Judicial Watch is a conservative activist group that has been one of the organizations driving the media narrative on Hillary Clinton's emails. They have a history of dishonest activism, promoting conspiracy theories, and pushing false or misleading narratives.
The organization was formed in the 1990s by conspiracy theorist Larry Klayman, who used the technique of filing spurious lawsuits in an attempt to bring down the Clinton administration. It is now headed by Tom Fitton, who has continued Klayman's methods in an ongoing campaign to antagonize the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats.
The organization has played a key role in the ongoing controversy over the email system Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. Records obtained from the State Department by Judicial Watch have served as fodder in the media and for the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
This week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the frontrunner for the soon-to-be vacant Speaker's office, boasted on Fox, "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought and made that happen."
Judicial Watch has tried to stake its own claim to denting Clinton, with Fitton claiming in a press release, "Judicial Watch has had more success investigating the IRS, Benghazi, and Clinton email scandals than any House committee under Boehner's direction."
Since it was reported in March that Clinton used a private email server, Judicial Watch has been mentioned dozens of times in reports on the story, including in major outlets like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today.
But if history is any indication, media outlets risk credibility and accuracy by relying on Judicial Watch.
The media's reliance on Judicial Watch's work comes with a significant risk, as the conservative group often overreaches in its attacks on Democrats and progressives.
For example, on September 24, Judicial Watch released records it had received from the State Department which it claimed "reveal former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally signed the authorization for Huma Abedin, her then-deputy chief of staff, to become a special government employee."
The New York Times reported on Judicial Watch's findings, writing that the documents "show that Mrs. Clinton personally signed forms establishing a new title and position for the aide, Huma Abedin, in March 2012." Politico, Fox News, and other outlets also published stories based on the document.
Those stories were wrong.
As the Times reported a few days later, the document that Judicial Watch had given to the media had the signature redacted "in a box intended for the aide's supervisor," and the assumption was apparently made that Sec. Clinton had signed it. But later a copy of the document was given to the Times and it showed that it was signed by Cheryl Mills, who was then Clinton's chief of staff.
In other words, the entire premise of the Judicial Watch release was false (the uncorrected headline remains on the Times website).
Judicial Watch has often started stories that are simply untrue and collapse almost immediately under scrutiny.
For example, Judicial Watch alleged that the Obama administration had appointed 45 "czars" to serve under him, a claim which then became the basis for a viral email attacking the president. As explained by PolitiFact in 2014, Judicial Watch stretched the truth by listing senior advisor Valerie Jarrett as a czar, crediting the Obama administration for czars created under the Bush administration, and describing Ray Mabus as the "Oil Czar" when in reality he was Secretary of the Navy, a Senate-confirmed position.
Judicial Watch accused then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of engaging in "boorish demands for military travel" that are "more about partying than anything else" and highlighted expenditures of "$101,429.14 ... for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol." After conservative outlets regurgitated the claims, FactCheck.org investigated and found that "costs are not as high as critics claim, and they're comparable to those of her Republican predecessor."
Last year, Judicial Watch alleged that a company had been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "for requiring workers to speak English." But in reality, the EEOC said it sued the company for violating its employees' rights by subjecting them to a "sham performance improvement plan" that focused on their English language skills.
Judicial Watch has concocted conspiracy theories that end up being amplified by conservative and mainstream media, as well as elected officials.
Judicial Watch claimed that the Justice Department was helping to "organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman," the Florida man who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. In reality, the unit of the DOJ was sent to Florida in order to defuse tensions in the community, and as the Orlando Sentinel reported, they "reached out to the city's spiritual and civic leaders to help cool heated emotions."
Judicial Watch claimed that the Islamic State (ISIS) had set up a terrorist camp in Mexico "just a few miles from El Paso, Texas," facilitating the smuggling of terrorists into the United States. Conservative media outlets picked up Judicial Watch's claim.
Authorities in the United States and Mexico rejected the group's fearmongering.
A spokesman for the National Security Council said there was "no indication that this claim has any validity to it," while an FBI spokesperson told PolitiFact, "there is no credible information to support" the allegation. The government of Mexico stated: "The government of Mexico dismisses and categorically denies each of the statements made today by the organization Judicial Watch on the alleged presence of ISIS's operating cells throughout the border region." Similarly, the Texas Department of Public Safety said they had "no credible information to corroborate or validate this story."
PolitiFact rated the claim as "false." A similar claim by Judicial Watch in September of 2014 became the basis of a statement by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) that ISIS is "present in Ciudad Juarez" in Mexico. Government agencies denied that allegation as well, and PolitiFact rated it "mostly false."
Throughout the Obama administration, there have been repeated news stories discussing the cost of travel arrangements for the Obama administration, particularly for first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters.
These stories have often been based on reports generated by Judicial Watch, and their website boasts an archive of releases on the topic (despite the organization's existence during the Bush administration, the "First Family" Vacations archive is limited to travel from 2010-present).
Many of these releases also exaggerate the truth. In 2010, Judicial Watch alleged that the Obamas went on a "private family safari" at taxpayer expense, but the safari was paid for with the Obama's own funds. They also claimed the trip "was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration's agenda in Africa" but the schedule was filled with official events:
The six-day trip was dominated by official events and meetings with world leaders. Mrs. Obama met with the South African president's wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma; spoke to the Young African Women Leaders Forum; participated in community service events in Johannesburg; visited U.S. embassies and consulates; spoke at the University of Cape Town and met with students from poor communities; held a meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu; met with Botswanan president Ian Khama; and gave interviews to several news outlets, including NBC, ABC, BET, and CNN.
Judicial Watch was designed almost two decades ago to use the courts and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to trip up and raise implications about Democrats and other related elected officials. It does so through dishonest claims and inaccurate document releases. Despite their history, the media has continued to rely on them, only to sometimes be caught hyping inaccurate supposed scoops.
Fox News host Gretchen Carlson baselessly accused the IRS of knowingly canceling a contract with email archiving company Sonasoft in order to hide emails connected to the alleged targeting of tax exempt organizations. But Sonasoft itself debunked these allegations after it revealed that the IRS never had a contract for its email archiving software.
On the June 27 edition of The Real Story, during a discussion on the IRS' lost emails with Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton, Carlson referenced a story from Power Line blog speculating on the purportedly suspicious timing of the IRS' cancellation of the Sonasoft contract. Carlson alleged that the IRS canceled Sonasoft's contract because "they knew Sonasoft would then delete those emails."
But I want to switch gears just for a minute with regard to this back up system, this Sonasoft company that the IRS cancelled their account with. Because I know that you believe that the timing seems somewhat suspicious, number one. But could there be a deeper meaning as to why that was cancelled at that particular time because, you know, other people are suspecting right now that quite deliberately they cancelled that account because they knew that Sonasoft would then delete those emails.
Carlson didn't offer any concrete evidence to support her claims that the IRS cancelled its contract with Sonasoft to hide IRS emails. In fact, Sonasoft never had access to any IRS emails.
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.
Hope springs eternal. Despite more than a year of fruitless digging, the right-wing media can't let go of their hope that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will be disqualified from hearing cases about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Recently, conservative media have been hyping letters from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) as well as 49 other congressional Republicans seeking documents to determine if Kagan was involved with health care litigation during her time as solicitor general (the position she held immediately before being appointed to the Supreme Court).
Conservative media don't bother hiding the reasons for hoping that Kagan must be recused. As Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton wrote on BigGovernment.com, "The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately settle the issue regarding whether or not Obama's socialist healthcare overhaul will be the law of the land. Everyone knows it. And if Elena Kagan is forced to recuse herself from hearing the case that will be one fewer dependably liberal vote on the Supreme Court for Obamacare."
In addition to Fitton's post on BigGovernment.com, HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey breathlessly hyped the 49 House members' letter, asking, "Did Elena Kagan mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing when answering questions about her level of involvement in ObamaCare?" The Washington Times also hyped the same letter, as did Newsmax. And National Review Online blogger Carrie Severino and Glenn Beck's website TheBlaze.com hyped both the 49 House members' letter and Smith's letter.
But CNS News may take the cake for the most overwrought reaction. CNS reported that Smith had begun an "investigation" into whether Kagan had been involved in health care litigation as solicitor general. It subsequently had to append an "editor's note" to the article explaining that the House Judiciary Committee "requested a correction of the story" because Smith had not launched a "formal investigation" but had merely made a "request for addition information."
CNS's overreaction to Smith's letter to the Justice Department epitomizes the right-wing's campaign to have Kagan recuse herself from health care litigation. The right-wing media keeps demanding further inquiry into the issue of whether Kagan should recuse herself. The additional information shows that there is no reason for Kagan to recuse herself. But the right-wing media claims that all it needs is a little more information, and it will become clear that Kagan did recuse herself.
Below the fold is a brief recap of the right-wing media's recusal campaign so far.
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.