Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is being harshly criticized for repeatedly using the same line that President Obama "knows exactly what he is doing" during ABC News' February 6 Republican presidential debate. A CNN commentator noted that line is "gospel, when you listen to conservative talk radio," and echoes a talking point former Fox News host Glenn Beck frequently used.
Four times during the debate, Rubio said that contrary to the claims of those who portray him as incompetent, Obama "knows exactly what he is doing," explaining at one point: "He knows exactly what he's doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world. That's why he passed Obamacare, and the stimulus, and Dodd-Frank, and the deal with Iran, it is a systematic effort to change America." After one iteration, Gov. Chris Christie called Rubio out for using a "memorized 25-second speech" tailored by political advisers.
Following the debate, CNN commentators savaged Rubio's performance, calling it "damaging," "somewhat bizarre," and "hard to watch." But Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord pointed out that Rubio's comments were "gospel, if you listen to conservative talk radio" because "there are plenty of people out there in the base who really do think he wants to change the country in a direction they don't want to see it go."
Indeed, as Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone pointed out, Rubio's comments echo Glenn Beck's oft-repeated claim that President Obama was engaged in the "fundamental transformation of America," deliberately trying to damage the country so he could "chang[e] America into something other than it always has been."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd claimed that while "sexism does swirl around" Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, her "campaign cries sexism too often." Dowd has a long history of sexist attacks on Clinton, including writing three weeks ago that the former secretary of state ran "as a man" in 2008 but "is now running as a woman."
Dowd wrote in her February 6 column (emphasis added):
Hillary is like a veteran actor who doesn't audition well. Bill could tell her not to shout her way through rallies, that it doesn't convey passion but just seems forced, adding to her authenticity problem. Her allies think mentioning her shouting is sexist, and sexism does swirl around Hillary, but her campaign cries sexism too often. In 2008, Barack Obama used race sparingly.
Clinton faced rampant sexism from the press during her 2008 campaign, a pattern that re-emerged during the first week of February when a series of pundits attacked her "shrieking" tone of voice during a speech.
Right-wing media are seizing on news that the State Department will not release some of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails after the Intelligence Community said they contained Top Secret information to baselessly claim that the emails in question include a non-existent "stand down order" issued by Clinton during the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Author Gail Sheehy cited "50 conversations" she has had "with Democratic women of boomer age" to ask "Why Don't Boomer Women Like Hillary Clinton?" in a New York Times op-ed (that original headline was subsequently changed to "The Women Who Should Love Hillary Clinton"). But according to polling data, an overwhelming percentage of boomer women do support Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
After opening her essay with an anecdote about being confronted by "feminist boomers" who support Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination during a cruise organized by the progressive magazine The Nation, Sheehy reported:
Mrs. Clinton, 68, has always counted on women of her generation as her rock-solid base. Polls don't quantify doubts, but anecdotally, enthusiasm for her is anemic. Ambivalence is seeping in about her authenticity and the power of her symbolism as a woman. Once again, she has been caught coasting on inevitability by a grass-roots idealist with a universal health care plan. And there's a sense that those cracks in the ceiling, from 2008, were historic enough.
Over the past several months, I have had some 50 conversations with Democratic women of boomer age.
Sheehy went on to cite a variety of rationales provided by the women she contacted for why they did not support Clinton ("not authentic; can't trust her; she lies; she's establishment; she's a hawk").
Absent from Sheehy's narrative was polling data to support her claims about Clinton's support among boomer women. In fact, polling data shows that Clinton has dominant support from that demographic. According to an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, Clinton outpolls Sanders among women over age 65 by a 63 percent to 26 percent margin and among women 45 to 64 by a 63 percent to 25 percent margin.
Indeed, just six weeks ago the Times reported that "college-educated women in their 50s and 60s" are Clinton's "most avid supporters," citing interviews with Clinton supporters -- apparently different ones than those contacted by Sheehy.
You can watch the Beltway media's narrative shift before your eyes, as reporters get bored with the story they've been telling and move on to something counterintuitive and new. Journalists want to tell stories, not just report facts, and the stories they choose to tell based on cherry-picked examples are often bad for progressives.
Old conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is the greatest politician of his generation, with a unique ability to inspire audiences in his speeches.
New conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is old, tired, and should hang it up.
Patrick Healy kicked off the change with a 1,400-word January 28 New York Times trend piece that cited a Clinton speech Healy attended in Iowa the previous night, a speech his colleague attended in Las Vegas last week, and the opinions of a handful of observers as evidence that "the old magic seems to be missing." (Other journalists who saw those same speeches came away with dramatically different interpretations of Clinton's performance; Healy wrote a similar piece last March.)
Now Mark Halperin, a key bellwether for Beltway insider journalists, has picked up the narrative. During today's edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, he called Healy's story "pretty accurate." Halperin said that he had seen Clinton at an event yesterday and that while the former president's "best moments are great," he was "not his best," with "a little bit of a rambling quality to his presentation." "I thought he was better in New Hampshire when I saw him last week," Halperin added.
Indeed. After that January 20 speech in New Hampshire, Halperin said on Morning Joe that Clinton had been "as good as I've seen him in years in driving a message." He also issued a stream of tweets describing the event as a "#ClintonClassic."
Just before the speech he attended yesterday, Halperin was calling Clinton "The Master."
Somehow, one speech and one Times article later, the narrative has shifted dramatically.
For the second time in 10 months, New York Times reporter Patrick Healy has issued a breathless piece describing former President Bill Clinton as old and out of touch on the stump. This one is based largely on Clinton's purported performance in two speeches, only one of which Healy actually attended.
After observing Clinton on the campaign trail, Healy has decided that "the old magic seems missing." That might be news to the rest of the press corps, who have been highlighting the "forceful" speeches he has given in "classic Clinton fashion."
Healy builds an entire 1,400-word January 28 trend piece about Clinton's "subdued" style and the former president's supposed inability to rally his audience around a speech Healy attended in Iowa the previous night, a speech his colleague attended in Las Vegas last week, and the opinions of a handful of observers. The reporter concludes that "the Clinton of lore, the once-in-a generation political natural who fought back to win his party's nomination in 1992 and came through in clutch moments with great speeches over the years, has yet to appear."
But other reporters covering the same events appear to have come away with a dramatically different view of Clinton's presence on campaign trail.
Healy claims that during a January 21 speech in Las Vegas, Clinton "looked smaller and his voice seemed weaker than in past campaigns" and left his audience "seeming more politely attentive than inspired." (Healy was in Iowa at the time of that speech; according to the piece, his colleague Adam Nagourney "contributed reporting from Las Vegas.") But other reporters covering that speech described him as "composed," rallying a crowd of "cheering supporters." Journalists have also described the Iowa event Healy referenced as one in which Clinton "made a forceful pitch" then "lingered on the rope line" to meet supporters.
Healy previously authored a similar Times piece from March 2015 that described Clinton's "frail frame" that "looks older than his 68 years" and buttresses GOP claims that "the Clintons are America's baby boomer past." That piece had to be corrected; it had claimed that Clinton was "chauffeured," when Clinton is actually driven by a United States Secret Service agent.
HLN host Dr. Drew Pinsky has apologized for citing a Breitbart.com report raising questions about Hillary Clinton's health, saying it "violated HLN and CNN's editorial standards and I was wrong to have mentioned the unsubstantiated report."
During the third Democratic presidential debate, Clinton returned to the stage late following a commercial break. According to The New York Times, she had visited the restroom.
But Breitbart News detailed a far more sinister -- and entirely baseless -- theory. Their January 6 report quoted right-wing radio host John Cardillo -- a Dr. Drew contributor -- who said that according to a "strong source," Clinton's absence was due to a "flare up of problems from [a] brain injury," a reference to her hospitalization for a concussion and blood clot she suffered in December 2012. The piece also included conspiracies about Clinton's health from notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone.
During the January 19 edition of his HLN program, Pinsky referenced that report, saying that "an anonymous source told Breitbart.com that, that delay was due to something related to her past brain injury." Later in the program Pinsky hosted Cardillo, who said that he had provided that information and that the story was "predominantly my source." Pinsky later noted that the story "is hearsay. We cannot confirm it."
In a statement posted on HLN's website following the broadcast, Pinsky apologized for raising the report:
"Earlier tonight, I mistakenly raised an anonymously sourced report about Hillary Clinton's health. By doing so, I violated HLN and CNN's editorial standards and I was wrong to have mentioned the unsubstantiated report. I regret the error and will make sure, in the future, to apply the rigorous editorial standards we have in place here. I apologize to our viewers and Secretary Clinton for falling short tonight."
Following initial reports of Clinton's concussion, right-wing media accused Clinton of faking her condition in order to avoid testifying on the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. According to her physician, Clinton "had follow-up testing in 2013, which revealed complete resolution of the effects of the concussion," and she is in "excellent physical condition."
Shortly before Michael Bay's latest movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, hit theaters, The Hollywood Reporter published a long report on how the film had been carefully marketed to conservative pundits. In return, the film was praised as "riveting" and "extraordinary" by people the studio could use to validate the movie to their hoped-for audience.
This is not a case of conservatives desperate for movies that speak even vaguely to their values getting hoodwinked by Hollywood.
President Obama is barely a presence in 13 Hours, and the film never mentions Hillary Clinton. But it's full of the kind of dog-whistles that are engineered to appeal to conservative moviegoers who have been imbibing conspiracy theories about Benghazi for years.
Over the years, the right-wing media has developed a series of myths around the idea that a "stand down order" was issued by someone high up in the Obama administration. According to the conspiracy, this was a "political decision not to rescue" the Americans because they were "expendable." According to CIA personnel, the Pentagon, the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Tripoli commander Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and nine other military officers, no such order was ever given.
13 Hours nods to the myth. As it becomes clear to the characters that the State Department compound has come under attack and Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is endangered, the CIA contractors gear up and prepare to rush to their aid. This results in an angry confrontation between Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), the leader of the contractors, and the CIA base chief Bob (David Costabile), who wants them to wait while he tries to rally State's local Libyan guards rather than reveal the presence of the CIA base and endanger the lives of the Americans there.
"We're not supposed to be here," Bob tells Woods. "You will wait." Woods responds by mocking Bob's concerns and driving off with the other contractors as Bob is left to limply yell that they are not cleared to go.
The scene itself has some possible truth to it -- while there are disagreements over whether the real-life CIA contractors were literally told to "stand down," it's long been known that they argued with their base chief for roughly 20 minutes over how to respond to the attack before going to the State facility. But right-wing media have used the depiction of the events in the film as evidence that their initial conspiracy was accurate, moving the goalposts in order to justify their past claims.
To the conservative mythmakers, the "stand down order" is significant because, they claim, the United States had all sorts of military assets available that could have saved the lives of the Americans killed in Benghazi -- but those assets never showed up, because of the government's inexplicable refusal to use them. They specifically cite the supposed failure of the military to send a fighter jet over Benghazi as an example of the government's unwillingness to help Americans in peril.
In fact, several special operations teams were ordered to deploy, but did not arrive in Libya until long after the attack had concluded. The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee determined that there were not any "response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack."
Military leaders agree, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has accused critics who claim more U.S. forces should have responded of having a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities." Gates also explained why sending a fighter jet over Benghazi would have been a bad idea:
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
Bay's 13 Hours shows the Americans under fire baffled by the inability of their government to provide aid, specifically their failure to have a fighter jet perform a flyover of the annex. CIA analyst Sona Jillani (Alexia Barlier) leads the effort, calling up the military and asking for a "low loud f-you flight," only to be rebuffed. "I called for air support -- it never came," she tells the contractors as they mourn for their fallen comrades.
At times, the film provides a broader perspective, briefly detailing the deployment of special operations forces and F-16s prepping on the tarmac. But most of the film is tightly centered on the events on the ground in Benghazi, and so it never explains why they don't show up. Without more explanation, viewers with limited knowledge of the attacks have little choice but to believe the right-wing narrative.
Right-wing media have spent years pushing the myth that the Obama administration deliberately misled the public by tying the attack to an anti-Islam YouTube video that triggered massive anti-American protests across the Middle East in September 2012.
As congressional investigations have found, the Obama administration had been referencing initial reports from the CIA that the Benghazi attacks had grown out of protests against the video. The attackers reportedly "did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video," and the assault's alleged ringleader reportedly said that they were acting in "retaliation" for the video.
In one of the film's oddest moments, some of the special operators are talking on the roof of part of the CIA annex between attacks when one says he had heard that American press are reporting on the attack on the diplomatic facility, but that they are "saying it's a street protest about an anti-Islam film." "I didn't see a protest," another replies.
"Breaking tonight. A Kelly File exclusive on the gripping new film that may pose a threat to Hillary Clinton's hopes for the White House."
That's how Megyn Kelly fired the first shot in Fox News' campaign to use a Michael Bay movie on the Benghazi attacks to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. After their much-hyped Benghazi select committee fizzled, they've now pinned their hopes on the director of The Rock.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens in theaters January 15. Based on a 2014 book written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and five former CIA contractors who defended the diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex during the 2012 assault, the film aims to provide a dramatic eyewitness portrayal of the attacks and the heroism displayed that night.
Based on the 20 minutes Kelly spent on the film during her broadcast last night, Fox thinks it can be something more: a way to redeploy all the shoddy reporting and conspiracy-mongering they've pushed for the last three years as a weapon against Clinton's campaign. Interviewing three of the former CIA contractors about the movie based on their book, Kelly sought to revive long-debunked myths about the Obama administration's efforts to respond to the attack.
In the weeks to come, we can expect the network to devote significant time and attention to the "questions" supposedly raised by the film.
Treating a Michael Bay film that focuses on the events on the ground during the September 11, 2012, attacks as if it's a documentary with bearing on Hillary Clinton's service as secretary of state doesn't make a lot of sense. But that's exactly what Kelly did last night.
"The film is introduced as a true story and reintroduces Benghazi as a potential campaign issue that cannot be helpful to Mrs. Clinton," she explained.
Kelly links the film to Clinton by reintroducing the tired claims that the then-Secretary had falsely tied the attacks to an anti-Islam YouTube video that triggered massive anti-American protests across the Middle East in September 2012. As congressional investigations have found, initial intelligence suggested that the Benghazi attacks had grown out of protests against the video. The CIA later changed its assessment, finding based on video footage and FBI interviews that no protest had occurred outside of the Benghazi facility. As for the motives of the attackers, they reportedly "did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video," and the assault's alleged ringleader reportedly said that they were acting in "retaliation" for the video.
Of course, Kelly aired Clinton's exclamation during her 2013 testimony, "The 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 who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?"
Kelly clipped Clinton's comment right before the former Secretary explained why she didn't think that issue was essential: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again." That's no surprise: Fox has highlighted the comment in scores of segments over the years, frequently taking her out of context to suggest she didn't care about the deaths of the four Americans killed that night.
Much attention has been paid to a scene in the film's trailer in which the CIA contractors seek to rush to the rescue of the diplomatic post when it came under fire, only to be halted by their CIA superior at the annex who tells them to "stand down."
KELLY: You can hear the radio calls of the State Department personnel saying, we're going to die, we're going to die, we're going to die. The CIA station chief where you were at the time told you repeatedly, according to the movie, stand down. We saw that in the trailer. Used the words "stand down." Is that how you remember it?
JOHN TIEGEN: Yeah, I mean, it was the chief of base, the deputy chief, and our team leader sitting on the front porch when he told me to stand down.
KELLY: The Congressional investigators concluded there was no stand down order.
KRIS PARONTO: I don't know where they got that ... That's just silly. I mean, there was, for us --
KELLY: I mean, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and others rely on those conclusions saying, you know, they've really been cleared because investigators concluded there was no stand down order.
There's no other way to put it: Kelly is lying about the "stand down order."
On the night of the attack, the CIA contractors sought to immediately respond to the attack on the diplomatic post. Their base chief asked them to wait for approximately 20 minutes as their CIA base chief attempted to contact a local Libyan militia for assistance and to develop a plan. The contractors disagreed -- and obviously still disagree -- with that order. This is not new information -- the Associated Press reported on the disagreement in 2013.
That is not the "stand down order" that Fox News and right-wing politicians trumpeted for years, leading to numerous congressional investigations into the claim. Instead, the myth they latched onto was the idea that Clinton or President Obama had issued the "stand down order" as a deliberate decision to "sacrifice Americans" for political purposes.
Fox devoted scores of segments to this inflammatory claim. According to 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 House Intelligence Committee, it did not happen.
Kelly has to know this. But she wants to go after Clinton and the only way she can use the film to do that is by moving the goalposts on what the "stand down order" actually was.
"If there's one theme that emerges," Kelly said of the film during her interview with the former contractors, "that is it, that they were left alone. There was no one to back you up. Throughout the film, you see heroes assuming, understanding based on their experience that the American military will be there to back them up and support them. And help never came."
Kelly knows that the military deployed forces to Benghazi, but those troops did not arrive until long after the fighting was over. Kelly knows this because then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta detailed the special operations teams that were ordered to deploy that night from Spain, Croatia, and the United States during congressional testimony nearly four years ago. She knows this because the Pentagon timeline of the Benghazi attack, released in November 2012, says the same thing. She knows this because contemporaneous Defense emails detail the deployments. She knows this because the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee confirmed those orders and concluded that there were no "response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack."
But Fox has devoted dozens of segments to the farcical claim that no help was sent, so in the name of the anti-Clinton campaign, Kelly is lying about it.
ABC News' moderators did not ask the candidates about climate change or anti-choice domestic terrorism during the December 19 presidential debate, but did find time to inquire about whether the role of the presidential spouse should change.
On November 27 a gunman killed three at a Planned Parenthood clinic. He subsequently said he was trying to ensure there were "no more baby parts" and described himself as a "warrior for the babies" in court. The attack started a debate over the link between violent rhetoric directed against women's health providers and terrorist attacks on those clinics.
On December 12, leaders from every country in the world struck a historic climate change agreement in Paris to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz did not raise either of these topics during the debate, but did find time to ask all three candidates about the role their spouses would have if they were elected. CNN's moderators previously ignored both the Planned Parenthood attack and the climate agreement during the December 15 Republican primary debate.