Fox News' embellishments of discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson's latest Benghazi conspiracy theory have become increasingly detached from reality, most recently morphing into absurd allegations that Hillary Clinton supporters "scrubbed" documents to hide evidence of a supposed State Department effort to funnel weapons to the Islamic State militants in a "mini-Iran Contra" scenario, or, as Fox puts it, "the holy grail" of scandals.
After Attkisson highlighted disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell's speculating (he "couldn't help but wonder") that State Department staff "scrubbed" damaging Benghazi documents before the initial investigation, it took just hours for Fox's coverage of the claims to morph from reiteration into full-blown allegations that Hillary Clinton's office had facilitated the destruction of key documents in violation of federal law.
Fox's own Bill O'Reilly raised doubts about whether Attkisson's story constituted a scandal, but Fox's morning show kept the conspiracy drumbeat alive on September 17 edition of Fox & Friends, escalating the speculative claims to even greater heights. Co-host Brian Kilmeade and Fox News contributor Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer speculated that the allegedly removed documents would prove that the State Department enabled an Iran-Contra-like scenario by facilitating the transfer of weapons to Islamic State militants. Insisting that "all roads lead to principal officers," Shaffer imagined that the supposed documents may hide a "direct link" to what he called a "holy grail" of Benghazi allegations, and Kilmeade concluded that "this is almost like a mini Iran-Contra thing":
Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
A new report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson baselessly suggested State Department staff removed damaging documents on Benghazi instead of turning them over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for investigation. But Attkisson's claims have been denied by the State Department and are based solely on speculations from a disgruntled employee after he was disciplined for his "lack of leadership" and engagement by the ARB.
In a September 15 report for The Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Attkisson reported that a former State Department diplomat alleges that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." The Daily Signal described this as a "Benghazi Bombshell."
Attkisson reported that the diplomat, Raymond Maxwell, a former deputy assistant secretary responsible for North Africa, says that in late 2012 he observed an "after-hours session" at which a State Department office director "close to Clinton's top advisers" directed staff to separate out Benghazi documents "that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office or the seventh floor in a bad light" from "boxes and stacks of documents." Attkisson notes that "'seventh floor' was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors." Maxwell told Attkisson that while he was present, Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan "appeared to check in on the operation and soon left."
Speculating that potentially missing, possibly damaging documents made it impossible for the ARB's investigation to be thorough, Attkisson reported that Maxwell said "he couldn't help but wonder if the ARB--perhaps unknowingly--had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing."
Fox News' America's Newsroom quickly reported Attkisson's claims, calling them a "bombshell development" and a "smoking gun of a potential cover-up":
A Republican activist, attorney, and key player in the Benghazi hoax accused a former congressional staffer of harassing Benghazi eyewitnesses during congressional testimonies before going to work for Hillary Clinton -- but the staffer in question actually left Congress months before the interviews of those eyewitnesses took place. The false claim is just the latest in a long line of fictions from the Benghazi hoaxster, who has been discredited by Republicans members of the House Intelligence Committee and Benghazi CIA contractors alike.
Victoria Toensing appeared on the September 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends to aid the network in reviving the myth of a "stand down" order in Benghazi. Going even further, Toensing claimed that Michael Allen, former chief of staff for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, orchestrated the harassment of three CIA contractors giving their eyewitness testimony on the Benghazi attacks before Congress, even speculating that Allen purposefully prohibited the Committee from getting answers before leaving to join a "Hillary organization":
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): When these three operators and the others came back and they testified behind closed doors to the House Intel Committee, I understand they were harassed by the House Intel Committee that we thought were trying to get all the answers. What was up with that?
TOENSING: Republicans. And they were told, they were accused that they were not telling the truth. They were threatened with "the committee is not going to pay your travel expenses," which committees always do for witnesses who come in from out of town, "because you're writing a book and you're going to make money, and by the way, you shouldn't be writing a book."
Now you say why would that happen with the Republican-dominated House Intelligence Committee? Well, that chief of staff, the head of that staff that harassed these three brave men, a few months later went to work for Beacon Global Strategies. That is a Hillary organization.
Beyond his recent jokes about Baltimore Ravens' football player Ray Rice assaulting his wife, Fox host Brian Kilmeade has a long history of sexist and offensive rhetoric. Here's a look at ten of his worst moments:
Right-wing media furthered Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's ad hominem attacks against State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki while claiming that the Obama administration is unwilling to act against the Islamic State.
On the September 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly criticized Psaki's response in a press briefing to a question posed by Fox reporter James Rosen, belittling Psaki's ability to successfully do her job based on her appearance. O'Reilly said: "With all due respect, and you don't have to comment on this, that woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers -- it just doesn't look like she has the gravitas for that job."
Psaki's colleague Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, spoke out against O'Reilly's criticism and right-wing media rushed to his defense and seized on Harf's response to attack the Obama administration for supposedly being hesitant to act against the Islamic State.
Radio host and ABC and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham insisted "O'Reilly is saying what all the rest of us are thinking about this Jen Psaki woman." Ingraham echoed O'Reilly's attacks, saying "she doesn't exactly carry herself with the, you know, the type of gravitas, well-spoken presentation that one would expect," but took them further. Ingraham called into question Psaki's qualifications for her State Department career based on her appearance, saying "she looks like she should be on MTV or something." Ingraham also argued that the State Department views O'Reilly as its new enemy rather than the Islamic State:
Media outlets are overlooking President Obama's consistent emphasis on eliminating the threat posed by the extremist group the Islamic State -- and the U.S. airstrikes against it -- to fixate on Obama's recent reference to shrinking the group's influence to a "manageable problem."
Fox News hosts defended the practice of catcalling, insisting women should "let men be men" and downplaying the harmful impact widespread street harassment has on women.
On the August 28 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, hosts highlighted a New York Post opinion article that suggested women "deal with" "flattering" catcalls. Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle defended street harassment saying, "let men be men," and, "look, men are going to be that way. What can you do?" Guest host and Fox contributor Arthur Aidala reenacted his personal signature "move" -- aiming a slow round of applause at women on the street, which one host said she'd find flattering:
August 26 marks Women's Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which gave women the right to vote. As President Obama emphasized in a proclamation marking the day, while there have been many advancements toward women's equality, "[t]here is still more work to do."
Fox News' The Kelly File hosted 2012 Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to attack President Obama's foreign policy and rewrite the history of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
President Obama on August 7 authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq to prevent "genocide" and protect Americans in the region. The Islamic State released a video of its murder of American journalist James Foley on Tuesday, citing the U.S. airstrikes and demanding an end to them. The airstrikes prompted a right-wing media backlash blaming President Obama for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which they accused of increasing the danger posed by the Islamic State.
On August 21, Fox host Megyn Kelly accused President Obama of a reversal on "whether he did or did not order the withdrawal of all of our troops," and of making the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq. After making this assertion, she asked 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney whether Obama "is misleading the American people." Romney claimed President Obama had made "extraordinary errors with regards to the Middle East," and cited the lack of "the Status of Forces Agreement that would allow us to have troops in Iraq" as a fundamental cause contributing to the growth of the Islamic State and the danger it represents.
Contrary to this attempt to rewrite history, President Obama did not refuse to negotiate a SOFA with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind American forces. His attempts to negotiate the SOFA were thwarted by the Iraqi government, whose parliament was unwilling to approve the agreement -- approval that was made necessary by a precedent set in 2008 by President Bush.
Time reported in 2011 that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was "an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending" the existing SOFA. The AP also noted that the Iraqi government stopped the SOFA negotiations when it became unwilling to grant American troops legal immunity -- protections "common in nearly every country where U.S. forces operate," and similar to those guaranteed in Bush's 2008 SOFA. Colin H. Kahn, the senior Pentagon official responsible for Iraq policy during the first three years of the Obama administration, explained:
Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told U.S. negotiators that he was willing to sign an executive memorandum of understanding that included these legal protections. But for any agreement to be binding under the Iraqi constitution, it had to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. This was the judgment of every senior administration lawyer and Maliki's own legal adviser, and no senior U.S. military commander made the case that we should leave forces behind without these protections.
Unfortunately, Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal. Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the U.S. military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American G.I.s to stay). Maliki was willing to consider going to parliament to approve a follow-on agreement, but he was not willing to stick his neck out.
So when Iraq's major political bloc leaders met in early October 2011 in an all-night session, they agreed on the need for continued U.S. "trainers" but said they were unwilling to seek immunities for these troops through the parliament. The die was thus cast. Obama and Maliki spoke on Oct. 21 and agreed that U.S. forces would depart as scheduled by the end of the year.