REPORT: Fox's Benghazi Obsession By The Numbers
Network Aired 1,098 Evening Segments In First 20 Months After Attacks
Research ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO & HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.
Media Matters reviewed Fox News transcripts and identified segments including significant discussion of Benghazi on The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren between September 11, 2012, the night of the attacks, and May 2, 2014, when House Speaker John Boehner announced the formation of a select committee to investigate the attacks and their aftermath. This report does not include The Kelly File or Fox Report because they did not run for the full period of the study.
- 1,098 total Fox News evening segments that included significant discussion of Benghazi -- an average of about 13 segments per week
- In 18 of 20 months studied, Fox ran at least 20 Benghazi segments per month, with a high of 174 in October 2012
- 382 segments aired on Special Report, the network's flagship news program
- 478 segments invoked the talking points used for Susan Rice's 2012 Sunday show appearances
- 281 segments alleging a "cover-up" by the Obama administration
- 144 interviews of GOP members of Congress versus only five interviews of Democratic members of Congress and Obama administration officials
- 120 comparisons to Iran-Contra, Watergate, and the actions of the Nixon administration
- 105 attempts to link Benghazi to Hillary Clinton's potential presidential ambitions
- 100 segments promoting the lie that the administration issued a "stand-down order"
Nearly 1,100 Evening Fox News Segments On Benghazi
Fox News' Evening Shows Broadcast Nearly 1,100 Segments On Benghazi In The 20 Months Following The Attack. During the period of the study, Fox News' evening lineup aired a total of 1,098 segments featuring significant discussion of Benghazi, an average of about 13 segments per week. Special Report with Bret Baier, the network's flagship news program, led the charge with 382 individual segments. Hannity and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren followed in distant second and third, with 220 and 214 segments, respectively. The O'Reilly Factor aired 181 segments, and The Five aired 101. Special Report runs more segments in general than the other programs, while The Five typically runs fewer (the latter, however, repeatedly aired nearly an entire show devoted to discussing Benghazi).
In 18 Of 20 Months Studied, Fox Ran At Least 20 Benghazi Segments Per Month, With A High Of 174 In October 2012. In the months following the attack and leading into the 2012 presidential election, Fox News aired its largest share of Benghazi segments. September 2012 saw 102 segments; in October, that number jumped to a high of 174; and in November, the number slid slightly to 141. For the next five months, Benghazi segments steadily declined but then surged to 168 in May 2013. This coincides with coverage of the May 8 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, which included controversial testimony from foreign service officer Gregory Hicks. Following that May, coverage dropped down again, fluctuating between about 20 and 50 segments a month. In March 2014 coverage hit its lowest point, with only six segments. Coverage surged again in April 2014 in response to calls for forming a House select committee, which Boehner announced on May 2.
Fox's Fixation On Susan Rice's Talking Points
Conservatives Tried To Manufacture A Scandal From Sunday Show Talking Points. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday political talk shows on September 16, 2012, to discuss Benghazi and a series of anti-American demonstrations across the Muslim world, which were a response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Rice immediately came under fire for linking the Benghazi attacks to the video and for not referring to the attack as terrorism, even though she called the perpetrators "extremists" and made clear that her comments were based on the limited intelligence available. Lawmakers and media subsequently fixated on the "talking points" she was given for the appearances, falsely suggesting that the Obama administration had deceptively edited CIA intelligence to downplay the role of terrorism in order to benefit President Obama's re-election campaign. But the email record of the editing process shows that references to terrorists were removed from Rice's talking points in order preserve the ongoing criminal investigation, that the first draft of the talking points submitted by the CIA had stated that the Benghazi attacks were inspired by Egyptian protests against the video, and that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points. [Media Matters, 11/30/12; Media Matters, 9/11/13; Media Matters, 5/15/13; Media Matters, 6/5/13]
Fox News Discussed The Talking Points In Nearly Half Of Its Benghazi Segments. Out of 1,098 segments, 478 included discussion of the talking points delivered by Rice, amounting to 44 percent of all segments. Special Report raised the topic the most, with 158 segments.
Fox Tried To Manufacture Another Watergate With The Benghazi "Cover-Up"
Multiple Investigations Reveal There Was No Obama Administration "Cover-Up"... Multiple investigations, including the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee have found no evidence that the Obama administration or the intelligence community withheld necessary information or acted with political motivations. [State Department, 12/19/12; Senate Intelligence Committee, 1/15/14; House Intelligence Committee, 7/31/14]
... But Fox News Charged The Obama Administration With A "Cover-Up" In 281 Segments. A quarter of segments studied included the explicit characterization of the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attacks as a "cover-up." Hannity led this charge, with 108 total segments accusing the administration of engaging in a "cover-up." The Five, Special Report, On the Record, and The O'Reilly Factor followed with 53, 46, 41, and 33 segments, respectively. Fox has suggested the administration "covered up" security flaws at the diplomatic facilities prior to the attacks, the realities of terrorism in the Middle East and Africa, what happened the night of the attacks, and why Rice's talking points were edited. The so-called "cover-up" has been framed as politically motivated, both to aid Obama's 2012 re-election as well as protect Clinton's potential 2016 presidential ambitions. [Media Matters, 9/21/12; Media Matters, 1/23/13; Media Matters, 5/7/13; Media Matters, 5/3/14; Media Matters, 5/9/13; Media Matters, 5/6/14]
37 Percent Of Benghazi Segments Accused Obama Of Deliberately Misleading Or Outright Lying About Benghazi. 402 segments suggested that Obama or members of his administration willfully misled or lied about the events of the Benghazi terror attack. Hannity made this charge most often, with 138 segments accusing the administration of lying. Special Report, The O'Reilly Factor, On the Record, and The Five followed, with 78, 73, 65, and 48 segments, respectively.
Fox News Compared Benghazi To Watergate, Iran-Contra "Cover-Up" Scandals At Least 120 Times. Comparisons to Iran-Contra, Watergate, and the Nixon administration were common on Fox News' evening lineup. On the September 28, 2012, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, conservative guest and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein described the talking points delivered by Rice as "so much worse than the Watergate cover-up, it's a joke." The May 1, 2013, edition of The Five featured co-host Greg Gutfeld proclaiming: "Watergate, Nixon lied, but nobody died. And Benghazi, four dead, White House went to bed." Such comparisons were most frequent on The O'Reilly Factor, where the host and guests invoked Watergate 24 times and the Nixon administration 14 times.
Obama Repeatedly Called Benghazi An "Act Of Terror" In The Days After The Attack. Obama called Benghazi an "act of terror" during his Rose Garden speech on September 12, the day after the attacks. He referred to the attack in the same manner twice the next day, during speeches in Colorado and Nevada. [Media Matters, 10/16/12; Media Matters, 10/22/12; Media Matters, 4/2/14]
More Than One-Fifth Of Segments Questioned Whether Obama Called Benghazi A Terrorist Act. Fox has repeatedly attempted to rewrite the timeline and deny what Obama said, falsely claiming it took the president "weeks" to label it terrorism and suggesting he avoided the label for political reasons. The network aired a total of 244 segments that suggested that the Obama administration did not initially refer to the attacks in Benghazi as "terror" or a "terrorist act." Hannity pushed this narrative most often, with 77 segments. Special Report, On the Record, The O'Reilly Factor, and The Five followed with 51, 45, 42, and 29 segments, respectively.
Fox News Speculated About A Political Motive For Obama's Response To Benghazi In One-Fifth Of Segments. Two hundred and thirty total segments suggested that the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi terror attack was politically motivated and shaped by the president's 2012 re-election campaign. Again, Hannity led with this particular framing, with 70 segments. Special Report, On the Record, The Five, and The O'Reilly Factor followed with 53, 42, 33, and 32 segments, respectively.
Fox Paints The Obama Administration's Response As Willfully Negligent
There Was No Obama Administration "Stand-Down Order." Fox repeatedly pushed the myth that CIA and military personnel were ordered to "stand down" by higher-ups or someone in the Obama administration, theoretically hindering their ability to save the Americans who were killed during the attacks. But multiple investigations found that while commanders on the ground made tactical decisions in the interest of protecting Americans in Tripoli and ensuring a successful rescue effort in Benghazi, no such "stand down" orders were given. CIA personnel, the Pentagon, the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tripoli commander Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, nine other military officers, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee have all confirmed that there was no "stand down" order given. [Media Matters, 7/10/14; Media Matters, 7/27/13; Media Matters, 8/27/14; Media Matters, 2/11/14; Media Matters, 5/9/13]
100 Segments Forwarded The False Claim That The Obama Administration Issued A Stand-Down Order. Hannity again took the top spot by a large margin, with 43 segments suggesting that the administration issued a "stand down" order to soldiers or CIA personnel while the Benghazi attacks took place. The Five, Special Report, The O'Reilly Factor, and On the Record followed with 20, 19, 10, and eight segments, respectively. The vast majority of these segments occurred in the wake of Gregory Hicks' testimony on May 8, 2013, but Fox has continued to air the attack even after it has been repeatedly debunked.
Reinforcements Were Scrambled To Aid The Diplomatic Post ... A six-member quick-reaction team and 60 Libyan militiamen in Benghazi responded to the initial distress calls from the diplomatic post, and reinforcements from the embassy in Tripoli arrived the same night, before the second round of attacks on the CIA annex. In fact, one of the four Americans who were killed that night, Glen Doherty, was part of the rescue effort. Additional special operations teams were ordered to deploy from Croatia and the United States, but did not arrive in Libya until long after the attack had concluded. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has accused critics who believe more U.S. forces should have responded of having a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities." [Media Matters, 7/10/14; Media Matters, 11/4/12; Media Matters, 10/28/13]
... But Fox News Aired 134 Segments Suggesting That No Forces Were Sent To Benghazi During The Attack. Fox has frequently claimed that no assistance was deployed during the attacks, with contributors even going so far as to suggest that Obama "sacrificed Americans" as a "political calculation." Hannity led once more, with 42 segments. Special Report, On the Record, The Five, and The O'Reilly Factor followed with 33, 24, 19, and 16 segments, respectively. [Media Matters, 9/11/13]
Fox Continues To Question Where Administration Officials Were The Night Of The Attack After Reporting Where They Were On The Night Of The Attack. Fox has repeatedly questioned the whereabouts of several administration officials during the attacks in Benghazi, falsely implying that Obama and his team were not properly responsive to the tragedy. The network once questioned where then-national security adviser Tom Donilon was the night of the attacks while simultaneously airing a photograph of Donilon in the Oval Office taken the night of the attacks. That photograph has been available on the White House Flickr account since October 2012. Obama was also in that photo -- and military officials have repeatedly confirmed that the president and his team were engaged with them throughout the night -- but Fox has nevertheless consistently questioned his whereabouts. Hillary Clinton's location also came under attack from the network, despite the fact that congressional testimony has confirmed she was in close contact with military officials and Donilon throughout the night. [Media Matters, 5/9/13; Media Matters, 5/30/13; Media Matters, 5/14/13; Media Matters, 8/1/14]
110 Segments Questioned The Whereabouts Of Obama Administration Officials During The Attack. Again, Hannity led on Fox, with 47 total segments pushing this attack. Special Report, On the Record, The O'Reilly Factor, and The Five followed with 23, 21, 11, and eight segments, respectively.
The Administration Did Not Have Access To "Real-Time Video" Of Benghazi Attacks ... During an October 2012 congressional hearing, State Department employee Charlene Lamb noted that she had been following the developments in Benghazi that night through a series of telephone calls, "almost in real-time." Right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, immediately seized on the comment to incorrectly claim that the administration had been watching real-time video of the event, despite the fact that no one had even mentioned a video. According to an administration official, the Benghazi compound did have closed-circuit video surveillance, but it could not be monitored from outside the facility, and Clinton confirmed during her congressional testimony that no one at the State Department was watching real-time video of the attacks as they unfolded. [Media Matters, 1/24/13]
... But Hannity Pushed The "Real-Time Video" Falsehood In Dozens Of Segments. Fox News ran 62 total evening segments suggesting that the Obama administration had access to real-time video of the attack as it unfolded. Forty-four aired on Hannity. Almost all of these occurred during October and November of 2012, coinciding with Lamb's testimony.
Fox's Effort To Use Benghazi To Damage Hillary Clinton
Benghazi Increasingly Mentioned In Relation To Clinton's Potential 2016 Presidential Bid. Fox News continually brought up the specter of Benghazi as the media's 2016 presidential speculation has heated up. Fox connected the Benghazi attacks to a potential Clinton presidential run shortly after the 2012 election and went quiet until the May 2013 Benghazi hearing sparked a surge of 19 mentions. Benghazi as an issue for Clinton steadily rose again in December 2013 and into 2014.
Clinton On Importance Of Inquiry Into Talking Points: "What Difference, At This Point, Does It Make?" During her January 2013 congressional testimony, Clinton was asked a question about the State Department's role in editing Rice's talking points to remove a reference to the attackers' motive. In response, she dismissed the relevance of asking who edited a government memo, saying, "[T]he fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again." [Media Matters, 5/7/13; Media Matters, 5/3/14; Media Matters, 5/30/14]
Fox News Discussed Clinton's Comment In 97 Segments, Frequently Taking Her Out Of Context. Fox News frequently took a part of her response ("What difference, at this point, does it make?") out of context, falsely attacking her by claiming she was dismissing the deaths of the four Americans killed that night. The Five aired, discussed, or mentioned Clinton's comment more than the rest of Fox's evening lineup, 38 times. Hannity, Special Report, The O'Reilly Factor, and On the Record followed with 22, 19, 17, and 11 mentions.
Clinton Fell Ill And Suffered A Concussion In December 2012. In late December 2012, shortly before she was scheduled to testify before Congress about Benghazi, Clinton suffered a concussion after she fainted due to dehydration from the flu and was subsequently hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening blood clot in her head. Clinton's doctors confirmed that she had made a full recovery, and she testified on Benghazi in a public hearing just a few weeks later. [Media Matters, 5/13/14]
In 19 Segments, Fox News Suggested Or Speculated That Clinton Faked Her Concussion To Avoid Testifying On Benghazi. Fox figures accused Clinton of faking the concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi, with some contributors and hosts mocking her health and joking she was "suffering from acute Benghazi allergy." The Five led with seven segments suggesting or speculating that Clinton faked health issues in order to avoid testifying before Congress. Special Report and The O'Reilly Factor both did so in four segments each, and On the Record and Hannity did so twice each.
Fox Gives GOP A Platform To Attack Administration On Benghazi
97 Percent Of All Congressional And Administration Interviews On Benghazi Were With Republicans. Republican members of Congress were asked about Benghazi during 144 individual interviews, while Democratic members of Congress and administration members were asked about Benghazi in only five interviews. Fox News interviewed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and asked about Benghazi on 27 occasions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) came in a close second with 25 total interviews that included discussion of Benghazi. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) -- who is heading the Benghazi special committee -- and House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) rounded out the top five with 15, 13, and eight interviews each, respectively. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) was the only Democrat to be interviewed more than once, with two interviews in which Benghazi was discussed. The other three Democrats interviewed about Benghazi were then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and current Secretary of State John Kerry.
Media Matters identified segments based on Nexis transcripts for The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity between September 11, 2012, and May 2, 2014 for "Benghazi" or "Libya." The Kelly File and Fox Report with Shepard Smith were not included because they did not air during the full period of the study.
We included each segment where Benghazi was the stated topic of discussion. We also included segments that were not limited solely to Benghazi but that featured significant discussion of the topic. We defined significant discussion as at least two speakers in the segment talking about Benghazi to one another (e.g. the host asking a guest a question about Benghazi during a multi-topic interview). We coded for the following criteria:
- Segments referencing the talking points delivered by then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on September 16, 2012
- Suggestions that the administration deliberately misled about who perpetrated the attack and why
- Characterizations of the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attack as a "cover-up"
- Suggestions that the Obama administration did not originally term the attack an act of terror
- Suggestions that the Obama administration's actions with regard to Benghazi were politically motivated to strengthen Obama's 2012 electoral prospects
- Suggestions that the Obama administration ordered security forces to stand down, including allegations from whistleblower Gregory Hicks
- Suggestions that no security forces were deployed to Benghazi in response to the attack
- Segments calling into question the whereabouts of senior administration officials on the night of the attack
- Suggestions that the Obama administration had access to a real-time video of the attack as it unfolded
- Suggestions that Clinton faked her concussion to avoid testifying about the attack
- Segments or mentions linking the Benghazi attack to a potential Clinton 2016 presidential run
- Segments interviewing a Republican or Democrat on Benghazi
- Mentions of Clinton's "What difference, at this point, does it make?" quote, including both paraphrases and direct quotes or clips
- Comparisons to the Iran-contra scandal, the Watergate scandal, or the Nixon administration, or suggesting that the Obama administration engaged in "Nixonian" tactics in response to Benghazi
Passing mentions in segments about other topics were not included, except for Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run; mentions of Clinton's "What difference, at this point, does it make?" quote; and comparisons to Iran-Contra, Watergate, or Nixon. Teasers for upcoming segments were not included.
Ben Dimiero, Matt Gertz, Eric Hananoki, and Oliver Willis contributed research to this report. Charts by Oliver Willis.
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- The O'Reilly Factor, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hannity, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Five
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