We need to talk about how bad the Benghazi lies have gotten.
Media Matters researchers have spent literally hundreds of hours over the last three years painstakingly debunking the various falsehoods and conspiracy theories regarding the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. We have written hundreds of blog posts and research documents, produced massive statistical studies on Benghazi coverage, tarnished the reputation of 60 Minutes, and written an e-book on The Benghazi Hoax that conservatives have perpetrated. We have scrutinized materials on the subject including but not limited to transcripts of the numerous public congressional hearings on the subject, the many reports released by Democratic, Republican, and nonpartisan committees, several books, and uncountable articles about the attacks and their aftermath.
We try to take the conservative media outlets we write about seriously. This has become even more difficult than usual in recent days. Conservative journalists seem increasingly willing to grasp for any potential speck of information about the Benghazi attacks that could be seen as damaging to progressives. We've reached a point where it literally takes us 30 seconds to debunk their bullshit by simply taking the claims that they say are damning and checking them against the sources they are citing.
Their need to cater to the conservative obsession with Benghazi is destroying their claim that they can engage in legitimate reporting. The quality of the lies has dropped precipitously -- it's almost like they aren't trying anymore. The predictable effort to use the deaths of four Americans for political ends has become a farce.
Yesterday afternoon, the right-wing legal organization Judicial Watch produced a Defense Department email from the night of the attacks that they claimed was new information indicating that the Obama administration could have helped the Americans under fire in Benghazi, but deliberately decided not to, and then lied about it. Let's pause and consider just how cartoonishly despicable that behavior would have been, if it had happened -- and thus how skeptical any reporter should treat that claim.
Of course, that didn't happen.
Instead, several conservative journalists, from Washington Free Beacon's Adam Kredo to Daily Caller's Mark Tapscott to TheBlaze's Oliver Darcy to TownHall.com's Katie Pavlich, all effectively rewrote the Judicial Watch press release without any apparent skepticism or indication of independent thought. (In a revealing case of crowdsourced editing, Pavlich subsequently had it pointed out to her on Twitter that the email was not, in fact, news, and has crossed out her initial claims that this proved a contradiction. This would be to her credit if it hadn't been so incredibly easy to get the story right.)
This is a pathetic failure of basic reporting, and everyone involved should be embarrassed. As noted above, Benghazi has an incredibly long paper trail. But the conservative journalists covering the story either couldn't be bothered to consult that record or they are deliberately lying to their audiences to get clicks.
The email in question was sent to State Department leaders at 7:19 pm on the night of the attack by then-Department of Defense chief of staff Jeremy Bash, and stated that Defense had “identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.” According to Judicial Watch, this “seems to directly contradict” then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's 2013 congressional testimony that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”
I cannot emphasize enough how easy it was to determine that this was not, in fact, a contradiction. I literally spent about thirty seconds thinking “huh, that sounds unlikely,” then ran the Panetta quote through Nexis and read the transcript of Panetta's testimony. Later in the same opening statement, he details the various forces that were deployed but either didn't arrive in time or did arrive but couldn't stop the attacks -- the forces that had been “spinning up” at the time of the email. If conservative outlets don't have Nexis, a Google search for “Leon Panetta 2013 Benghazi hearing” produces both transcript and video of the event.
Again, I didn't use some sort of fancy-pants research tricks, I just looked up the quote that Judicial Watch was saying was contradicted by the email and checked myself to see if it actually was.
Others who have been paying the bare minimum of attention to the Benghazi story quickly pointed out the email was consistent with the findings the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee released in May of 2013 and confirmed the Defense Department's timeline of events. Again, these are public documents that can be Googled. It is not that hard to find them.
The conservatives who reported on this could have done so. They didn't bother. Either they don't know anything about a topic that has been a major focus of political and media attention for the last several years and aren't interested enough in verifying facts to try, or they were lying in order to feed the ravenous Benghazi conspiracy beast.
The reporters mentioned above all work for outlets that have sought to distinguish themselves as legitimate ones that do real reporting. Even the liberal Mother Jones magazine has described the Washington Free Beacon as a “genuine muckraking success” and noted that its publisher has stressed the importance of reporting “facts.” After declaring to a conservative audience that the movement needed to build its own New York Times (and getting booed), Tucker Carlson started the Daily Caller. TheBlaze's Glenn Beck launched a movement around the idea that conservatives needed to be able to "do your own research" rather than listening to the established media. TownHall.com (originally a creation of the Heritage Foundation but now owned by right-wing radio giant Salem Communications) seems to have the fewest pretensions to journalistic convention; yet as of posting time they were the only outlet to attempt to correct their original bogus reporting.
Fox News is going to do what Fox News does: lie to its audience to bolster conservatives and make money.
If conservative reporters want to be more than Rush Limbaugh shouting at his fans, its adherents must actually do the work of journalism. Benghazi Derangement Syndrome remains a blight on those efforts, and there's no sign that they're willing to adjust their standards to match reality.
That's a shame for them if they want to be taken seriously. Then again, it keeps us from having to work too hard.