Media Lessons From The Benghazi Charade

For Fox News, It's Six Strikes And You're Out

The calling cards of anger and denial have been on display since Friday afternoon when the House Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, released the findings of its two-year investigation into the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Becoming the sixth government inquiry to come to a similar conclusion, the report found nothing to support the allegations behind Fox News' ongoing Benghazi witch-hunt. And that's where the anger and denial came in.

Appearing on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has staked his professional reputation on the endless claim of an elaborate White House cover-up, flashed irritation when he denounced the House report as being "full of crap."

Meanwhile, Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes did his best to deflate the supposedly “deeply flawed” Republican report:

For Benghazi conspiracy disciples, unanswered questions always remain as long as devotees say so, and as long as the answers provided by government (and Republican-led investigations) don't match up their conspiracy narrative. But apparently if the seventh investigation finds wrongdoing on the part of the administration, that's the one that will really matter?

Sorry Fox News, but six strikes and you're out.

Still, Benghazi Truthers, like Joel Pollak at Breitbart, soldiered on, claiming the exhaustive House report was no big deal [emphasis added]:

The House committee, chaired by Republican Mike Rogers (R-MI), found that there was no intelligence failure leading up to the attack, and that the CIA and military personnel present did the best they could. The crucial new finding is that there was no “stand down” order, as some there have claimed, and that no further military resources were available.

The three points Pollack mentioned that were debunked by the House report represented almost the entire basis of the “scandal” crusade. They were easily the inspiration for hundreds of Fox News programming hours over the last two years, and likely thousands of hours of talk radio attacks on Obama, Hillary Clinton and anyone connected to the administration. (Note that Fox aired 100 segments on the “stand down” allegation alone during its evening programs in the 20 months following the attack.)

While Breitbart and other right-wing media players gallantly tried to play defense (it's just a flesh wound), Fox News simply went into denial as the cable news channel essentially turned a blind eye to the story: Fox News Sunday completely ignored the topic. But it wasn't just Fox News Sunday. CBS' Face The Nation and ABC's This Week also ignored news about the latest Benghazi debunking; a Republican debunking no less.

There was something fitting about those two omissions, considering CBS and ABC likely suffered the two worst Benghazi-related black eyes within the mainstream media when their reporters, Lara Logan and Jonathan Karl respectively, flew too close to the far-right flame and got very badly burned. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it's a pretty good indication the 'scandal' is lacking.)

And don't forget how Logan played ball with at least one vociferous Benghazi critic behind the scenes while putting her fatally flawed 60 Minutes report together. According to a May report in New York magazine, Logan met with Sen. Graham, who helped shape the Benghazi story. Then when the 60 Minutes segment aired he immediately cheered it on, calling it a "death blow" to the White House and announced he'd block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.

In other words, the Benghazi lessons to be learned here aren't only for Fox News. Media Matters has spent the better part of two years detailing how Beltway reporters, producers and pundits who should've known better have played along with the contrived conspiracy talking points about the Democratic president and a far-reaching cover-up. (Is Benghazi to Obama what Whitewater was to Bill Clinton?)

There's clearly been plenty of Pavolivan behavior on display here: Republicans ring the Benghazi “scandal” bell and the press presents is as news. For two years. (See here, here, here, here and here for National Journal columnist Ron Fournier's contribution to the bogus genre.)

For instance, just last spring major Beltway news outlets appeared to be in complete agreement that Benghazi represented a major hurdle in Hillary Clinton's path to the White House, should she choose to pursue the Democratic nomination. The story was “quickly growing into a potentially devastating target of opportunity for the GOP,” reported the Christian Science Monitor, while The National Journal claimed Benghazi represented "perhaps the biggest thing" she'll have to combat on the campaign trail. By playing along with the flimsy premise, the press simply bolstered the Republican goal of portraying Benghazi as a pending Democratic doomsday.  (ABC News: "Scandal City.")

The media's proof for that sweeping claim about Benghazi possibly dooming Hillary? There was none. But Republican sources were saying it was true, so too many journalists typed it up as analysis.

As for Benghazi conspiracy theorists backing down? Not likely. Recall this Associated Press report from July 10: 

The testimony of nine military officers undermines contentions by Republican lawmakers that a “stand-down order” held back military assets that could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed at a diplomatic outpost and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.

Even after nine U.S. military officers debunked and denied the “stand down” claim under oath, it wasn't enough to move Fox off its talking point.

Keep in mind that over the last two years Fox News has claimed Obama never called the Benghazi attack an act of terror, that former CIA director David Petraeus was forced to resign because of Benghazi, and that the White House had demanded changes in the original Benghazi talking points. They've insisted Obama watched Americans die in real time on September 11, 2012 and refused to send help. That so-called whistleblowers have been blocked from testifying, along with Benghazi survivors. Also, that Hillary Clinton faked a concussion in order to avoid testifying about the terror attack. (That last claim is all you really need to know about the Benghazi charade.)

Why the endless obsession?

Two years ago I highlighted an unhinged Benghazi column from a Boston Herald conservative, published on the eve of the presidential election that seemed to perfectly capture the larger-than-life meaning of Benghazi within the Obama-hating community. According to the conservative writer, Benghazi confirmed that Obama is “cowardly,” “dishonest” and that he lacks “integrity” as well as “competence.” Plus, he supposedly has a “reflexive impulse to blame, rather than defend, America.”

The point is, die-hard Obama haters are always going to say those things about the president. Benghazi simply gave them a useful framework: He's the Manchurian Candidate who let Americans die in Benghazi and "sacrificed American lives for politics."

Benghazi conspiracies have come to represent a vile and ugly chapter in American politics. It's a chapter built upon hypocrisy and cynical Fox News ethics. Journalists should keep that in mind the next time the right-wing media launch a hollow “cover-up” crusade against a Democrat.