On Wednesday, the State Department Office of the Inspector General (IG) issued the results of its investigation of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board that was chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, as well as the State Department's implementation of its recommendations. The first finding of the report states [emphasis added]:
The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended--independently and without bias--to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State's security programs.
After being given advance copies of a Republican report attacking the credibility of the Benghazi review that was released on September 16, publications rushed to inform their readers of its flawed findings. There is no similar urgency on the part of the media to cover this new report which should lay to rest the notion that the Accountability Review Board was anything but an independent investigation into the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's (TX) speech on the floor of the Senate was the culmination of a several-month campaign to convince his congressional colleagues to vote against any appropriations bill that does not defund Obamacare, which gained the support of a host of right-wing talk radio figures such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Erick Erickson, and Rush Limbaugh.
After Cruz spent 21 hours pleading for Republicans and Democrats to vote against cloture, the motion passed unanimously with the acquiescence of Cruz himself.
Several years ago, it was expected these talkers would have cowed the Republican Conference to their whim. Today, Sean Hannity is supportive of Cruz but other elements of the conservative movement remain divided. Fox News contributor Karl Rove has used his media platform to make arguments for avoiding this fight, while fellow contributor Sarah Palin has attacked Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, demanding he "release the GOP names encouraging you to trash [Ted Cruz.]"
Since Rush Limbaugh's radio program went into syndication in August of 1988, talk radio has held unprecedented power over the GOP, wreaking vengeance on those who defied it. Erick Erickson recently cited conservative anger at George H.W. Bush for violating his "no new taxes" pledge as the reason for his defeat in 1992.
The age of talk radio has not been kind to the Republican Party's national candidates who have failed to capture a plurality of the popular vote in five of seven elections since Limbaugh's program went national. (In fact, one of those elections was Bush's 1988 victory, which, in reality, occurred before his influence reached its apex.)
Conservative talk radio is good for its hosts' bottom lines because it captures the loyalty, dedication, and financial muscle of a large niche audience. This can amount to millions of listeners, hundreds of millions of dollars, but still represents a limited quantity of voters -- far less than the 50 percent it takes to win an election.
Politicians like Cruz recognize the power of that niche in building his brand within the Republican Party.
Cruz also recognizes the financial benefit long known by the talk radio hosts raising millions of dollars off of a stunt that threatens to do billions of dollars in damage to the economy. It's important to recognize, however, that even the majority of Republicans oppose Cruz's tactic.
Instead of rallying in support or cowering in fear, Cruz's GOP colleagues in the Senate are bucking the conservative radio base for fear of being replaced in the primaries.
In addition to failing to unite behind Cruz's campaign, Fox recently announced its decision to downgrade the position of its talk radio star Hannity from his prime location at 9 p.m. to the less desirable 10 p.m. timeslot. This moves makes way for Megyn Kelly who, while maintaining the network's conservative ethos, delivers a far different product than her conservative counterparts.
It is perhaps heartening that after nearly 25 years of right-wing talking heads dragging the Republican Party away from a place where it can constructively engage with its counterparts, the Senate Republican Conference has briefly broken free of talk radio's grip.
It remains to be seen if this a long-term trend or a short-term realignment. But for once, the calculation that what is good for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and now Ted Cruz is often to the detriment of the broader Republican Party has been heeded at this time by its leaders in the United States Senate.
Hawking shady products - gold coins sold at a 30-percent markup, "survival seeds," and financial newsletters only designed to enrich their authors -- has long been the core strategy of funding the conservative media enterprise.
But the deleterious effect of the latest conservative media scam threatens to be far greater than a tube of seeds that will yield no fruit.
The conservative media, along with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), have conned their base into believing that shutting down the government -- unless Barack Obama agrees to stop the implementation of Obamacare -- is a strategically and politically salient idea for the GOP and the conservative movement. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) earlier this summer dubbed it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
Fueled by television ads starring Cruz and paid for by the Senate Conservative Fund -- a PAC initially founded by Heritage President Jim DeMint to shift the Senate GOP Conference rightward -- this movement was buoyed by an active campaign from the conservative media that began months ago. In July, Rush Limbaugh called the effort to block funding the government a "crucial thing" and the "one last chance to stop" Obamacare.
Sean Hannity called for a government shutdown months ago, telling his audience:
"I think they ought to just put their foot down, stand on principal and stop calculating what political impact is going to be felt here. Fund the rest of the government, but just defund Obamacare. And then if the Democrats want to shut down the government, then let them shut it down."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson has used his blog, RedState.com, to call for the "scalps" of Republican politicians who do not "fight" to defund Obamacare with a government shutdown.
This has set off an internal GOP war, with some on the right expressing doubt that a government shutdown is a viable or effective strategy. This was on display Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation when Tom Coburn (R-OK) implied that his colleagues in the Senate pushing for a government shutdown weren't living in the "real world."
"Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this," Coburn told host Bob Schieffer. "We're not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we're not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can't do that."
Karl Rove also took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that defunding the government over Obamacare "would strengthen the president while alienating independents," ultimately leading the GOP towards electoral defeat.
Coburn, Rove, and others calling for restraint now are simply trying to slay a monster of their own creation. In early 2009, with momentum carrying the Obama administration forward, the Tea Party and its champions fought to create this toxic environment in which forcing a government shut down over Obamacare seemed like a viable option.
August town hall meetings degenerated into chaos as grassroots conservatives screamed at their members about a government takeover of healthcare. Obamacare was not simply a new health insurance system; the conservative base believed it was an all-out effort by Democrats to kill their grandmothers and children with disabilities. It needed to be defeated at all costs.
Tea Party members in Congress and the conservative media continued to use this rhetoric with their base long after their lies had been debunked and long after the bill's passage.
They cheered as this rhetoric enabled the GOP to win 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six in the Senate, and 675 state legislative seats -- allowing them to control the redistricting process.
They pushed their state governments to reject the law's Medicaid provisions and exchanges and looked the other way as conservative groups attempted to sabotage the implementation of the law by convincing young people it would be better to go without health insurance than sign up for Obamacare.
Admittedly, some groused when tea party extremists rejected candidates such as Mike Castle in Delaware in favor of sure losers like Christine O'Donnell, but they stood silent as tea party members in the House made the chamber ungovernable.
This week these strategies have finally come to a head. With the deadline for funding the government days away, the House has passed a bill sure to be rejected in the Senate and one the President won't sign. The Republican Caucus in the House is primarily made up of Tea Party members, whose districts, due to gerrymandering, are more subservient to the rhetoric of the conservative media than to the needs of the country.
Even those in the GOP and the conservative media lamenting this latest potential government shutdown bear responsibility for it. They have stood by and cheered since 2009 as the conservative base was spoon-fed lies about healthcare. Now that they recognize these lies have metastasized, not simply into false promises about gold coins or gardens that will feed your family after a financial apocalypse but into a political movement that will do long-term damage to the GOP, they are crying for its end.
However, the faulty calculation sold, and continuing to be sold, by many in the right-wing media is clear: if you can stop the federal government from murdering your grandmother and child, then a government shutdown and even electoral defeat is a small price to pay.
Florida Representative Alan Grayson used his opportunity at today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Benghazi to dismantle many of the myths spread by the conservative media.
Here are just some of the myths his line of questioning debunked:
Conservative media figures have claimed Ambassador Chris Stevens only went to Benghazi under orders from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Jeff Kuhner of the Washington Times went so far as to say Clinton "sent him on a suicide mission. Mrs. Clinton has American blood on her hands."
Grayson's questioning of Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management, debunked this myth:
GRAYSON: Who decided that Ambassador Stevens go to Benghazi on September 11, 2012?
KENNEDY: It was the Ambassador's decision, sir.
GRAYSON: Now was Secretary Clinton responsible in any way for reviewing and approving the in-country movements of U.S. ambassadors, either Ambassador Stevens or anyone else?
KENNEDY: No, sir.
Additionally Grayson elicited testimony from Kennedy calling into question conservative myths about security at the Benghazi compound:
In the wake of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, conservative media figures and their allies in the pro-gun movement have their strategy down pat.
First, accuse the president, members of Congress, or media figures who suggest that perhaps there is the need to look at our country's ineffective gun laws of politicizing the tragedy.
Sean Hannity last night began a segment on the Navy Yard shooting question Fox News analyst Juan Williams about why advocates of gun safety laws "race to politicize atragedy and advance an agenda."
Williams responded appropriately, turning Hannity's question on its head: "I don't think there is a race to politicize it except coming from the right," he said. "And the race to politicize it from the right is, 'Oh don't bring up guns. Don't mention guns. Guns have nothing to do with it.' "
Next, conservatives point to any cause of the tragedy that is not the actual instrument of death. After the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting, National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre, cast part of the blame on violent video games. This has now become the go to talking point for the right.
Last week, as the temperature soared to 90 degrees in Detroit, Michigan suffered a major power outage after an unelected city official decided he needed to send a "strong message" by turning off a portion of the electric grid. This led to dozens of reports of people trapped in elevators and the evacuation of numerous buildings, yet not a single major national news outlet felt this story warranted coverage.
Detroit is currently under control of an emergency manager, not elected by the people of the city, but instead appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.
Gary Brown, the city's chief compliance officer who reports to the emergency manager's office, when asked by local Detroit Fox affiliate about the blackout seemed to imply that it was intentional and done to "send a strong message:"
We did start calling our customers prior to taking them down and asking them to comply and turn off their air conditioners, but they weren't responding as fast as we would have liked them to, and so we had to send a strong message by turning the power off.
Among the buildings that lost power was the courthouse that was on "high alert" after a prisoner escaped earlier in the week, and evacuating major public buildings on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks apparently wasn't considered. Even more disconcerting was that Brown seemed to be laughing as he answered this question.
Brown did claim that these were "precautionary measures" so that "large parts of the city" didn't go dark after two "main lines" on the power grid "went down."
But this story is about more than America's aging infrastructure -- its implications extend well beyond Detroit. The city's bankruptcy and financial situation has been national news for months, and the power of unelected city managers appointed across the country as cities face economic distress merits a broader conversation, particularly when these officials have authority over basic city services like electricity.
A Nexis search for Gary Brown's quote reveals only two stories, both of which were posted on the website for the Fox News Detroit affiliate that initially interviewed the city official.
A further search for "Gary Brown" and "Detroit" only reveals some local coverage of the controversy and mentions on a few disparate blogs, indicating that not a single major national outlet in the Nexis database covered this story. Given the implications of this tale, it is incredible that no national outlet felt it newsworthy enough to share with its readers.
One of the core Benghazi lies perpetuated by Fox News is that a U.S. military response could have saved the lives of those killed in the Benghazi attacks. Consistently, numerous Fox personalities and others in the conservative media have gone as far as claiming the administration left our men to die in Benghazi.
Some suggested that this was made as part of a "political calculation;" others suggested the administration decided the lives lost were "expendable" or that it was "probably a political decision not to rescue them."
These accusations, despite flying in the face of the facts -- most notably that Glen Doherty, who was killed by mortar fire on the roof of the CIA Annex was a member of the rescue team that arrived from Tripoli, shortly before the second wave of the attack began -- have continued unrelenting on Fox and in the conservative media.
This morning, Fox & Friends hosted the authors of Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade hoped to continue to perpetuate the myth that no help was sent to those in Benghazi:
KILMEADE: When we saw Gregory Hicks last, he said that he did believe that they could have been saved, at least help could have been sent on the way sometime in the hours of the attack that went on. What did your research reveal?
Katz's reply was clear: "Help did go to Benghazi, and I think one of the untold stories of the attack in Benghazi a year ago today, was the fact that when word hit the embassy in Tripoli, the CIA staffers, the contractors, as well as two JSOC operators didn't hesitate for a moment."
Katz continued, "They made it there under Libyan circumstances, as quickly as humanly possible. ... The embassy relentlessly tried to figure out transportation. They used a Libyan air force C-130, and at Benghazi airport, controlled by one of the militias, they were held up in Benghazi for four hours."
The entire conservative line of attack fell apart in a single sentence: "Help did go to Benghazi."
Australians will head to the polls tomorrow to decide whether or not to reelect Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd was not only forced to run against Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, but also faced an avalanche of attacks from Rupert Murdoch, who used his newspapers to manipulate the election in such a heavy-handed way that even Roger Ailes and the Fox News editorial staff would blush.
The Hollywood Reporter noted:
Murdoch-owned papers, which control about 70 percent of the local market, have run covers featuring Rudd as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books. News Corp's Daily Telegraph in Sydney has dropped all pretense of impartiality, publishing a picture of Rudd under the headline, "Let's Kick This Mob Out!"
The election was so important to Murdoch that, according to Australian media, he decamped Col Allan from the New York Post halfway around the world to inject some of the metropolitan tabloid's hard edge into his Oz publications.
Murdoch's behavior was so over the top that the head of the Australian Press Council felt the need to step in. "Newspapers that profess to inform the community about its political and social affairs are under an obligation to present to the public a reasonably comprehensive and accurate account of public issues," said the group's chair Julian Disney. "As a result, the Council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns."
Murdoch's power was so vast that when Getup.org, one of Australia's largest progressive grassroots organizations, decided to run an ad criticizing the mogul, it was banned from all major television networks in the country.
GetUp was told directly by some of the networks that "they're not running the ad because they don't want to criticize Rupert Murdoch."
The events happening halfway around the world should be at the forefront of our thoughts. With rumors swirling of Rupert Murdoch's desire to buy more large media properties in the United States, News Corp's interference in the Australian election serves as a reminder of the damage Murdoch could wreck in the U.S. as well. Fox News' abhorrent behavior in 2010 and 2012 is benign when compared to the pressure exerted in this year's Australian election.
As the anniversary of the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya approaches, the conservative media seems to be salivating over the release of Under Fire, the new book by former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz that details the assault, minute-by-minute. It's the latest salvo in conservatives' year-long campaign to politicize and demagogue the tragedy. But conservatives may want to read the book first. The authors discredit the narratives conservative media figures have perpetuated about the attack in order to criticize the Obama administration, most notably the claims that there could have been a larger and faster military response or that resources were intentionally withheld from those under fire in Libya.
The lack of a timely military response was never an issue of lack of resolve or determination to help Americans in danger, Burton and Katz write. It all came down to logistics:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
The authors go into great detail describing the various factors that prevented additional military response teams from arriving in Benghazi in time, and in the process completely dismantle the notion that available military assets could have made a difference but were held back for political reasons.
On page 138, Burton and Katz discuss the availability and response time of the Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), which was ordered by the Pentagon to get to Libya "as fast as you can":
"The FAST unit closer to Benghazi was FAST Company Europe, which reported to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Based at the Naval Station Rota, Spain, FAST Company Europe was no stranger to crisis and response work in the Mediterranean. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: "Lean forward and get there as fast as you can." The marines mustered into their transport aircraft on the tarmac in their combat fatigues and full battle kit. However, logistical challenges such as airspace and overflight clearances are not easily sorted out, especially involving a nation like Libya. Sending armed U.S. Marines into a sovereign nation became a complex foreign policy decision with multiple moving pieces between Libyan Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, and the State Department. The marines waited on the tarmac for their orders. The FAST platoon wouldn't make it to Libya, to augment security at the embassy in Tripoli, until the next evening.
Fox News' Jana Winter was granted a delay yesterday in a court hearing that will determine whether she will go to jail for doing her job as a reporter, a story that has been largely ignored in the media.
In July 2012, while reporting on the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, Winter broke the story that alleged shooter James Holmes "mailed a notebook 'full of details about how he was going to kill people' to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, and the parcel may have sat unopened in a mailroom for up to a week before its discovery [in July of 2012]." Her reporting was based on statements from "a law enforcement source."
Because this leak violated a judge's gag order issued in the case, Holmes' defense team is now demanding she reveal her sources. Judge Carlos Samour noted in yesterday's opinion that there exists "the real possibility that Winter may face indefinite jail time in this case as a remedial sanction for her refusal to disclose her confidential sources."
A decision like this, while local in scope, has the potential to stifle necessary and real reporting on the criminal justice system. As National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane noted:
[A]ttempting to get that information by subpoenaing reporters in order to learn their anonymous sources goes too far. It jeopardizes a value of greater significance. If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance. That's not a risk worth increasing.
If Jana Winter goes to prison, this would be a case of criminalizing journalism. Every journalist who picks up a note pad and files a crime report bears the same risk.
Sadly, a Nexis search for "Jana Winter" reveals only a handful of TV segments on CNN and Fox News and less than 100 newspaper stories. With this level of threat to First Amendment rights, Jana Winter should be a household name.
Regardless of one's feelings about Winter's employer, it is incumbent upon all of us who value a free press to speak up on her behalf.