The Worst Hoax Of 2013

Seven Terrible Reports On The Benghazi Pseudoscandal

Jonathan KarlOn September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.

By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.

We were wrong.

Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin.  And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.

Much of the discussion has centered around two “unanswered questions” that in reality were answered long ago.

Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.

They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this “lingering question” even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.

To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.

Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:

1) 60 Minutes Features Fake Witness, Massive Ethical Conflict.

Media Matters has extensively detailed the flaws with CBS News' since-retracted October 27 60 Minutes report, which was largely responsible for the network earning our Misinformer of the Year award for 2013.

In brief, the segment featured an alleged eyewitness, British security contractor Dylan Davies, who described his daring one-man incursion into the still-burning diplomatic compound the night of the attacks. Davies told an expanded version of this story in a memoir that was promoted during the segment; CBS News did not disclose that the book had been published by another CBS division. The CBS story was heavily touted by conservatives, but it was later revealed that Davies had told his bosses and the FBI that he had never made it to the compound that night, suggesting that his story was a fabrication.

After originally defending their report, 60 Minutes retracted it, apologized, conducted an internal review, and suspended the reporter and producer responsible. The publisher pulled the book from stores. Davies went into hiding, claiming that his family had been threatened.

2) ABC News Misleads On Talking Points.

Earlier in the year, ABC News also came under fire after trusting a source who pushed a bogus Benghazi story that was damaging to the Obama administration.

On May 10, the ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl reported that the network had “reviewed” emails from administration officials regarding the creation and editing of talking points shortly after the attacks. While nothing Karl reported undermined assertions from the CIA that the intelligence community had final approval of those talking points, Karl (and the conservatives who picked up on his report) suggested that the emails indicated the White House had been trying to mislead the public about the attacks for political reasons.

Despite having given every indication that the network had obtained the emails in question, Karl later acknowledged that the story was actually based on “summaries” of the emails and “detailed notes” from a source who, it turned out, had misrepresented what the documents actually said.

Four days after Karl's report, CNN's Jake Tapper obtained the full set of emails about the talking points. Tapper detailed how one key email “differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations” in order to misleadingly implicate the White House in a politically motivated cover-up.

As media observers slammed Karl's “sloppy” reporting, ABC News issued a statement saying that the network “should have been more precise in its sourcing of those quotes, attributing them to handwritten copies of the emails taken by a Congressional source. We regret that error.” Karl himself apologized in a statement to CNN.

3) Fox & Friends Pushes Conspiracies That Hillary Clinton Faked A Concussion.

In late December, shortly before she was scheduled to testify before Congress regarding Benghazi, Hillary Clinton fainted and suffered a concussion, and was subsequently hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening blood clot in her head. The right-wing media responded by accusing her of faking the concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi.

Days after Clinton actually testified in January, the hosts of Fox & Friends again pushed that absurd conspiracy. Co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade criticized CBS' Steve Kroft for not digging deeper into Clinton's December health issues during an interview with Clinton.

“For some reason they just didn't dig into anything,” Kilmeade complained. “I would like to know, did she pass out and hit her head, was she pushed? How did she hit her head and get a concussion?” Doocy added, "'I still have some lingering effects from falling on my head,' that's all she said, there was no follow-up!"

For her part, Gretchen Carlson was having none of it, saying with some exasperation, “Okay, she was injured, she had a concussion... she passed out, was the story.”

4) Limbaugh Runs With Dubious Valerie Jarrett Conspiracy.

Rush Limbaugh claimed during his August 6 broadcast that a new “shocking report” showed that White House advisor Valerie Jarrett “gave the orders to stand down in Benghazi to all the -- Valerie Jarrett who constitutionally is not in the chain of command and cannot do that!” Rush added, “And that's why this, if true, is a bombshell!”

The report in question was based on anonymous sources and reported by an obscure right-wing blogger with a history of making absurd, hyperbolic, racially-tinged attacks on President Obama. No part of it was ever substantiated, perhaps because, as military officers involved in attempts to save Americans in Benghazi have repeatedly explained, no stand down order was ever given.

5) Sean Hannity Claims Clinton Took James Carville's Advice In Showing Emotion Over Benghazi Victims.

After Hillary Clinton expressed sorrow for the Benghazi victims and anger at members of Congress who offered spurious criticisms during her January 23 congressional testimony, conservatives accused her of feigning emotion.

In one egregious example, Sean Hannity claimed on his January 23 radio show that her anger was “not spontaneous” but rather “staged, probably at the direction of” former Bill Clinton political advisor James Carville.

6) The Newsy Nonsense Of Fox's Benghazi “Insider.”

In late April, Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier hosted a confidential “Benghazi source” for a three-part interview to express his opinion that the Obama administration could have saved the staff that were killed during the attacks. That opinion had been refuted by military experts and nonpartisan analyses that had already made clear that no additional forces could have reached Benghazi in time. The “insider” source's claims were swiftly debunked by experts who pointed out that the claims were “pure speculation and not based on any real facts.”

7) Fox Asks “Where Was Donilon?” While Answering The Question.

On May 30, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade tried to criticize White House national security advisor Tom Donilon for his actions on the night of the attack, claiming that “no one seemed to know where he was,” adding, “Where was he that night?” During the segment, while on-screen text was asking “Where was Donilon on the night of Benghazi?” Fox was displaying a photo of Donilon attending a briefing with President Obama on the Benghazi attack in the White House that day.Where was Donilon?