luntz -- now a Fox News contributor -- who advised Republicans in a 2002 memo to use the term "climate change" because "'climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming.'"
The term "climate change" was used long before Luntz's memo, particularly in the scientific literature. For instance, a 1970 paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was titled "Carbon Dioxide and its Role in Climate Change" and discussed how emissions of carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere.
Scientists use "global warming" when speaking about the increase in average global surface temperatures. They use "climate change" to refer to all the other disruptions that greenhouse gas emissions are causing -- from rising sea levels, to abruptly changing precipitation patterns that increase the likelihood of droughts and wildfires in certain areas and extreme flooding in others, to acidifying oceans that disturb the marine food web.
John Kerr created the video in this report.
Right-wing media used a straw man argument to defend the Republican-led filibuster of a gun violence prevention bill, claiming that the legislation wouldn't have stopped the massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and ignoring that there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. each year.
On April 17, the U.S. Senate rejected gun violence prevention legislation that included a compromise amendment to expand background checks crafted by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and Republican Senator Pat Toomey (PA).
An April 17 Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the defeated bill as "a liberal wish-list that wouldn't have stopped the next mass murder." Likewise, Breitbart.com featured two blog posts that claimed that gun violence prevention legislation would not have stopped the school shooting in Newtown. In one of these posts, Breitbart.com went so far as to accuse President Obama of throwing a "tantrum" after the vote, saying that "he used the Newtown disaster--or, in the eyes of many critics, exploited it--to make an argument about the urgent need for new laws, even if such laws would not have prevented the Newtown atrocity itself."
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer made similar comments on the April 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, saying that the proposal was "irrelevant" and "would not have" stopped the Newtown shooting:
KRAUTHAMMER: The question is, would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you're going to make all of these emotional appeals -- you saying you're betraying the families, you've got to show how if this had been law it would have stopped Newtown. It would not have. It is irrelevant.
Fox contributor Laura Ingraham went even further on the April 18 edition of her radio show, dismissing the bill by claiming that "criminals will be criminals":
INGRAHAM: The real things we can do to stop violent crime, we can actually have an economy that spins off jobs, have policies that don't encourage more lawlessness in our inner cities. Encourage families to stay together, fathers to stay with their, you know, the mothers of their children. All of these things. I mean we have a cultural and moral collapse in our society. You see it in many ways and many iterations of it. But we're supposed to believe that if only these background checks were in place, all -- Newtown wouldn't have happened, Aurora wouldn't have happened, Gabby Giffords wouldn't have been shot, none of this would have happened.
As Newtown parent Mark Barden explained in his April 17 statement at a White House press event, the argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown shooting is irrelevant, because the legislation's purpose was to save lives in the future:
Expanded background checks wouldn't have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support the bipartisan proposal from two senators, both with "A" ratings from the NRA -- a common-sense proposal supported by 90 percent of Americans. It's a proposal that will save lives without interfering with the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
When confronted with the fact that a majority of the nation's gun owners support expanded background checks for gun purchases, Fox anchor Bret Baier hid behind the National Rifle Association (NRA) to allege that such support does not exist.
The NRA has lobbied aggressively against a bipartisan proposal in the Senate that would have expanded background checks on gun show and online gun purchases. Among other efforts, they spent $500,00 in one day -- the day the Senate voted on the bill -- on ads calling the proposal "Obama's gun ban," according to the New York Times.
The background check proposal failed to pass the Senate, a result Fox contributor Juan Williams lamented on Special Report, stressing how even "gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing' ":
WILLIAMS: It's like a tragedy ... the U.S. Senate can't take action on simple background checks that overwhelmingly the American people, in poll after poll, say that it's a good idea, it would be a good thing. Gun owners say, 'Yes, it's a good thing.' But again, the power of big money, the NRA, and the gun manufacturers has carried the day. So let's look at the record then--
BAIER: Well, hold on. Gun owners overall don't say that. You mentioned the NRA. They say this. (emphasis added)
Baier then read the NRA's statement opposing the Senate bill, which asserts that "[e]xpanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in schools."
Despite Baier's claim, the NRA's view are contrary to that of the majority of gun owners on this issue. In February 2013, the Pew Research Center determined that gun owners overwhelmingly support expanded background checks. Pew found the number to be:
The vast majority of gun owners have repeatedly expressed their approval of more background checks. At the beginning of the year, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 91 percent of gun owners were in support; in March, they found that number to be little changed, with 85 percent of gun owners in favor of universal background checks.
Fox News figures are dismissing the voices of the families who suffered in a mass shooting in Newtown, CT by claiming they're being used and exploited by Democrats, discounting the efforts they have made to encourage Congress to pass stronger gun laws.
On April 11, the Senate overcame a Republican-led filibuster that tried to block the beginning of debate on stronger gun laws with a 68-31 vote. The impetus for the new gun proposals was driven by the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 victims dead, most of them young children. President Obama had been urging Congress to act to strengthen guns laws in response to the shooting for some time.
According to several Fox News figures, Obama has been using the families of the Newtown shooting victims as props for a political agenda.
On April 11, Fox News host Sean Hannity called the effort to strengthen gun laws "naked exploitation of dead children and grieving families," while his guest Ann Coulter said that Democrats are "play[ing] with these victims." The previous night, Hannity stated that the president "is once again using families of tragedy as props for his agenda." Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on his April 11 radio show that Obama is "using the Newtown families to push for background checks." Fox News White House reporter Ed Henry similarly said on April 9 that "for the second straight day, the White House used the victims of the Newtown tragedy to make their case." On his April 9 radio show, Fox News host Mike Huckabee suggested that taking some of the relatives of the Newtown shooting victims to Washington, DC on Air Force One to make their case for stronger gun laws was "an exploitation of those parents."
Such an attitude does a disservice to the many Newtown families that want tougher gun laws in the wake of their tragedies. Several of the families appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes on April 7 to discuss what kind of gun violence prevention measures they would like to see signed into law, saying that universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines were important. After the vote that broke the GOP's threatened filibuster, more than 30 families of Newtown victims released a statement criticizing those who tried block an up-or-down vote on new gun legislation, saying that "[t]he senators who have vowed to filibuster this bill should be ashamed of their attempt to silence efforts to prevent the next American tragedy."
Fox News is claiming that a top climate scientist said global warming "doesn't equal warming," when he actually pointed out that much of recent warming has gone into the oceans.
A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that much of the warming since the year 2000 has been absorbed by the ocean. In a story on the new findings, Reuters quoted Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying "Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways":
"Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways," said Kevin Trenberth, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Warming can go, for instance, to the air, water, land or to melting ice and snow.
Warmth is spreading to ever deeper ocean levels, he said, adding that pauses in surface warming could last 15-20 years.
However, on Tuesday's edition of Special Report, Fox's flagship nightly news show, Trenberth's words were warped beyond recognition. Claiming that there may be "a breach in the wall of climate science," Fox News played a clip of industry-funded climate misinformer Marc Morano alleging that Trenberth "is announcing that global warming doesn't mean rising temperatures. In other words, that warming doesn't equal warming."
Actually, Trenberth noted that air temperatures make up only a small fraction of the way we measure climate change. As this chart from a study published in Physics Letters A shows, oceans have absorbed much of recent warming -- a factor that Fox News completely ignored:
Fox News reported that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 679 renewable energy initiatives to be overlapping -- but the GAO only stated that 679 was the number of such initiatives that existed in 2010; further, the GAO explicitly stated that it could not evaluate whether the programs overlapped.
In the GAO's 2013 annual report, which seeks to identify wasteful and overlapping federal government programs, the office determined that "23 agencies and their 130 subagencies implemented 679 renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010."
Fox's Special Report, however, claimed that all 679 of these programs were duplicative and wasteful. Host Bret Baier reported: "Fox has obtained the results of a new GAO report finding 162 areas of duplication or wasteful spending, adding almost $100 billion a year on top of a larger amount from two previous reports. Renewable energy programs topped them all with 679 overlapping programs."
This characterization is actually contradicted by the report itself. While the report found that a handful of wind initiatives may have "provided duplicative support," the GAO specifically stated that the office "could not comprehensively assess the potential for overlap or duplication" among the renewable energy initiatives:
Although GAO examined characteristics, such as energy source and recipient type, for the nearly 700 renewable energy initiatives identified in its February 2012 report, GAO could not comprehensively assess the potential for overlap or duplication among the initiatives because existing agency information was not sufficiently complete to allow for such an assessment.
Fox's falsehood echoes a release from Republican Senator Tom Coburn that also claims 679 renewable energy initiatives were found to be duplicative.
Fox News contributor Steve Hayes claimed that federal agencies "never" overestimate the costs of regulation to suggest that a new rule to reduce smog-creating pollutants will cost more than the Environmental Protection Agency predicts. But studies have found that the EPA previously overestimated the cost of regulating the same pollutant, and has historically overestimated costs.
The EPA estimates that reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline, which contributes to smog, will add less than a penny to the price of a gallon of gasoline. Hayes suggested on Special Report that the EPA's estimate is too low, saying "of course there is going to be more cost":
Regression analysis shows that Tier 2 regulations, which required a reduction in the average sulfur content of gasoline from 300 ppm to 30 ppm, had no material impact on the retail price of gasoline.
The EPA estimated that Tier 2 would increase the average cost of refining gasoline by about two cents per gallon, and that Tier 3 will increase the average cost of refining gasoline by one cent per gallon. Because Tier 2 had no material impact on the retail price of gasoline, it is unlikely Tier 3--projected to generate private costs half the size of those generated by Tier 2--will have any impact either.
And a 2010 review by Resources for the Future found that the EPA "tend[s] to overestimate the total costs of regulations," noting that the agency overestimated costs for 14 of the rules it examined and only underestimated costs for 3 rules.
Industry estimates of regulatory costs have been shown to be even more overblown in retrospective studies. Keeping with this historical trend, the American Petroleum Institute claims that EPA's latest rule would raise gas prices by 6 to 9 cents, but its analysis didn't assess the rule that was ultimately proposed by the EPA, which provides significant flexibility to refineries.
Fox News contributor Fred Barnes alleged that President Obama is championing legislation that will make undocumented immigrants instantly eligible for a pathway to citizenship. In fact, according to Obama's immigration reform proposal, applicants must prove eligibility and wait roughly thirteen years before becoming citizens.
On the March 27 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Barnes suggested that President Obama's immigration reform bill includes instant eligibility for a pathway to citizenship:
In reality, Obama's plan would require applicants to wait multiple years before obtaining citizenship. Talking Points Memo reported that applicants would likely have to wait eight years to obtain a green card, and five more to apply for citizenship.
A draft of the White House immigration proposal published by USA Today on February 17 outlined a conditioned path to citizenship in which undocumented immigrants would have to pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information, and pay additional fees before applying for the new visa:
According to the White House draft, people would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S. for four years, work and leave the country for short periods of time. After the four years, they could then reapply for an extension.
Illegal immigrants would be disqualified from the program if they were convicted of a crime that led to a prison term of at least one year, three or more different crimes that resulted in a total of 90 days in jail, or if they committed any offense abroad that "if committed in the United States would render the alien inadmissible or removable from the United States."
Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."