Fox News distorted remarks from White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer to falsely claim the Obama administration felt recent controversies involving the IRS and the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were “irrelevant.” Pfeiffer's full comments made clear, however, that the administration felt the IRS targeting particular groups was “inexcusable” and that the President was fully engaged during the Benghazi attacks.
On May 19, Pfeiffer appeared on five Sunday talk shows to discuss evidence that the IRS unduly scrutinized conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Fox & Friends aired a short portion of Pfeiffer's remarks from his appearance on ABC News' This Week out of context to claim Pfeiffer had dismissed the scandal, with Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. claiming that Pfeiffer said, "[i]t's not relevant that the IRS is looking at people's tea party affiliations and violating their First Amendment rights." On-screen text claimed Pfeiffer defended “scandals as 'irrelevant'”:
However, Pfeiffer's full remarks reveal that he said the IRS targeting certain groups was “outrageous and inexcusable” whether it was legal or illegal, and that the administration was committed to ensuring such targeting does not happen again regardless of the Department of Justice's final assessment of legality. From ABC's This Week (portion aired on Fox News highlighted in bold):
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does the president believe? Does the president believe that would be illegal?
PFEIFFER: I can't speak the law -- the law here, but the law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and needs to be -- we need it to be fixed, so we can ensure it never happens again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?
PFEIFFER: What -- what I mean is that whether it's legal, or illegal is -- is not important to the fact that it -- that, the conduct as a matter. The Department of Justice said they're looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again regardless of how that turns out.
Pfeiffer's condemnation of the IRS reflected President Obama's statement released on May 14 definitively calling the IRS's actions “intolerable and inexcusable,” and Obama's firing of Steven Miller, the IRS acting commissioner, over the agency's actions.
Fox & Friends also distorted Pfeiffer's remarks regarding the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, during his appearance on Fox News Sunday, with Johnson Jr. claiming Pfeiffer “also said that it wasn't relevant where the president was on the night of the attack and the fact that he went to Las Vegas. So it's not relevant where the president was.”
But once again, Pfieffer's full comments from Fox News Sunday reveal that he felt which room of the White House the president was in that night was “irrelevant” because the president was updated during the attacks by his National Security Council, and that the administration's priority was to make sure similar attacks do not happen again. From Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: What did the president do that night?
PFEIFFER: He was kept -- he was in constant touch that night with his national security team and kept up to date with the events as they were happening.
WALLACE: When you say his national security team, he didn't talk to the secretary of state, except for the one time when the first attack was over. He didn't talk to the secretary of defense. He didn't talk to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Who was he talking to?
PFEIFFER: He was talking to his national security staff, his National Security Council, the people who keep him up to date about briefings as they happen.
WALLACE: Was he in the Situation Room?
PFEIFFER: He was kept up to date throughout the day.
WALLACE: Do you not know whether he was in the Situation Room?
PFEIFFER: I don't remember what room the president was in on that night. And that's a largely irrelevant fact.
WALLACE: Well -
PFEIFFER: The point is -- the question is -- the premise of your question is that somehow there was something that could have been done differently, OK, that would have changed the outcome here. The accountability review board has looked at this. People have looked at it. It's a horrible tragedy, what happened, and we have to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Despite Fox's multiple attempts to forward the debunked claim that the president was absent during the attacks in Benghazi, a photo of the president meeting with National Security advisers in the Oval Office the night of the attacks has been available on the White House Flickr page since January: