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  • Fox Gave Benghazi More Than 10 Times As Much Coverage As Trump’s Botched Yemen Raid

    After One Month Of Coverage, The Raid Is The Benghazi That Wasn’t

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In the month after Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed in a botched raid on a terrorist camp in Yemen, none of Fox News’ prime-time hosts even mentioned the incident.

    During that January 29 raid -- the first counterterrorism operation of President Donald Trump’s administration -- “almost everything that could go wrong did,” according to The New York Times. Several news outlets have produced reports suggesting the raid was ordered without sufficient intelligence and preparation and that the administration has been untruthful about the operation.

    As these questions have mounted, Democrats on Capitol Hill and Owens’ father have called for an investigation into the raid.

    But Fox’s evening lineup has been virtually silent, airing only 12 segments with significant discussion of the story from January 30 to February 28, according to a Media Matters review.

    By contrast, the network’s evening programs devoted a whopping 140 segments to the September 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks in the first month after that tragedy, according to data Media Matters compiled for a 2014 report. (NOTE: That study did not include Fox’s 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time hour because it was not in Nexis, making the disparity even more stark.)

    The two incidents are not perfectly comparable. One involved a U.S. ambassador being killed in an attack by terrorists, while the other involved a U.S. servicemember being killed in an assault on terrorists; one was immediately politicized by the opposition while the other was not.

    And yet, the parallels between Fox News’ criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack and the actual facts of the Trump administration’s handling of the Yemen raid suggest the network’s silence is deliberate.

    Every show but The O’Reilly Factor aired more segments on the Benghazi attacks in the month after that event than the entire network lineup did following the Yemen raid. Special Report and Hannity each aired more than 40 Benghazi segments, averaging more than two per broadcast.

    By contrast, Special Report with Bret Baier was the network’s leader in raid segments, but it produced only five in the first month; The Five was next, with just three.

    After 7 p.m., none of Fox’s hosts said a word about the story. The rare discussions on their programs came from guest hosts or correspondent news briefs. Sean Hannity’s program never mentioned the raid in any way.

    That drought ended on March 1 as the pro-Trump propagandists rushed to praise the president for recognizing Owens’ sacrifice during Trump’s February 28 speech to a joint session of Congress. Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Martha MacCallum all lauded the president while lashing out at progressives who suggested that Trump had used Owens’ death for political gain.

    It’s not only the volume of coverage that has changed dramatically after a Republican became president -- the character of the segments have changed as well.

    One can't overstate the degree to which Fox News sought to turn the Benghazi tragedy into a political cudgel with which to hammer the Obama administration.

    Over a period of years, the network flooded its airwaves with coverage that portrayed the administration’s response as a major political scandal. In the first months, Fox's focus was on President Obama, who was running for re-election. After he was victorious, attention shifted to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner to be the Democratic nominee in 2016.

    Fox repeatedly pushed myths about the attack, seeking to convince its audience that the administration had engaged in a conspiracy to deliberately withhold aid from the besieged Americans and then lied about the attack to the American people, all for political gain.

    That narrative began immediately. In the first month after the Benghazi attacks, nearly a third of Fox’s segments suggested that Obama or members of his administration deliberately misled or outright lied to the public about the events. In a similar number of segments, Fox figures or guests characterized the administration’s response as a “cover-up.” Seven of the segments featured comparisons to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandal.

    These claims were false, as numerous investigations eventually showed.

    Over the past month, several criticisms of the Trump administration’s handling of the Yemen raid have emerged. These include:

    • Due to insufficient intelligence and preparation, “the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.” This led to U.S. casualties and civilian deaths.

    • Trump was not in the White House situation room for the raid -- his Twitter account tweeted and deleted a promotion for an upcoming interview while the attack was ongoing. He approved the action over dinner at a meeting that included political staffers.

    • The Trump administration has repeatedly falsely suggested that the Obama White House approved the raid.

    • Contrary to public claims from Trump and his administration that the raid was a successful intelligence gathering mission, reports suggest part of its purpose was actually to kill a top leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who “either slipped away or was not at the location.” The raid reportedly produced “no significant intelligence” according to U.S. officials who contradicted Pentagon statements in comments to NBC News. As evidence of the raid’s success, the Pentagon produced clips which were subsequently determined to be from a 10-year-old video that was already in the public domain.

    • During an interview on Fox News, Trump blamed Owens’ death on the military, saying, “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals … And they lost Ryan.”

    Based on the Benghazi precedent, it is very clear that if a similar set of facts had emerged during a Democratic presidency, Fox’s coverage would have been apocalyptic. Instead, the network’s commentators have sought to carry water for the president.

    “Also, what you probably have heard, and maybe not, is that there was an incredible amount of information, a treasure trove of intel that they were able to recover, they said, similar to the amount in terms of its importance to the intelligence community that we got with Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad,” The Five host Kimberly Guilfoyle said during a February 1 segment praising Trump for visiting Dover Air Force Base for the arrival of Owens’ remains.

    Bud Jackson, chairman of the American Working Families PAC, was one of the only voices on the Fox evening shows to offer criticism of the Trump administration, suggesting the president’s decision to order the raid was “cavalier,” pointing out that “a lot of things went wrong” during the attack, and accusing White House press secretary Sean Spicer of using Owens as “a human shield.”

    But during that February 27 edition of The First 100 Days, guest host Sandra Smith repeatedly sought to pivot away from Jackson’s comments, suggesting that Obama was really responsible for the raid. The other guest, former SEAL Carl Higbie, attacked Jackson for being “extremely disrespectful.”

    At times, Fox did report on facts that cut against the administration’s narrative. On January 30, Jennifer Griffin said on Special Report that “One senior defense official told us this operation would not have been approved by the last White House.” On February 3, she pointed out that in “an embarrassing about-face,” the video clips the Pentagon had released as evidence that the raid had recovered valuable information were actually 10 years old and in the public domain.

    Neither fact has been mentioned since during Fox’s evening programming.

    Methodology

    Media Matters identified segments based on a search of Nexis transcripts for The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The First 100 Days, The O'Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity between January 30 and February 28 for "Yemen" or "William pre/2 Owens."

    We included each segment where the raid was the stated topic of discussion. We also included segments that were not limited solely to the raid but that featured significant discussion of the topic. Significant discussion is defined as at least two speakers in the segment talking about Benghazi to one another (e.g. the host asking a guest a question about the raid during a multi-topic interview). 

  • When Jeff Sessions Feverishly Urged The Recusal Of An Attorney General On Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In November, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called on the sitting attorney general to recuse herself and appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations related to Hillary Clinton's use of private email. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are now demanding that now-Attorney General Sessions do the same thing amid reporting that he failed to acknowledge during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russia’s ambassador as a Donald Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential campaign season.

    In a November 5 letter posted on FoxNews.com that was signed by Sessions, he berated then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for not recusing herself from the Clinton email investigation, and called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate instead:

    Attorney General Lynch and former President Clinton met on the Phoenix, Arizona tarmac days before Secretary Clinton was to be interviewed by the FBI for possible criminal activity. It has been reported that her staff ordered witnesses not to take pictures and no one was present during their 39-minute conversation. General Lynch never recused herself from decisions on the Clinton investigation after her self-admitted “mistake,” as it has also been reported that she continues to deny the FBI the authority to convene a Grand Jury, which is necessary for any meaningful investigation.

    It has also been reported that General Lynch opposed Director Comey from fulfilling his obligation to Congress by informing members of the discovery of 650,000 emails on Anthony Weiner’s and Huma Abedin’s computer, the existence of which had been concealed from government authorities.

    Recusal is a formal process. It is a written document specifically describing the scope of the recusal and designating the official in charge of the recused matter. If General Lynch went through the proper procedure for recusal, she has not publicly shared it.

    [...]

    In 1991-1992, a Special Counsel was appointed for three separate matters: House Bank, Iraqgate, and Inslaw. It was also done in 2003 in the Valerie Plame matter.

    Instead of moving with dispatch to ensure a vigorous investigation of Secretary Clinton, it appears that the Justice Department, along with State, have enabled the Clinton campaign to “slow roll” the inquiry.

    General Lynch continues to exert control of a matter that she should have assigned to another official.

    We are distressed by widespread and credible reports that FBI agents have been hindered by the Justice Department’s withholding of basic investigative tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are fundamental in a complex investigation.

    It is time to do what should have been done long ago – appoint a Special Counsel.

    Sessions doubled down on this claim during a November 6 interview on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures, saying “We need an independent person, person that's not politically connected, that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need. Hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated”:

    MARIA BARTIROMO (HOST): I want to talk about this letter that you penned along with others like Rudy Giuliani, Frank Keating, Victoria Toensing and Henry McMaster. This is a letter basically saying, look, it is time for Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel because this brings me to the question of the morning after. Regardless who wins, Senator, you're going to have the next day and you're going to have real issues on the table. Will Hillary Clinton be able to make important decisions when she's got these investigations overhanging? What does the morning after look like for Trump? And what do you want to see in terms of this special counsel?

    SESSIONS: Well, you should never politicize criminal investigations or prosecutions. We should never do that. But the situation is such and the facts are such that we have an investigation going now, and there's a lack of confidence, in fact, zero confidence really that the attorney general is doing anything other than delaying this investigation and not pursuing it effectively. It's been ongoing for over a year. A special prosecutor would have been the appropriate thing to do to take it out of politics and maybe would already have been completed, but the rumors we hear are that the FBI is being obstructed and delayed and blocked by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Lynch. So, I think this is a serious matter. We've just got to have integrity in our criminal justice system. Everybody deserves a fair day in court, but we need a fair investigation, too, and I'm afraid that's not happening.

    BARTIROMO: Well, in the letter, you and your colleagues write, look, the Department of Justice has been thwarted by top officials' refusal to conduct a proper investigation of former Secretary [Hillary] Clinton's unsecured email server and the pay-for-play accusations. So if Donald Trump were to win the presidency, is he going to move to remove Loretta Lynch?

    SESSIONS: Well, of course, there will be a change in the attorney general, as well in every cabinet position. Remember, Loretta Lynch serves at the pleasure of President Obama. She doesn't have a termed office. She knows who appointed her and she knows whose pleasure she serves at. So we need an independent person, a person that's not politically connected that people in America can have confidence in to take over this investigation and make sure it's done correctly, to bring charges if need -- hopefully not charges. Hopefully they're not needed. But there are some serious allegations here that the American people need to know are fully investigated. You know, FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence. He had no choice but to report to the American Congress where he had under oath testified the investigation was over. He had to correct that and say, this investigation is ongoing now. I'm sure it's significant or he wouldn't have announced that.

    BARTIROMO: Right, which is the question I'm trying to get at in terms of Hillary Clinton. Should she win the presidency, what is she going to do in terms of governance? Can she govern effectively if she's got these investigations going on? Will she have to change FBI directors knowing that Jim Comey is pursuing this? Or are we going to have four years of, you can't get anything done because of these investigations and the challenge from the Republicans like naming new Supreme Court justices?

    SESSIONS: Well, it is a dangerous thing, no doubt. It puts a cloud over her tenure as president. What is she going to do about the attorney general? Who will she appoint? Will it be an utter loyalist, as it appears Loretta Lynch is and Eric Holder was during his tenure, or will it be someone that has the respect of the American people who can handle a complex matter and do it right with confidence. To me, at this point, it's so off track and so badly handled that an independent counsel is the right thing, I have no doubt about that.

    Sessions is now facing demands from even Republican members of Congress that he recuse himself from the Department of Justice investigation into ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials, following revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador but told his confirmation committee, under oath, that he had not met with any Russian officials. From The Washington Post:

    Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from federal investigations of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

    House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early Thursday that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

    Later, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement, “Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe.”

    [...]

    Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is also demanding a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration for ties to Russia, “given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russia.”

  • Trump's Bogus Immigration Claims Come Straight From Nativist Groups And Fringe Right-Wing Media

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump spent part of his February 28 speech to Congress fearmongering about immigrants. His claims that today’s immigration system threatens jobs and lowers wages, drains government benefits, and makes communities less safe come straight from nativist groups and fringe right-wing media outlets that present distorted research as fact and discredit credible studies that undercut their anti-immigrant agenda.

  • Media Can't Stop Pining For Another Trump Pivot

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.

  • Economists And Experts Hammer Trump's Plan To Increase Military Spending At Expense Of Nearly Everything Else

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump’s plan to beef up the defense budget by an additional $54 billion at the expense of civilian domestic spending, which he will unveil tonight before a joint session of Congress, has been derided by economists and experts for being "wholly unrealistic" and “voodoo” economics.

    Bloomberg reported on February 26, that Trump’s first budget proposal would call for a $54 billion -- more than 9 percent -- increase in defense spending to be paid for with reductions to discretionary domestic spending, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described as the budgetary equivalent of taking “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed reports of the president’s budget priorities in a February 27 press briefing, adding that Trump would discuss his budget plan in more detail during his February 28 address to Congress.

    Economists and experts have hammered Trump for months for proposing dramatic and seemingly unnecessary increases in defense spending. An October 19 article in New York magazine described Trump’s promises of new defense expenditures as “a random grab bag of military goodies, untethered to any coherent argument” because he lacked any vision or purpose for increasing funding to the military. According to figures compiled by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, American defense spending already eclipses the military spending of the next seven countries combined:

    The reception for Trump’s new budget outline has been similarly harsh. New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman derided the president’s claim that a “revved up economy” could fund new tax cuts and spending increases as “deep voodoo” -- alluding to Trump’s embrace of trickle-down economics. Washington Post contributor and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein slammed Trump’s “wholly unrealistic” budget outline in a February 28 column and chided the president for claiming that he can simultaneously increase military spending, cut taxes on high-income earners and corporations, and reduce the federal deficit -- all while leaving vital entitlement programs alone. In order to even approach a balanced budget in 10 years, Trump would have to remove almost everything else in the budget:

    According to a February 27 analysis from the CBPP, Trump's proposal, when coupled with his plan to boost infrastructure investments, would mean nondefense spending would see a whopping 15 percent reduction. The reason for the outsized hit to nondefense discretionary spending is that the programs covered by that part of the federal budget -- education, energy, affordable housing, infrastructure investments, law enforcement, foreign aid, some veterans' benefits, etc. -- only account for a small part of all federal spending. The largest part of the federal budget is mandatory spending for entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other veterans's benefits, and unemployment insurance. From the Congressional Budget Office:

    Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department are so onerous that more than 120 retired generals signed an open letter to congressional leaders warning of their ramifications. One co-signer told CBS News that such steep cuts would be “consigning us to a generational war,” and the letter itself quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who argued during his time at the head of U.S. Central Command that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

    ThinkProgress blasted Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department along with domestic spending in the name of increasing national defense because such cuts would actually undermine national security. The article cited recent congressional testimony from Center for American Progress senior fellow Larry Korb, who testified that “our national security will suffer” if the federal budget prioritized the Pentagon at the expense of other agencies.

    Trump is notorious for pushing bogus claims about the economy and the federal budget. He has been derided by hundreds of economists for pushing right-wing myths about the economy and the federal debt, and routine criticisms of his unfounded claims were a mainstay of the presidential campaign in 2016. As was the case last year, the budgetary, fiscal, and tax policies Trump has supported since taking office simply don’t add up.

  • Trump’s Russia Ties Conspicuously Absent From Fox News Sunday

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    The ongoing saga surrounding reported entanglements between President Donald Trump, his current and former aides, and the Russian government was a leading topic of discussion for hosts and guests during the February 26 editions of the Sunday morning news shows -- except for Fox News Sunday, where the controversy was barely mentioned.

    The Trump administration has been dogged for months by rumors and allegations that members of the president’s inner circle had improper or compromising interactions with agents of the Russian government during the campaign. Michael Flynn was recently forced to resign as national security adviser after details became public about his possibly illegal discussions about lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with a Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration. Trump himself has been briefed by American intelligence authorities about reports that Russian operatives may have “compromising personal and financial information” about him in their possession.

    In the past several days, outlets including CNN, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post reported that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had reached out to members of the intelligence community and Republican congressional leaders for help in tamping down stories regarding the Trump administration and Russia. In response to those reports, Trump has lashed out at news outlets, falsely calling the stories “FAKE NEWS,” and White House press secretary Sean Spicer blacklisted several news outlets from taking part in a February 24 press briefing. The commotion last Friday surrounding Trump’s potential relationships with Russia and his administration’s handling of the situation led one Republican member of Congress -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) -- to call for a full investigation by an independent special prosecutor.

    For most of the Sunday shows this week, the continuing story was a major part of the day's conversation. NBC Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, summarizing the most recent news on Trump and Russia, even pointed out that Trump’s war on the press always “seems to escalate” whenever new developments arise in the story about his ties to Russia. All told, four of the major Sunday shows -- ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- dedicated a total of more than 49 minutes to the topic, with at least two full segments on the scandal on each. In contrast, Fox News Sunday barely covered it, featuring only a single question and response on Russia that added up to barely more than a minute.

    Along with mostly ignoring the most recent Russia scandal, the Fox show featured a guest defending Trump’s attacks on the media. The network, which was previously instrumental in helping normalize Trump’s cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, seems bent on helping Trump normalize his crusade against media outlets that are trying to get to the bottom of these connections.

  • Bill O’Reilly Hosted A Fake Swedish Defense “Advisor” To Fearmonger About Refugees

    Swedish Armed Forces Press Secretary: "We Do Not Know Who He Is"

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News has been accused, yet again, of using deceptive tactics to fearmonger about refugees in Sweden.

    On the February 23 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly brought on a guest named Nils Bildt, who was introduced as “a Swedish defense and national security advisor,” to discuss Sweden’s refugee policies. During the segment, Bildt argued that Swedish authorities “are unable … to socially integrate” refugees, and claimed that, as a result, “There is a problem with socially deviant activity, there is a problem with crime, [and] there is a problem with areas or hotspots of crime” in Sweden. Bildt alleged that these “problems” are“not being openly and honestly discussed … because if you don't agree with the liberal, shall we say, common agenda, then you are viewed as an outsider or not even taken seriously.”

    The Swedish Armed Forces, however, do not appear to know who Bildt is. According to a translation of an article in the Swedish outlet Göteborgs-Posten, the press secretary of the Swedish Armed Forces has said that they “do not know who [Bildt] is,” and that he is “definitely not a spokesman for the Armed Forces.” The translated Göteborgs-Posten article reported that Bildt currently lives in Japan.

    O’Reilly’s characterization of Bildt as “a Swedish defense and national security adviser” is the latest deceptive attempt from Fox News to portray the refugee population in Sweden as deviant and “unable … to socially integrate.” Just two days earlier, on February 21, Fox host Tucker Carlson showed an interview between filmmaker Ami Horowitz and two Swedish police officers about the supposed surge in refugee violence in the country. After the segment ran, the officers featured in the interview were “shocked” by the deceptive editing of the interview, claimed they were not asked about immigration at all, and asserted “that their testimony had been taken out of context.”

    Right-wing media have claimed that the Swedish government is “importing thousands of men from countries … that embrace rape for men as something that is acceptable” and that Swedish authorities “don't want to tell the world what is going on” with their refugee population, and have attempted to revive the fearmongering myth of Muslim “no-go zones” in Sweden.

  • Pro-Trump Media Defend President After He Included Sweden In List Of Terrorist Targets

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    President Donald Trump’s media allies rushed to bolster and clarify his remarks after he called on rally-goers to “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” during a February 18 speech before listing three non-Swedish cities recently attacked by homegrown terrorists. Trump later clarified that he was referring to a Fox News report hyping immigrant criminality in Sweden from the prior night, not a nonexistent attack, while conservative outlets, fringe blogs, and fake news purveyors declared that “actually, Trump was right” that Sweden is “experiencing a migrant crime wave,” despite widely cited data that proves otherwise.