Eugene Robinson's Friday Washington Post column that throws buckets of cold water on the Benghazi "cover-up" is well worth a read, but it touches only briefly on one aspect of the Benghazi story that emerged this week that merits further exploration: the degree to which "whistleblower" Gregory Hicks was "muzzled."
Since testifying at the House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8, a media narrative has emerged that Hicks, after speaking to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in Libya following the attacks, faced intimidation at the hands of the State Department, beginning with a phone call from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Depending on which conservative media figure is talking, Mills is said to have "excoriated," "reprimanded," "punished," and even "demoted" Hicks right then and there. Going by Hicks' own testimony, none of that is true.
To recap: following the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Rep. Chaffetz traveled to Libya to interview witnesses and survivors. Hicks, who had become chief of mission following the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, was one of the people Chaffetz sought to interview. Right-wingers like Guy Benson, writing at Townhall.com, have alleged "US Ambassador Chris Stevens' second in command, Gregory Hicks, was instructed not to speak with a Congressional investigator by Sec. Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills."
This is not true. Hicks testified that the State Department had instructed him not to speak to Chaffetz without a State attorney present -- a condition Hicks says was unusual, but which the State Department says is standard procedure. In any event, Hicks ended up speaking to Chaffetz without the attorney present because, according to his testimony, the lawyer lacked the proper security clearance. Also, Hicks testified that he spoke with Mills only after speaking with Chaffetz.
Fox News hyped a dubious story by Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich to stoke fears that a surge of immigrants has made the border less safe.
Pavlich, a Fox News contributor, published a story using anecdotal remarks from an unnamed Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent and CBP internal data to claim that non-citizens are attempting to cross the southern border in large numbers:
As the immigration reform Gang of Eight inside the Beltway prepares to announce a deal later this week, claiming border security will come before a path to citizenship for millions of illegals, Border Patrol agents have seen illegal border crossings double and warn the cutting of agent work hours will only result in less border security, not more.
"We've seen the number of illegal aliens double, maybe even triple since amnesty talk started happening," an agent told Townhall, who asked to remain unnamed due to fears of retaliation within Customs and Border Protection [CBP], something he said is common. "A lot of these people, although not the majority, are criminals or aggravated felons. This is a direct danger to our communities."
Data obtained by Townhall and reported within CBP from February 5 through March 1, 2013 shows 504 illegal aliens were spotted exploiting the Tucson/Nogales area, 189 were caught on CBP intelligence cameras. Of those 504, only 174 were apprehended and 32 of the 189 on camera were carrying large drug load packs for Mexican cartels. Some were armed with AK-47 style weapons.
Pavlich -- who has previously used discredited reporting and made baseless claims, including a series of false or misleading statements in her book on the Fast and Furious operation -- was touted on Fox by her colleague, Townhall political editor Guy Benson, though even he admitted most of her report was based on "anecdotal" evidence:
Pavlich's other sources for this story are dubious at best. In a follow-up to her original report, Pavlich cited the Texas Border Volunteers (TBV), a Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled nativist extremist organization. TBV founder Mike Vickers began patrolling the border with the Texas chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a national anti-immigration group run by Chris Simcox which was affiliated with militia groups and white supremacist organizations. Vickers broke off with the Texas chapter of the Minutemen several years ago to form TBV, which "stages regular nocturnal watches" while armed and wearing camouflage and reports "illegal activity" to Border Patrol agents.
But CBP data shows that border crossings are historically low. Even though there was a 10 percent increase in apprehensions along the southern border for the first two months of this year compared to the first two months of 2012, it is a small increase compared to the 53 percent reduction in "illegal immigration attempts, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions" over the past three years, which is less than one-third of what they were at their peak.
This is the second time in two weeks that Fox has pushed Pavlich's flawed data and misinformation about immigration issues.
Right-wing media are attempting to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by claiming that it depicts unsafe gun handling.
According Fox News, conservative bloggers, and the National Rifle Association's news program, an ad calling for expanding the background check system features a man with his finger on the trigger of a firearm that is not ready to be fired, an unsafe practice. In fact, footage from another ad featuring the same firearm clearly indicates that the right-wing media are wrong about where the gun's trigger is; the man's finger is actually nowhere near the trigger in either ad.
The claim originated with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, who claimed in a March 25 article that ads recently released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) are "irresponsible" because the man in the ad "violates all three gun safety rules taught by the National Rifle Association." Miller specifically claims that "the man has his finger on the trigger, as if ready to shoot," and comments, "To make an ad demonstrating actual gun responsibility, the man would put a straight forefinger above the trigger guard to make sure he doesn't accidentally touch the trigger."
Miller was referencing this moment from the ad "Responsible":
But another ad released by MAIG, "Family," which features the same man and firearm, shows the position of the trigger on that particular firearm to be much closer to the buttstock than where the man's index finger is in "Responsible":
Based on the trigger location clearly seen in "Family," the trigger of the firearm would sit approximately behind the base of the man's hand in "Responsible" making it impossible for his finger to be on the trigger or within the trigger guard.
Miller's claims have nonetheless been picked up by The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Hot Air, and a Townhall column authored by Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and have also been featured on Fox & Friends and the NRA's Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel.
Right-wing pundits frequently use former President Ronald Reagan's name to apply a stamp of approval on anything or anyone they deem symbolic of the ideal conservative -- even when Reagan's actual record on issues ranging from taxes to the deficit deviated far from the ideological standards of today's conservative movement.
Republican darling du jour Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) is the latest to receive the Reagan badge. Ahead of his delivery of the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union address, Karl Rove said Monday that "in Rubio, the Republicans have got probably one of their best communicators since Ronald Reagan." On MSNBC's Morning Joe, The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis called Rubio "Reaganesque." And in November 2012, pundit Cal Thomas published a column on Townhall.com titled, "Marco Rubio: A Hispanic Reagan?"
Rubio is just the latest in a long line of Republican politicians to receive the ubiquitous accolade:
Mitt Romney: Fox News figures repeatedly linked former presidential candidate Romney to the Gipper during both opinion and news shows in the months leading up to the 2012 election. Bill O'Reilly said that Romney "is going to mirror the ghost of Ronald Reagan," while political correspondent Carl Cameron said Romney, on his bus tour, spent a lot of time "sort of echoing Ronald Reagan."
Rep. Paul Ryan (WI): Fox News figures from K.T. MacFarland to Megyn Kelly compared Ryan to Reagan as part of their cheerleading for Ryan after he was chosen as Romney's vice presidential candidate.
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ): Fox Nation highlighted a column by the director of the American Enterprise Institute with the headline, "Christie's Starting to Look Like Reagan."
Sarah Palin: A post on Breitbart's BigJournalism.com said that Palin "carries the torch of liberty and American exceptionalism in the palm of her lovely hand" before calling her the "surviving embodiment of the spirit of 1776 and the Reagan reformation."
Gov. Scott Walker (WI): On Sean Hannity's Fox show, conservative radio host Mike Gallagher called Walker "the Ronald Reagan of our time."
Gov. Bob McDonnell (VA): Karl Rove, on Hannity's show, called Virginia governor Bob McDonnell "a Reaganite conservative."
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA): In February 2008, Rush Limbaugh called Jindal "the next Ronald Reagan."
Right-wing media figures have splashed the "Reagan" label about so freely that they're in danger of rendering the compliment meaningless.
The Drudge Report and others are suggesting that energy efficiency efforts somehow caused the power outage that occurred during the Super Bowl. But these attempts to scapegoat green energy are wrongheaded -- the outage occurred within the stadium, not among the energy efficient lighting outside the stadium.
Prior to Super Bowl XLVII, the New Orleans Host Committee worked to reduce the environmental impact of the game on and off the field, including by installing an energy efficient lighting display of LEDs outside the stadium.
During the second half of the game, many of the Superdome stadium's overhead lights blinked off, along with scoreboards, CBS-run cameras and other systems. The partial outage lasted for more than 30 minutes. The Drudge Report used the blackout to mock the possible "CURSE" from an efficient lighting display composed of LEDs on the outside of the Superdome:
Many prominent conservative media figures seized on the false implication -- Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said "it's all [former Energy Secretary Steven Chu's] fault," and the Daily Caller suggested that the energy efficient lighting was the "cause" of the blackout.
But, as Politico and TIME's Mike Grunwald pointed out, these exterior LED lights did not go dark:
The Drudge Report snarkily linked to an Energy Department article published Saturday that praised New Orleans for being at the "Energy Efficient Forefront" and noted that the Superdome "features more than 26,000 LED lights" that conserve energy. However, others quickly pointed out that those are exterior lights, not the lights that went dark inside the dome.
Whatever the cause turns out to be, New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman saw one enduring U.S. tradition alive and well in the blackout aftermath.
"Only in America," he tweeted Sunday night, linking to Drudge's DOE link. "Blackout at Superdome actually becoming a political issue."
While polling has consistently shown that nearly all Americans support requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale, some conservatives in the media are writing in opposition to expanding background checks, a position also held by the National Rifle Association.
A January 23 Gallup poll indicates that 91 percent of Americans would vote for a law that required a criminal background check on every gun sale. Only eight percent of respondents would vote against such a law. As ThinkProgress notes, this polling indicates that opposition to strengthening background checks is less popular than human cloning, polygamy and the perennially unpopular Congress.
[ThinkProgress, accessed 1/30/13]
In recent columns, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, MSNBC host S.E. Cupp and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich all expressed opposition to expanding background checks, even as research demonstrates that a significant proportion of firearms are sold and purchased without a check.
In a New York Daily News column, Cupp quoted the faulty logic of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who said before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30 that checks should not be strengthened "because criminals will never submit to them," before worrying about the "psychological" impact of background checks on gun purchasers.
Ultimately, Cupp compared criminal background checks -- the vast majority of which are completed in seconds -- to Arizona's infamous SB 1070 immigration law:
But even though we accept background checks as a necessary preemptive measure, there is a real psychological and cultural impact when law-abiding gun owners are routinely treated en masse like suspects.
If it sounds silly to worry about the hurt feelings of gun owners, let me point out that liberals are both familiar and comfortable with this argument. Arizona's so-called "papers please" law, which allowed law enforcement officials to determine an individual's immigration status during a lawful stop, barred the use of racial profiling as the sole basis for investigating immigration status. But that didn't stop liberal critics of SB 1070 from insisting it was offensive, prejudicial and unfairly treated minorities as if they were criminals.
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich, who was recently hired as a Fox News contributor, twisted comments made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at a press conference announcing the introduction of assault weapons ban legislation to make it seem as if the senator claimed that all weapons used in mass shootings were obtained from gun shows.
Palvich, who reversed the order and altered the content of Sen. Feinstein's statements, used this distortion to claim that "no gun purchased at a gun show has ever been used in a mass shooting," a false statement contradicted by the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. All four firearms used in that shooting -- which left 13 dead and 21 wounded -- passed through an area gun show. From Pavlich's article:
Since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) revealed a plan to introduce legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, members of the right-wing media have launched hysterical, and often false, attacks against her proposal to crack down on weapons like the one used in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
In two December 27 pieces published on Brietbart.com, contributor AWR Hawkins grossly exaggerated the scope of Feinstein's legislative proposal to suggest that the assault weapons ban would require that all firearms be registered with the government and claim that "the details of Senator Dianne Feinstein's pending assault weapons ban show that her real goal is to ban handguns."
Sen. Feinstein's actual proposal allows current owners of assault weapons to keep their firearms so long as the owner fulfills a registration requirement and includes no mandate to register firearms that are not assault weapons. While the proposed ban would cover some handguns with military characteristics, Hawkins' claim that the legislation would lead to a general handgun ban is based on the speculation "that as soon as a public crime is committed with a double-action revolver, Feinstein and Co. will try to add those to the list as well."
But an even bigger problem lurks -- right now the focus is only on "assault weapons" and semi-auto handguns, however, as soon as a public crime is committed with a double-action revolver, Feinstein and Co. will try to add those to the list as well.
The bottom line: If we are foolish enough to embrace a ban on any weapon in the coming Congress then we are unwittingly embracing a ban on every weapon.
Hawkins repeated these claims on National Rifle Association News, calling the proposed assault weapons ban "garbage" and "anti-freedom to the core."
Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich makes a facile comparison between "two gun cultures" in America and claims that gun violence is largely limited to urban areas. However, high levels of gun death exist throughout America, and many of the states with the highest rates of gun death are rural states with weak gun laws.
In one gun culture, Pavlich claims firearms are used "to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport" while the other gun culture "can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others."
In publishing today's column, Pavlich joined a growing chorus of conservatives in media scrambling to deny the link between firearm availability and gun violence in the wake of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher. From her column:
Historically in America we've had a deep respect for firearms. The vast majority of people have used them to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport. We see American gun culture celebrated each year when dads take their kids elk hunting for the first time. We see it when women head to the range to safely practice shooting their new pink pistols. We see it when a mother shoots an intruder while she is home alone in order to protect her children. We see it practiced when thousands of people sign up for concealed carry permit and hunters' safety classes each year. Not to mention, the multi-billion-dollar firearms industry employs millions of people and provides the government with billions in tax revenue every year.
The other gun culture in America can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others. Ironically, violent gun culture is found within gangs in cities with the strictest gun laws. It is the same culture promoted in Hollywood films made by liberals, glorified by rappers whose music is worshiped in violent gang plagued neighborhoods and disrespectfully joked about at NBA parties.
Conservative media figures and outlets have sent out to their email lists numerous paid fundraising solicitations from "scam PACs" whose directors are apparently looking to cash in on the election season.
Politico reports today that a new "cottage industry" has sprung up during the presidential race in which vaguely-named super PACs have used major Republican national campaigns like Rep. Allen West's re-election bid in Florida to "raise money for themselves and build their email lists."
The groups have been sending out fundraising pitches promising to help West or defeat Obama in November, but "those chunks of $25 and $50 don't often find their way to any serious campaigns to beat Obama or boost West." The article quotes West's campaign attorney saying that the "vast majority of the groups that we know are engaged in this have done nothing for West."
As explained by Politico, "political operatives can create a PAC and corresponding website on the cheap, drop some cash to rent an email list and, voilà-- in come the small-dollar contributions from grass-roots Republicans."
Conservative outlets like RedState and Townhall and media figures like Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee have been enabling these so-called "scam PACs" by renting out their email lists for these fundraising pitches.
In her syndicated column, Michelle Malkin depicted newly finalized fuel economy standards as dangerous to consumers. But in fact, standards have been reformed to remove incentives for smaller, potentially less safe cars, and technological improvements have made many smaller cars just as safe as larger vehicles.
Conservative media are pushing for Israel or the United States to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, claiming that inaction will cause great harm to Israel. In doing so, however, they are ignoring questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all and minimizing the dangers of war with Iran.
In a February 6 Townhall.com piece, Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison, senior fellows with the Family Research Council (FRC), argued that Israel should "strike [Iran] now" as its "very survival is on the line," adding, "As worrisome as an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might be, Iran with a nuclear weapon is infinitely more." They concluded:
Today, surrounded by mortal enemies, with their backs to the wall, Israelis are told to take more "risks for peace" by a US. administration that is outraged by the sight of too many Jews in Jerusalem.
If we wait until the Iranians have sunk their nuclear weapons deep into hardened bunkers it will be too late. The Obama administration will not act in time. Later, will be too late.
Israel: Don't wait; hit the Iranian nuclear facilities now. The world will thank you for it.
During the February 7 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity said that "[t]here is a rise of Islamic extremism that is happening under [Obama's] watch, and he's not doing a thing," adding, "[h]e ought to be dropping bunker buster bombs on Iran's nuclear sites."
On February 8, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens appeared on Fox News' Happening Now to discuss his recent piece on whether Israel should bomb Iran. During the segment, Stephens said that "Israel should bomb Iran if it's going to strike decisively," adding: "If it's going to have a surgical attack that will set the Iranians back by six months or one year then the question becomes, What's the point of that? But if it's going to use a strike as a first stage in a broader program of regime change joined by the United States, then that's worthwhile." Stephens concluded the segment by saying:
As the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it, Iran is now entering what he calls a zone of immunity. They will have too much material too deeply buried to be susceptible to an Israeli strike. And that window is closing for them. Unless they take advantage of this opportunity they will have to live with a nuclear Iran, which will be devastating for Israel's interest.
And on the February 12 edition of Fox News' America's News Headquarters, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said that "if we don't become very serious and convince the Iranians that we will use significant military force to stop them they're going to just keep moving straight ahead," adding, "I think we're going to have to be prepared to use military force." He concluded:
I want this administration to get realistic and get tough about Iran. Stop this nonsense about talking to them, which goes back to when he was debating Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton told him to his face that he's naïve. Stop it. Cut it out, Mr. President. They don't want to talk to you. You know what they want to hear from you? That you're tough. That you are capable of attacking them if that is necessary and that you're not going to sit there and labor over it. That you are willing to do it if that is necessary to stop them from becoming a nuclear power. And he should say to them, in the toughest language he can come up with, there's no way on earth I'm going to let you become a nuclear power. It's just too darn dangerous.
There are several things wrong here.
After ABC News uncovered the faux scandal that a California automaker that received a federal loan is creating American jobs, the right-wing media is predictably failing to acknowledge those American jobs. Instead, they're hyping the fact that the company, Fisker, is assembling the cars in Finland, without clarifying that none of the loan money is going towards the overseas facility.
For instance, Fox's "straight news" program America's Newsroom aired a graphic saying "FEDERAL LOAN ... FOR FINLAND?" But host Bill Hemmer never mentioned that the loan supported American jobs, or that Fisker is barred from putting the money towards its overseas plant:
It's also worth noting that this story is not "news" -- the Department of Energy included the fact that the cars would be assembled "overseas" in a press release announcing the loan over a year ago:
A New York Times/Bay Citizen article cherry-picked statistics from a Brookings Institution report and reportedly misrepresented interviews to call the goal of creating 5 million green jobs in 10 years a "pipe dream." Conservative media have seized upon the Times article to claim that "even" the "left" agrees that investment in green jobs is a "a waste of money and time."
Reports by industry groups have warned of dire consequences from pending EPA limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants. In recent weeks, conservative media have promoted and in some cases even overstated these predictions of a "regulatory train wreck." But according to a detailed analysis by the Congressional Research Service, many of these claims rely on unrealistic assumptions.
CRS assessed reports by the Edison Electric Institute, which concluded that new EPA regulations "would cause the unplanned retirement of" up to 18.8 percent of coal fired electric capacity by 2015, and by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which "concluded that the implementation of four EPA rules could result in a loss of up to 19% of fossil-fuel-fired steam capacity" by 2018. CRS concluded (emphasis added):
The EEI and other analyses discussed here generally predate EPA's actual proposals and reflect assumptions about stringency and timing (especially for implementation) that differ significantly from what EPA actually may propose or has promulgated. Some of the rules are expected to be expensive; costs of others are likely to be moderate or limited, or they are unknown at this point because a rule has not yet been proposed. Rules when actually proposed or issued may well differ enough that a plant operator's decision about investing in pollution controls or facility retirement will look entirely different from what these analyses project.
The primary impacts of many of the rules will largely be on coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls. Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged in the price of competing fuel--natural gas--continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules.