On 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:
Tonight CNN will air an hour-long interview its employee S.E. Cupp did with Glenn Beck, who is also her boss at Beck's own news network. CNN failed to disclose this conflict of interest while promoting the special in an interview with Cupp.
CNN will air the interview on the December 20 edition of Piers Morgan Live. Cupp, a co-host on CNN's Crossfire, is also a contributor on TheBlaze TV, the conservative news network Beck founded and heads.
CNN's New Day gave Cupp a platform to promote the special without mentioning the conflict of interest during a December 20 interview on New Day. At no point during that segment did Cupp or hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan note that Cupp also works for Blaze TV, that Beck is her boss, or the inherent ethical conflict in having her interview Beck over the CNN airwaves.
On New Day, Cupp said that her boss is "funny, he says it how he means it," which is "why people love Glenn." She also acknowledged that Beck has said some "controversial things," and concluded that the fact that he supposedly "abstains from the political process ... makes him a very honest critic but for those of us who work within the political process and would like to make it better that's a little frustrating."
Media Matters has previously suggested some questions that a credible interview between Cupp and Beck would include.
A Fox News host has debunked the claim that A&E suspending a Duck Dynasty star over racist and homophobic comments had anything to do with the First Amendment. That claim had previously been advanced by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has urged the GOP to "stop being the stupid party."
On December 18, A&E announced that they had placed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following a firestorm over racist and homophobic comments he made in a recently published GQ article. Conservatives in the media and in public office rushed to Robertson's defense, including Jindal, who said in a statement:
"I don't agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment."
Fox News contributor Sarah Palin similarly commented that "Free speech is an endangered species."
But Fox News' Steve Doocy repudiated this line of criticism. On the December 20 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade read a statement from a Robertson critic who said that "this is not a free speech issue," and commented, "I don't think that's true at all." Doocy replied, "It's not free speech because A&E as a private company can do anything they want. And they did."
On the same day reports circulated that the reporters behind a fatally flawed, retracted 60 Minutes story may return to CBS News' airwaves as soon as early January, the program again faced criticism for a report that critics are calling a "puff piece" and an "infomercial."
On December 15, 60 Minutes aired a report on the National Security Agency based on unprecedented access to its headquarters and interviews with Agency staff, including its chief, Keith Alexander, who discussed the concerns many Americans have about its operations since the disclosures by Edward Snowden.
The segment opened with reporter John Miller's acknowledgement that he had once worked at another federal intelligence agency. It featured no critics of the NSA. Miller explained his thoughts on the story in an interview with CBS News, saying that the NSA's view is "really the side of the story that has been mined only in the most superficial ways. We've heard plenty from the critics. We've heard a lot from Edward Snowden. Where there's been a distinctive shortage is, putting the NSA to the test and saying not just 'We called for comment today' but to get into the conversation and say that sounds a lot like spying on Americans, and then say, 'Well, explain that.'"
Miller's report was immediately ripped apart by NSA critics and veteran journalists. Some have called the veracity of CBS News' reporting into question. Others termed the segment a "puff piece" and an "embarrassing" "infomercial," saying that it filmed was under guidelines that overwhelmingly favored the agency and proved the effectiveness of the NSA's communications staff.
The NSA report is only the latest of several heavily criticized 60 Minutes stories. Most notably, the network was forced to retract and remove from the airwaves the reporters responsible for a segment based on a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks who apparently fabricated his story. The day after the NSA story ran and less than three weeks after the leaves of absence were announced, Politico reported that those journalists, Lara Logan and Max McClellan, have "started booking camera crews for news packages" and could return to 60 Minutes as early as January. In recent weeks the program has also been criticized for reports on Social Security disability benefits and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
This series of debacles was noted by former CBS News correspondent Marvin Kalb, who was at one time the moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, who wrote that a program that "used to be the gold standard of network magazine programs" is increasingly "under fire." He concluded:
What's clear from this episode is that 60 Minutes is not facing another Lara Logan embarrassment. Miller did not get his facts wrong; he just did a story on 60 Minutes that should never have been on 60 Minutes. It was a promotional piece, almost by his own admission. In addition, the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley did a story on the 60 Minutes Miller piece to help promote it, as though it were an exceptional exclusive, which it was not.
In a funny way, all of this fresh criticism can be seen as a compliment. People expect 60 Minutes to be a place on the dial for tough questioning and rigorous reporting. When it does anything less than that, it opens itself to snap judgments that may be unfair but should not be surprising. It should, though, suggest strongly that CBS has further need for continuing self-examination.
Politico's Dylan Byers similarly opined that 60 Minutes has had "a terrible year" and that the program "is desperately in need of a news package that earns it praise rather than criticism.It needs to put up a hard-hitting investigation, fact-checked to the teeth, that doesn't come off as a promotional puff-piece. Because its reputation as the gold standard of television journalism has taken some serious hits of late."
Miller referred questions from Media Matters about the segment to a CBS News spokesperson who declined to comment on the record.
Several Catholic organizations have criticized Rush Limbaugh for attacking Pope Francis' agenda as "pure Marxism." But one group is standing by him: the Catholic League and its anti-gay leader, Bill Donohue.
In late November Pope Francis released Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation which included criticisms of the "idolatry of money" and global wealth inequality. Right-wing media responded by attacking the Pope, with Limbaugh describing the Pope's writings as having "gone beyond Catholicism" and into "pure Marxism," and that "somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him." Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the National Coalition of American Nuns denounced Limbaugh's comments.
But the Catholic League is not joining their criticism of Limbaugh. "Catholic League has never, ever, ever been after anybody for criticizing the pope or priest or a bishop. We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting," said Donohue in a December 11 interview with Newsmax TV. "He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that." Asked if Rush's criticism had been "below the belt," Donogue replied, "No, of course not."
Donohue also lashed out at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as a "bogus Catholic entity."
In a July interview, Donohue urged Pope Francis to oust "the gay lobby" supposedly at work in the Vatican.
Fox News contributor Doug Schoen is the latest media figure to push the false allegation that Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State lacked accomplishments, ignoring her record of achievement.
Hoping to derail a potential Clinton presidential campaign, the GOP and its media allies have begun to attack her record. Some mainstream journalists have followed their example, producing the emerging narrative that Clinton lacked significant achievements at State. This new conventional wisdom is attractive to reporters because the old and accurate conventional wisdom that Clinton was an accomplished Secretary of State "makes for dull copy," as Slate's David Weigel explained.
Earlier this month, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus detailed the research effort underway to aggressively define what Clinton's "done or hasn't done" in an interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt. For his part, Hewitt has spent weeks quizzing political reporters on what Clinton did at State, trying to promote the canard that she was ineffective. Meanwhile, right-wing pundits have been depicting her record at State as an unalloyed detriment, citing a purported lack of successes on the one hand at the pseudoscandal of Benghazi on the other.
This conservative effort is shaping the reporting of more mainstream outlets. An agenda-setting December 8 piece in Politico Magazine drew heavily from dubious conservative sources to promote the storyline that Clinton had been an ineffective Secretary of State, while depicting sources who contradicted the storyline with facts about Clinton's record as engaged in a campaign of spin.
Schoen -- who was a strategist for Bill Clinton in the 1990s but in recent years has largely been known for attacking progressives and promoting corporate interests -- is the latest to push this false narrative. In a December 13 Wall Street Journal column he writes:
Another major obstacle is Mrs. Clinton's foreign-policy record: She can point to no significant accomplishments as secretary of state. Now that her successor, John Kerry, has forged an interim agreement with Iran, good or bad, to limit its nuclear program, questions will inevitably be asked about why Mrs. Clinton failed to achieve anything on that front--or to strike a similar bargain with North Korea or make any progress with the Palestinians and Israelis.
Mrs. Clinton also still faces serious questions about the 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. During the 2008 primary campaign, Mrs. Clinton said she was the candidate best equipped to answer the 3 a.m. emergency phone call. Americans will want to know how she answered that call in Libya.
Schoen's reference to Benghazi points to the dishonesty of his argument. While conservatives have spent the last year exploiting the terrorist attacks to smear Clinton, no evidence has emerged to suggest that the Secretary of State was at fault. Contrary to Schoen's suggestion, Clinton has extensively detailed her activities on the night of the attack, including communications with the White House, Pentagon, CIA, Foreign Service officials in Libya, and the president of Libya's National Congress.
With Secretary John Kerry winning plaudits for his diplomacy with regard to Iran, his recent success has had the unfortunate side effect of making journalists and pundits like Schoen bury Clinton's own successes.
The right-wing media is using a photo from Nelson Mandela's memorial service to fabricate a sexist depiction of President Obama and Michelle Obama.
A photographer from Agence France-Presse took a series of photos of the Obamas and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was seated next to them at the December 10 service.
The New York Post seized on one of the photos to produce this cover for its December 11 edition:
Fox & Friends picked up the angle later in the morning. "I remember the last time I was sitting with the Danish prime minister," co-host Brian Kilmeade quipped. "She caused trouble in my relationship as well."
Fox and the New York Post used the image to concoct a sexist narrative that suggests that the only reason President Obama could possibly have to be friendly to the prime minister of Denmark is because he wants to flirt with her, and that portrays Michelle Obama as jealous.
But the photojournalist who took the pictures rejected the interpretation that his photos showed Michelle Obama was angry, writing of another photo, the "selfie" that President Obama took with Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron:
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Indeed, via Twitter, here's a photo of Michelle Obama smiling as President Obama and Thorning-Schmidt converse:
Fox News host Megyn Kelly hosted J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department attorney who she identified as a "well-known Washington whistleblower." Adams is best known as the fabulist behind the New Black Panthers Party pseudoscandal, which Kelly extensively promoted.
Kelly presents herself in interviews as politically unbiased. Some media observers also push that claim, often pointing to her Election Night rebuttal to Karl Rove's objections to Fox News calling Ohio for President Obama or her rebukes of Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs for their comments on women in the workplace. But Kelly is also a champion of anti-Obama scandalmongering, notably her effort to turn the New Black Panthers Party story into a damaging attack on President Obama.
In 2010, Adams accused the Obama administration of racially-charged "corruption" for allegedly refusing to protect white voters from intimidation at the hands of minorities in the New Black Panthers Party voter intimidation case. Adams was a long-time Republican political operative who was reportedly hired as part of the Bush administration's illegally politicized hiring of conservative Justice Department lawyers. An investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility ultimately cleared DOJ officials in 2011 of any wrongdoing or misconduct in the case.
Kelly was responsible for launching Adams' claims into the national debate, giving him his first cable news interview in July 2010 and providing dozens of segments and hours of coverage to the story in the subsequent weeks.
Because Adams' story did not stand up to the facts, it was quickly rejected by the Republican vice chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Fox contributors, and other media figures. Kelly in particular was criticized as being "obsessed" and conducting a "minstrel show"; her own colleague Kirsten Powers accused Kelly of "doing the scary black man thing" and promoting the claims of "a conservative activist posing as a whistleblower."
But three years later, Kelly welcomed Adams to her December 7 program, introducing him as a "well-known Washington whistleblower."
Yesterday the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. In a moving speech, President Obama described the former South African president as a man who through "fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others... transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us." Obama also noted that his first political action was inspired by Mandela -- a protest against South Africa's brutal apartheid regime in the late 1970s, part of a wave of progressive activism that would sweep the country over the next decade and compel the United States to enact economic sanctions against South Africa's government.
American conservatives have a far more complicated history with Mandela, as many of the movement's most prominent figures spent the decade leading up to his release from prison opposing actions geared toward ending South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. In 1986 President Reagan vetoed a bill that would have imposed economic sanctions on South Africa unless it met five conditions, including Mandela's release. Congress overrode that veto. Washington Post columnist George Will derided calls for sanctions and divestment in a 1985 column: "Clearly some of the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while."
On the very day Mandela was freed in 1990, conservative icon William Buckley warned that "the release of Mandela, for all we know, may one day be likened to the arrival of Lenin at the Finland Station in 1917" (referring to Lenin's return to Russia from exile and the ensuing Bolshevik seizure of power) and mocked South African opponents of apartheid for their concern with "the question of one-man, one-vote," which he claimed "has not yet hit the United States, whose Senate guarantees most unequal treatment."
American conservatives of the era recognized the brutal repression of black South Africans by the whites, but ultimately determined that ending that system was less important that preserving South Africa as an ally in the Cold War. They pointed to Mandela's ties to South Africa's Communist Party and his history of violent activism and warned of dire results if he were freed and the apartheid government overthrown. (In his statement at the opening of the 1964 trial that ended in his imprisonment, Mandela explained that his African National Congress worked with communists toward the common goal of "the removal of white supremacy." He compared this to the United States and Great Britain allying with the Soviet Union during World War II).
Ronald Reagan neatly summed up the conservative position on South Africa and apartheid in a March 1981 interview with Walter Cronkite:
In an interview with CBS News, Reagan said the United States should still be concerned about South Africa's policy of racial separatism, called apartheid. But he suggested that as long as a "sincere and honest" effort was being made to achieve racial harmony, the United States should not be critical.
Reagan then asked: "Can we abandon a country that has stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that is strategically essential to the free world in its production of minerals that we all must have?" [Associated Press, March 23, 1981, via Nexis]
Since Mandela's passing, conservatives in the media have grappled with their movement's actions in light of the fruits his leadership bore. Here's how they're responding, in ways ranging from repugnant to laudatory:
Some conservative hardliners are convinced that they were right about Mandela all along. "Don't Mourn For Mandela" is the headline of Joseph Farah's December 6 column, in which the WND editor highlights Mandela's communist ties and use of violence, writing:
Apartheid was inarguably an evil and unjustifiable system. But so is the system Mandela's revolution brought about - one in which anti-white racism is so strong today that a prominent genocide watchdog group has labeled the current situation a "precursor" to the deliberate, systematic elimination of the race.
In other words, the world has been sold a bill of goods about Mandela. He wasn't the saintly character portrayed by Morgan Freeman. He wasn't someone fighting for racial equality. He was the leader of a violent, Communist revolution that has nearly succeeded in all of its grisly horror.
Farah concludes that someone needs to highlight these "inconvenient truths" because "the Mandela mythology is as dangerous as the terror he and his followers perpetrated on so many innocent victims - white and black."
Similarly, PJ Media's David Swindle headlined his piece on Mandela, "Communist Icon Nelson Mandela Dead at 95." In a post at his Gateway Pundit site, popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft marked Mandela's passing by posting a picture of Mandela with Fidel Castro and highlighting a tweet from a "Communist Party" Twitter account mourning his death.
With the anniversary of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, on the horizon, CNN is promoting a poorly-worded poll question to suggest that there is "fading support" for new laws that strengthen firearms regulation.
CNN.com reports today:
As memories fade from last December's horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a new national poll indicates that support for stricter gun control laws appears to be fading, too.
According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, 49% of Americans say they support stricter gun control laws, with 50% opposed. The 49% support is down six percentage points from the 55% who said they backed stricter gun control in CNN polling from January, just a few weeks after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a lone gunman killed 20 young students and six adults before killing himself, in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
CNN's Jake Tapper highlighted the new poll numbers, asking Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to explain why "your side of this debate is losing at the public opinion war."
As Media Matters has noted in the past, asking whether respondents would like gun laws to be "more strict" or "less strict" is a particularly poor way to determine their views on the issue. Regardless of their position in the abstract, the vast majority of Americans say they support the passage of specific new restrictions on firearms possession.
That 49 percent support for "stricter gun control laws" represents a slight decline from the 53 percent who supported that aim when CNN/ORC last polled the question, in April. But that April poll also asked respondents whether they supported the specific policy of expanding federal background checks on gun sales -- when asked, 86 percent of respondents said they supported that policy. (As CNN noted, that figure "is in line with just about every other national survey released over the past couple of months.")
That shows the paradox of polling on "stricter gun control laws": in that April poll, a full third of the total respondents said they didn't support "stricter gun control laws" in the abstract, but when specifically asked about one such law, they said they were for it.
Unfortunately, CNN/ORC doesn't seem to have polled specific "stricter gun control laws" in their latest poll, leading to results and thus media coverage that is far less informative.