Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pushed new and old falsehoods about the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, by misrepresenting recently-released emails that prove that government agencies drafted talking points without references to terrorism in order to protect the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
In his May 16 Washington Post column, Krauthammer misrepresented emails recently released by the Obama administration -- that document the process of drafting the talking points used by officials to discuss the September 2012 attacks -- to claim the emails revealed that the CIA was forced to change the talking points for political reasons. According to Krauthammer, references to Al Qaeda were removed from the talking points after the State Department raised concerns that the talking points needed to reflect "the political interests, the required political cover, of all involved," including "the need to protect the president's campaign." He also dismissed an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, which explained that the talking points in fact needed to protect the investigation into the attacks, claiming this "excuse was simply bogus" because the FBI, "which was conducting the investigation, had no significant objections."
But the 100 pages of emails reveal that removing information from the talking points that could compromise the investigation was the primary priority of multiple agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. Following the initial emails among CIA officials on September 14, 2012, about whether or not references to al Qaeda should be included in the talking points, CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston stressed the need to ensure their work did not conflict with the National Security Section (NSS) of the Department of Justice and the FBI's criminal investigation into the attacks:
Folks, I know there is a hurry to get this out, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it conflicts with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. -- even internally, not to mention for public release. I am copying [CIA FO] who may be more familiar with those instructibns [sic] and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.
Subsequent emails from the FBI reveal that contrary to Krauthammer's claims, the Bureau did have concerns with the initial CIA draft. A 7:51pm email from the FBI Press Office on September 14 requested a review of two of the talking points with recommended edits:
[CIA OPA] in coordination with CWD, we have some concerns:
1. The accuracy of the sentence of the first bullet point which states "On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening tob break into the Embassy." And-- who is the "we" that is referenced?
2. We recommend editing the last sentence in the second bullet point to "That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
A later email sent at 9:19pm on September 14 by the FBI Press Office revealed their concern that the Department of Justice be brought in to approve all further changes, because they would also be conducting key aspects of the investigation:
Just a question- but separate from the FBI concerns, has DOJ provided input? They will have to deal with the the prosecution and related legal matters surrounding the federal investigation.
Furthermore, The Washington Post, Krauthammer's own paper, reported more detail from senior administration officials about the email exchange, explaining that both CIA and FBI officials believed references to Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, should be removed from the talking points to protect the investigation:
CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The emails confirm what General David Petraeus, then-director of the CIA, reportedly testified to Congress in November: that references to terrorist groups were removed from the talking points in order to avoid tipping off those groups that intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, and thus preserve the ongoing investigation.
Krauthammer also pushed the debunked claim that Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of staff to the embassy in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, was "ordered not to meet with an investigative congressional delegation" and subsequently got "a furious call from Clinton's top aide for not having a State Department lawyer (and informant) present." In fact, Hicks' official congressional testimony reveals that the State Department merely instructed him to follow standard procedure and not speak to the congressional investigators without a State attorney present. Furthermore, Hicks made clear that he had received no direct criticism from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and simply said the "tone of the conversation" led him to believe Mills was unhappy with him.
Krauthammer's false accusations are part of the attempt by conservative media and the GOP to save Republican scandal-mongering on the Benghazi attacks, even as the charges of "scandal" collapse around them.
As of this writing, there is no indication that the IRS's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups has any connection whatsoever to the White House. And some conservative talking heads are even acknowledging as much. But they're not letting that stop them from naming Barack Obama as the culpable party, arguing that the president is responsible due to his preternatural ability to bend the average bureaucrat to his maleficent will from afar.
It all started with RedState founder Erick Erickson, who wrote on May 15 that "Barack Obama never specifically asked that tea party groups and conservatives be targeted." But...
But by both his language and the "always campaigning" attitude of his White House, he certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could. Given his rhetoric against his political opponents, it is no wonder sympathetic Democrats in the Internal Revenue Service harassed and stymied conservative groups and, though little mentioned, pro-Israel Jewish groups and evangelical groups.
"President Obama did not have to tell the IRS specifically to harass conservative, evangelical, and Jewish groups who might oppose him," Erickson observed. "His rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the permanent campaign of the White House operations made clear what he wanted."
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal provided incomplete reporting of GOP criticism that President Obama downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. None of these newspapers provided their readers with Obama's actual comments labeling the attacks an "act of terror," thereby giving undue weight to Republican attacks.
Mainstream media outlets are blindly repeating the claim by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that she supported expanded background checks by voting for Republican legislation that would actually have weakened the background check system.
On April 17, Ayotte voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, a legislative proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and over the Internet, facing political backlash as a result. Ayotte, however, co-sponsored and voted in favor of a replacement bill offered by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that purported to improve the background check system by increasing the number of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
In fact, the Grassley-Cruz proposal would weaken the gun background check system by changing the way mental health records are reported, potentially invalidating mental health records that are currently in the system. Specifically, Section 103 would change current law by only creating a disqualifying background check record if an individual is designated as dangerously mentally ill by a court or other adjudicative body. Under present law, adjudications by all lawful authorities create a record that prohibits an individual from buying a firearm.
To the contrary, Manchin-Toomey would have increased the number of mental health records in NICS by offering states financial incentives and disincentives to include missing records in the system, in addition to expanding background checks
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
Fox News devoted significantly more airtime to the Heritage Foundation's claims that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants will have negative fiscal impact, but mostly ignored pro-immigration rallies during the same period.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
Right-wing media are falsely claiming that a State Department Inspector General review is linked to dubious allegations that State ignored "whistleblowers" during an independent review of attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, the routine investigation was planned before the State Department's Accountability Review Board released its findings, has nothing to do with "whistleblower" allegations, and will investigate decades of State actions.
Washington Post political writer Melinda Henneberger falsely suggested that a woman depicted in an undercover video issued by the anti-abortion rights group Live Action was never asked whether she was sure she wanted a legal late-stage abortion despite the "apparent qualms" the woman demonstrated.
Henneberger's falsehood aids the group's attempt to smear an abortion clinic as using practices similar to those of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.
Live Action has falsely claimed that their video, currently being trumpeted by the conservative media, reveals "illegal and inhuman practices" at an abortion clinic in New York City.
The Live Action video depicts a woman at Dr. Emily Woman's Health Center in the Bronx inquiring after an abortion in the 23rd week of her pregnancy -- a procedure that is legal in New York State. The woman asks detailed questions about that procedure to both a clinician and a counselor at the facility.
Henneberger writes that given those questions, the woman should have been asked if she was sure she wanted to have an abortion:
You'd think that a patient with so many apparent qualms about a late-stage abortion would at some point get her questions answered with a question: Are you sure you want to go through with this?
But if the tape is as undoctored as this clinic seems to be, you'd be wrong. (A message left on the center's 24-hour line wasn't returned on Sunday.)
In fact, in a portion of the woman's visit to the clinic not included in Live Action's supposedly "undoctored" video, a counselor at the facility asked the woman that very question in response to her repeated inquiries. From the full transcript of the woman's visit, posted by Live Action [emphasis added]:
COUNSELOR: Now are you sure this is what you're comfortable doing? Are you sure you want to do a termination? Because you knew you were pregnant at two months, in some way or another you were thinking about continuing this pregnancy.
COUNSELOR: So what changed your mind from then to now?
WOMAN: Well, I don't really feel like talking about it.
COUNSELOR: Ok. You don't have to go into detail, but I mean is there, there has to be something that can be rectified? I mean do you want to continue this pregnancy because I don't want you to go home after doing your dilation and everything and say "You know what, I think I want to keep the pregnancy". Because that's when we run into problems
The counselor goes on to suggest that the woman consult with a friend before making a final decision about whether she wants to go through with the procedure.
It's no surprise that Live Action is fabricating smears against an abortion clinic -- the group and its founder, Lila Rose, have a long record of concocting such hoaxes. The Post, however, has a responsibility not to compound the group's falsehoods by introducing their own.
UPDATE: The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger has posted the following correction to her story:
Correction: An earlier version of this column said the activist was never asked if she was sure she wanted to go through with the abortion, but she was, on a portion of the interview not shown on the tape, according to a full transcript provided by the activist.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin incorrectly wrote that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is proposing to "ban explosive powder" as a response to the Boston Marathon bombings when in fact Reid has proposed requiring a criminal background check for individuals who buy explosive powder.
The Senate proposal, originally sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but being shepherded by Reid in his absence, would require a background check to "purchase black powder, black powder substitute, or smokeless powder, in any quantity." Furthermore the legislation would allow the Attorney General to stop explosives sales to suspected terrorists. Under current law inclusion on the terrorist watch list alone does not prohibit individuals from buying explosives or firearms.
While Rubin's apparent aim was to make Reid's response to the Boston bombings seem ridiculous -- explosive powder has many legitimate uses -- explosive powder is a common component in domestic bombings. Furthermore, because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, it is currently legal to purchase up to 50 pounds of black or smokeless powder without undergoing a background check.
Decades before the Boston bombings -- where the perpetrators reportedly may have used black or smokeless powder -- explosive powder has been known to be regularly employed by domestic bombers. According to a 1980 report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment, a now defunct office of Congress, in incidents involving both successfully detonated and undetonated bombs, "black and smokeless powders and cap sensitive high explosives all occur with high frequency." A 2005 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that "because black powder is relatively inexpensive (between $5 and $15 per pound), it is the most common explosive used in pipe bombs." The report also found that explosive powders were present in the most fatal of bombings between 2002 and 2004:
According to National Repository data, 8 people were killed and 49 people were injured by explosives from January 2002 through December 2004. Explosive powders, which may be obtained legally in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit, were the largest cause of deaths and injuries. Over 50 percent of those killed and injured during this period were victims of explosive devices containing black powder. Twenty-five percent of those injured were victims of improvised explosives devices, many of which containing common chemicals.
Still the NRA has spent decades lobbying against the regulation of black and smokeless powder -- which can be components of gunpowder -- and is largely responsible for the current background check exemption for purchasers of up to 50 pounds of explosive powder.
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is seizing on a recent poll showing that George W. Bush's approval numbers are up to declare "Bush is back," arguing that America is starting to appreciate Bush's policies in the light of what she calls the "rotten" Obama presidency. To make her case, Rubin neatly excises from Bush's record every single massive failure and disaster that resulted in Bush leaving office as one of the least popular presidents in history.
Rubin managed to cram so much misinformation and nonsense into seven short paragraphs that it's tough to pick a place to start, but this one is worthy of special attention:
Why the shift? Aside from the "memories fade" point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff -- rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass.
"Aside from the 'memories fade' point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt)." Funny thing about those "spending" and "debt" failures of Obama's that make Bush's supposedly seem so mild: Bush-era policies are responsible for the lion's share of the current public debt and will continue exacerbating the debt situation long after President Obama has left office.
"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." This is false. There were a number of successful terrorist attacks between 9-11 and the end of the Bush presidency, most prominently the DC-area sniper attacks of 2002. But I'm dodging the real problem, which is the phrase "after 9/11." Her argument -- an argument she's made before -- is that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, despite happening on Bush's watch, doesn't count against Bush. Why? She doesn't say. Rubin doesn't allow Obama any terrorism Mulligans, calling his record "spotty at best with Benghazi, Libya, Boston and Fort Hood."
A Media Matters analysis of news coverage of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since the 2012 election shows that the media continue to largely ignore the risk of an oil spill, while promoting the economic benefits of the project. Meanwhile, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed Keystone XL's climate impacts, instead serving as a platform for the pipeline's champions.
A wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.
Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.
But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:
From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.
The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph Gagnon, Paul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."
Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:
Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."
But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."