A claim pushed dozens of times by Fox News that security forces were ordered to “stand down” during the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility collapsed after the commander of those security forces testified that he received no such order.
More than a month after the attacks in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, Fox began airing accusations that security forces present in Libya at the time were ordered to “stand down” by the Obama administration. Fox's confused coverage over the months claimed that both a reaction force that was dispatched to Benghazi and suffered two casualties while trying to defend the facility, and a group of four special forces troops in Tripoli received “stand down” orders. This accusation was given new fuel after former Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks May 8 remarks made before a congressional committee appeared to confirm claims that Lt. Col. Gibson, who commanded a small team of special forces troops in Tripoli, was ordered to “stand down.” Fox baselessly speculated that either President Obama or then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave the alleged order.
A search of the Nexis database shows that the accusation that these security forces were ordered to “stand down” was made in 85 segments on the network's primetime shows by Fox hosts, contributors, guests, and in video accompanying news reports and commentary.
But now even Republicans are admitting that a “stand down” order was never given. According to The Associated Press, Gibson told a Republican-led congressional committee on June 26 that he was never ordered to “stand down.”
The former commander of a four-member Army Special Forces unit in Tripoli, Libya, denied Wednesday that he was told to stand down during last year's deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
In a closed-door session with the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson said his commanders told him to remain in the capital of Tripoli to defend Americans in the event of additional attacks and to help survivors being evacuated from Benghazi.
“Contrary to news reports, Gibson was not ordered to 'stand down' by higher command authorities in response to his understandable desire to lead a group of three other special forces soldiers to Benghazi,” the Republican-led committee said in a summary of its classified briefing with military officials, including Gibson.
This is not the first time the Fox “stand down” narrative has been discredited. The day before Hicks' May 8 testimony, a Pentagon spokesman stated that there “was never any kind of stand down order to anybody.” After Hicks' testimony, a Pentagon spokesman further explained that the security forces in Tripoli “were told to stay” in Tripoli to help with the security there. On June 12, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed this point, telling Congress:
GEN. DEMPSEY: They weren't told to stand down. A stand down means don't do anything. They were told to -- that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi but was at Tripoli Airport.
On June 26, Fox's Special Report with Bret Baier reported on Lt. Col. Gibson's testimony debunking the “stand down” order myth, but never mentioned that the claim was made repeatedly by the network:
Other Fox narratives criticizing the Obama administration over Benghazi have collapsed. Fox repeatedly engaged in ridiculous transcript trutherism to deny the fact that the president called the Benghazi attacks “an act of terror” the day after they occurred. The network also repeatedly accused former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice of lying to the public when she said, based on unclassified talking points drafted and edited by the intelligence community, that the attack had in part been inspired by a Cairo protest over an anti-Islam video. But a release of nearly 100 emails between government agencies about the talking points showed that the intelligence community from the start thought that the video played a part in the attacks.
METHODOLOGY: Media Matters searched for Fox News Network transcripts in the Nexis database after September 10, 2012, using the search term “Benghazi and 'stand down'.” Results that did not concern the Benghazi attacks were not counted. The 85 relevant mentions do not include the June 26 Special Report segment on Lt. Col. Gibson's testimony. The shows covered by this Nexis search include The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.