Media Fall For Another Misleading Leak From Issa's Committee

Issa and Attkisson

Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.

On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim that “the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security.” The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website “will not submit or share personally identifiable information.”

CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.

On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was “not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1,” citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been “withheld,” but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim “Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues” as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.

The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.

Media Matters previously detailed how Issa's allegation, parroted by media outlets including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, that the IRS' Washington headquarters coordinated the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups was not backed up by the facts. Though Issa spent months pushing allegations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for political reasons, he was unable to produce evidence that could substantiate his claims -- which Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) later said were “reckless” and “inconsistent with the findings of the Inspector General.”

In May, partial transcripts leaked from the House Oversight Committee and reported on by CBS reignited claims that an administration official had issued a “stand down” order to prevent U.S. Special Forces troops in Tripoli from assisting the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi during the September 11, 2012 attack. But testimony weeks later from the commander of those troops thoroughly debunked that claim:

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.”


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.”

On November 8, ThinkProgress reported that “Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are accusing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) of selectively leaking misinformation about” to suggest that contractors had informed the administration that the site could only handle 1,100 users at a time. Cummings called Issa's claim, which he brought to Fox News, “reckless and highly irresponsible” and said “the Committee has information in its possession that directly contradicts these unfounded allegations.”

At this point, the media should know better than to continue uncritically repeating claims based on leaks from Issa's committee. As Benen put it, “there are two phrases that should immediately raise red flags when put in the same sentence: 'partial transcript' and 'House Oversight Committee.' ”