Fox News jumped on newly declassified transcripts from secret congressional hearings on the Benghazi attack, but ignored that the transcripts debunk some of the network's own favorite myths about the attack.
On January 13, the House Armed Services Committee released hundreds of pages of formerly classified transcripts of committee hearings on the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya. According to the press release, the hearings were conducted over a period of several months by Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), then-chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Fox News' Special Report aired several segments on the declassified transcripts but hid the fact that many of the military officers and defense officials who testified during the hearings debunked myths that Fox itself had previously reported.
During the show, Fox national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin explained that the testimony of General Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM at the time of the Benghazi attack, “debunks widespread speculation he was removed from overseeing the military operation because he wanted to do more militarily that night than he was allowed to by his superiors or the White House.”
Griffin did not mention it, but that speculation appeared on Fox News.
Exactly one year after the attack, Sean Hannity hosted Charles Woods, father of one of the Americans killed in Benghazi. Woods explained that he wrote President Obama a letter asking the president to answer several questions, one of which concerned whether Ham was “relieved from duty for refusing to order the order from above not to rescue”:
Similarly, the declassified transcripts further debunk the conservative media narrative about the “stand down” order that never occurred, despite dozens of Fox News claims to the contrary.
And yet, during the Special Report panel session, Fox contributor Steve Hayes made the argument that the declassified transcripts actually back up the claim that a small force of troops in Tripoli, Libya was told to “stand down” after the attack began.
But the declassified transcripts utterly refute the stand-down order myth. Lieutenant Colonel S.E. Gibson flatly said he “was not ordered to stand down.” From the June 26, 2013 Armed Services Committee hearing:
REP. ROBY: At the May 8 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Gregory Hicks, who was the Deputy Chief of Missions at the Embassy in Tripoli that you have referred to, on the day of Benghazi attacks, he was asked by a Member, and I quote, “You believed help was needed in Benghazi, and there was a SOF unit, Special Operations unit, ordered to stand down, correct?” And Mr. Hicks replies “yes” to this question.
Do you agree that you and your team were ordered to, quote, “stand down”?
GIBSON: Madam Chairman, I was not ordered to stand down. I was ordered to remain in place. “Stand down” implies that we cease all operations, cease all activities. We continued to support the team that was in Tripoli.
There were very good reasons for Gibson and most of his team to remain in Tripoli. Garry Reid, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, explained during his May 21, 2013 testimony that "[f]our stayed and provided security, they helped move folks into a secure area and they provided treatment for the wounded." In his own testimony on June 26, 2013, General Ham said he “certainly agree[d] with” the decision for Gibson's team to remain in Tripoli. And Gibson himself said that the order he was given to remain in Tripoli “was the correct decision,” because if he had left for Benghazi, his medic could not have helped the wounded Americans that were evacuated from Benghazi.
The new transcripts also undermine the claim that there was ample warning about an imminent attack in Benghazi, another myth frequently hyped by Fox. In October 2013, Fox host Brian Kilmeade claimed that “the U.S. government knew an attack was imminent and didn't do a thing about it.”
This claim had already been refuted before the transcripts were declassified. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2013 that “there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack” on U.S. facilities in Benghazi. The State Department's independent Accountability Review Board also found that “intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.”
During his June 26, 2013, testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, General Ham also said there was no intelligence indicating an imminent attack in Benghazi:
HAM: [L]eading up to the events of 11 September, watching the intelligence very carefully as all of us did and post attack having the opportunity to review the intelligence, I still don't find -- I have not found the intelligence that would indicate that an attack in Benghazi was imminent and that subsequent security should have been deployed.