Fox News is heavily invested in turning Benghazi into the scandal that takes down Barack Obama. It's not just the dream of brutishly partisan actors like Sean Hannity, but the stated intention of Fox reporters like James Rosen, who told Bill O'Reilly that "there are certain elements...that are lacking here for this to become Watergate," among them the self-serving notion that the media -- save for Fox News -- refuse to dig into the "major scandal" that is Benghazi. The idea that media outlets have been reticent to investigate the September 2012 attack on the Benghazi diplomatic compound is laughably false. What Rosen really means is that the press aren't covering it in the way that Fox News is.
This plays into the Fox Cycle, a process Media Matters has documented by which false and misleading conservative attacks make the transition from right-wing hobbyhorse to national media narrative, with Fox News playing a key role in pressuring mainstream press outlets into covering the story. Fox has been working hard at doing just that this week with a series of segments on Special Report with Bret Baier featuring an anonymous Benghazi "insider" who purports to contradict the official account of the Benghazi attack.
Here, however, are five instances in which the "insider" describes events that actually took place, were already known, or have been debunked.
1. The presence of special forces in Croatia. Media Matters documented one such instance of Fox's confidential informant breaking news that everyone already knew -- the presence of a special operations force in Croatia. "I know for a fact that C-110 [a special ops team], the EUCOM CIF, was doing a training exercise, not in the region of Northern Africa, but in Europe. And they had the ability to react and respond," said Fox's unnamed source. Everyone knows that "for a fact" because it's been a matter of public record for months now and was included in the Pentagon's official Benghazi timeline. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered those forces to deploy, but they could not arrive in time.
2. Deployment of those special forces. That brings up another point of contention. Fox's source claimed: "We had the ability to load out, get on birds, and fly there at a minimum stage. C-110 had the ability to be there, in my opinion, in four to six hours from their European theater to react." [emphasis added] The phrase "in my opinion" is highlighted there because that's all this is. An opinion. The State Department independent Benghazi review and outside experts have a different opinion: that there were no military assets that could have made it to Benghazi in time to make a difference. This is less a contradiction of the official account than a disagreement from a party whose identity and expertise are as yet unknown. (Former Marine officer and special operations team leader Billy Birdzell dismantled Fox's source's claims about the deployment of C-110 here.)
The UK's Daily Mail has an "EXCLUSIVE" story this morning on the government of Saudi Arabia reportedly sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 warning about suspected Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It's being promoted heavily by conservative bloggers and is, at the moment, featured on The Drudge Report. There is ample reason, however, to take this story with a massive grain of salt. As it's reported, the story is extremely thin, and its two authors have a history of wildly inaccurate reporting.
According to the Daily Mail, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds." The report is based on a single anonymous source: a "senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document." By all indications, the Daily Mail did not obtain a copy of the letter, and they quoted officials in DHS and the White House denying that any such letter was received.
The paper even acknowledged that they could not confirm their source's claims: "If true, the account will produce added pressure on the Homeland Security department and the White House to explain their collective inaction after similar warnings were offered about Tsarnaev by the Russian government." [emphasis added] The paper also seemed unable to confirm which intelligence agency produced the document: "The letter likely came to DHS via the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the agency tasked with protecting the Saudi kingdom's homeland."
As for the Saudi source, despite claiming to have "direct knowledge" of the document, he offered vague and arguably contradictory descriptions of its contents, describing it as "very specific" about its warning that "something was going to happen in a major U.S. city." And, curiously, the Saudi source claimed the same letter was sent to the British government, but the Daily Mail report offered no indication that the paper contacted British intelligence services to confirm or deny this.
The buzzy new story on Fox News and conservative blogs involves Republican attorney Victoria Toensing and her claim that anonymous State Department and CIA "whistleblowers" have been blocked and even threatened by the Obama administration to prevent their testifying on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Fox News' Ed Henry even asked President Obama about the story at today's press conference (the president said he had no idea what Henry was talking about).
It's worth noting that this is not Victoria Toensing's first foray into Benghazi "cover-up" allegations. Back in November 2012, Toensing wrote an op-ed for Fox News (of course) attempting to draw a sinister link between the Benghazi attack and the abrupt resignation of former CIA director David Petraeus. "Something is rotten in Benghazi-Petraeus," wrote Toensing, who laid out an intricate conspiracy tying the two events together which ultimately fell completely apart.
Toensing's argument was -- like most conspiracies -- dense and winding. According to Toensing, the fact that Petraeus supported the White House's initial indications that an anti-Islam video had incited the Benghazi attackers was "strange," given that Petraeus, in her view, must have known otherwise:
Because if an administration pushes a political agenda that applauds the killing of Bin Laden as the ultimate act for eradicating the radical Islamic threat, then that same administration ignores its Ambassador's urgent pleas for more security for fear it will appear Bin Laden's demise was not the answer to that threat. Our country's chief spy is supposed to know which theory is held up by the evidence.
The question, as Toensing saw it, was what motivation Petraeus had for going along with the White House. One explanation she came up with was that Obama was blackmailing his own CIA director with knowledge of the extramarital affair that ultimately led to Petraeus' resignation. And not only was Petraeus being blackmailed, per Toensing, but the administration had likely concealed knowledge of the affair it so it could be used against him at a later date.
Consider: All candidates for CIA employment must take a polygraph. Doesn't the nominee for DCI have to do so also? And that nasty little catch-all embarrassment question is always asked by the polygrapher. Usually, the polygraphee is thinking back to college and confessing to smoking pot. In 2011, it would not take a sterling memory for Petraeus to remember a 2011 affair.
Why is the administration's handling of the affair significant? Because sloppy vetting of the country's top spy and not giving timely notice to the oversight committees was either gross incompetence or a deliberate evasion of law. Or the sticky situation was used to pressure the DCI into backing the White House theory. Or there was a much bigger secret at Benghazi that all involved were (and still are ) trying to cover up.
The anti-abortion rights group Live Action released today an undercover video claiming to reveal "illegal and inhuman practices" at an abortion clinic in New York City, and accused a doctor at the clinic of committing murder. The video reveals nothing of the sort, and actually undermines Live Action's baseless allegations that the clinic is performing illegal procedures and endangering the lives of patients.
Live Action and its founder, Lila Rose, have a long, disreputable history of perpetrating hoaxes and concocting false allegations against abortion rights supporters, Planned Parenthood in particular. This latest "undercover video" project is timed to coincide with the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.
The Live Action video depicts a woman at Dr. Emily Woman's Health Center in the Bronx inquiring after an abortion in the 23rd week of her pregnancy -- a procedure that is legal in New York State. The woman speaks to both a clinician and a counselor at the facility, and the video is edited down to make it appear as though the clinician describes a procedure in which a baby that survives an abortion is killed using a toxic solution.
Based solely on this exchange, Live Action claimed that the doctor who performs abortions at the clinic "has violated" the state's law against murder in the first degree and called on the state's attorney general to launch a homicide investigation. But Live Action edited out from the video the portion in which the clinician makes clear that the situation they're talking about has never happened in her experience and the discussion is hypothetical, and the video shows the counselor explaining to the woman that the doctor would have to resuscitate the baby if that situation did occur.
Despite these flaws, the Live Action video has already been written up by the the New York Post, the Daily Caller, and Michelle Malkin's Hot Air. The story has spread to Fox News and will likely offer grist for other conservative outlets that have been using the Gosnell trial to attack legal abortion.
William Kristol wants to go to war in Syria, but he won't say what that war should look like. Appearing on Fox News Sunday to discuss reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the Weekly Standard editor (and noted Iraq war hawk) attacked President Obama as "totally irresponsible" for indicating that he doesn't want "to start another war," saying: "You've got to do what you've got to do."
When host Chris Wallace pointed out to him that there are "no good choices" for intervening in the Syrian conflict and asked, "so what do you do?," Kristol brushed it off without indicating how he thought the president should respond: "You do what you think is best. You're commander in chief, you've got an awful lot of options."
Kristol's call for (non-specific) military action got a boost from Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, who observed: "There's something to be said for doing something. That if they cross a line, you've got to do something. Now whatever it is may not directly affect the chemical weapons use, but if it directly affects and harms the regime's prospects in the war, that would at least be a consequence."
According to Hume, doing "something" (whatever that is) wouldn't be as difficult as people suspect. "This isn't Mission: Impossible."
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is seizing on a recent poll showing that George W. Bush's approval numbers are up to declare "Bush is back," arguing that America is starting to appreciate Bush's policies in the light of what she calls the "rotten" Obama presidency. To make her case, Rubin neatly excises from Bush's record every single massive failure and disaster that resulted in Bush leaving office as one of the least popular presidents in history.
Rubin managed to cram so much misinformation and nonsense into seven short paragraphs that it's tough to pick a place to start, but this one is worthy of special attention:
Why the shift? Aside from the "memories fade" point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff -- rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass.
"Aside from the 'memories fade' point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt)." Funny thing about those "spending" and "debt" failures of Obama's that make Bush's supposedly seem so mild: Bush-era policies are responsible for the lion's share of the current public debt and will continue exacerbating the debt situation long after President Obama has left office.
"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." This is false. There were a number of successful terrorist attacks between 9-11 and the end of the Bush presidency, most prominently the DC-area sniper attacks of 2002. But I'm dodging the real problem, which is the phrase "after 9/11." Her argument -- an argument she's made before -- is that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, despite happening on Bush's watch, doesn't count against Bush. Why? She doesn't say. Rubin doesn't allow Obama any terrorism Mulligans, calling his record "spotty at best with Benghazi, Libya, Boston and Fort Hood."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's April 21 column on President Obama and the blocking of gun safety legislation is drawing no shortage of criticism for its determined obliviousness of how DC politics actually work. Per Dowd, the votes for the Manchin-Toomey expansion of the background check system were there, Obama just needed to take a page from Aaron Sorkin's "The American President" and go on an arm-twisting charm offensive with recalcitrant Republicans and Democrats. Just a few months ago, however, Dowd wrote that Republicans would spend Obama's second term blowing off the White House and reflexively opposing his policy initiatives (including gun safety measures) in order to isolate him politically. She also mocked Obama for saying he would employ the same political tactics she now decries him for not effectively using.
Here's how Dowd saw the Manchin-Toomey debate arriving at a successful conclusion:
It's unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate. It was a glaring example of his weakness in using leverage to get what he wants. No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him.
Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.
The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in "The American President." Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.
Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin's movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post's Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.
Dowd even singled out some blue-state Republican senators whom she thought might have been vulnerable to the Sorkin-esque strategy: "He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this." She also picked out Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as someone who could have been swayed by a sweet-talking from Obama. But Dowd herself previously derided the idea that such tactics would be effective.
As police and federal officials hunt down the suspected Boston marathon bombers, USA Today contributor, Daily Beast columnist, and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers made this absolutely baffling assertion via Twitter: "Just b/c the bombing suspects were Muslim, that doesn't make it 'terrorism' any more than a crazy abortion clinic bomber is a terrorist."
The intent behind this tweet isn't immediately clear, but the message it conveys -- that an anti-abortion zealot who sets off a bomb inside of an abortion clinic is not a terrorist -- is absolutely false. The FBI treats attacks against abortion service providers as acts of terrorism and anti-abortion movements that resort to violence as terrorist groups.
Abortion clinic bombers are terrorists. This shouldn't need clarifying.
UPDATE: After the publication of this post, Powers tweeted the following about abortion clinic bombers:
Conservative media, led by Fox News, are alleging that their "liberal" mainstream counterparts have purposefully ignored the horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor charged with eight counts of murder for grisly procedures committed under the guise of women's reproductive health. But when news of Gosnell's arrest and the enormity of his alleged crimes first broke in January 2011, Fox News covered the story the least of the three cable networks.
In recent days, Fox has been working to ascribe nefarious motives to the allegation that mainstream outlets have supposedly ignored Gosnell. "The fact that it is not covered I think is easily explained," said Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer on the April 11 edition of Special Report. "It puts the pro-abortion forces in a very bad light."
Gosnell was arrested on January 19, 2011, and the details of the allegations against him were made public that same day. A search* of Media Matters' transcript and video archive (along with Nexis transcripts) from January 19 to January 31, 2011, revealed that among the three major cable news networks, Gosnell's arrest was covered the most by CNN (33 minutes, 24 seconds of coverage), followed by MSNBC (9 minutes, 16 seconds), followed by Fox News (6 minutes, 31 seconds).
Fox News' coverage of Gosnell's arrest was confined to a brief report on the January 20 edition of Special Report, a longer report on the January 21 Special Report, and a January 27 segment on The O'Reilly Factor. MSNBC featured three separate reports on the January 20 edition of Jansing & Co., the January 21 edition of First Look, and the January 23 edition of MSNBC News Live. CNN's coverage was spread across seven segments airing on CNN Newsroom between January 19 and January 25. Re-airings of programs that featured Gosnell coverage were not included in the final tally.
In addition to devoting more time overall to the story, CNN also featured interviews with Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams, one of Gosnell's former patients, and the relatives of one of Gosnell's alleged victims.
*Keywords searched for include "kermit," "gosnell," "abortion," "murder," "philadelphia," and related terms.
As the Senate's bipartisan "Gang of Eight" moves closer to releasing an immigration reform bill, Dan Stein, president of the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, lays out in an op-ed for Politico the "five compelling reasons why Republicans should walk away" from the legislation. Each one of Stein's "compelling reasons" is wildly misleading, unsubstantiated, or flat-out wrong.
Let's run them down, one by one.
"Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not even allow hearings on a bill."
This is completely false:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has formally announced an April 17 hearing on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will testify.
The hearing is in part the result of talks with the bipartisan Gang of Eight working on the soon-to-be unveiled legislation -- including Marco Rubio, who pushed for a slower committee process.
"Democrats will not agree to border security and other enforcement requirements as a prerequisite to amnesty."
According to Stein, Gang of Eight member Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) "demands that legalization take place before border security or other enforcement provisions are in place." Not true! According to the Associated Press, the Gang of Eight arrived at a compromise wherein immigrants "living here illegally could begin to get green cards in 10 years but only if a new southern border security plan is in place, employers have adopted mandatory electronic verification of their workers' legal status and a new electronic exit system is operating at airports and seaports." Schumer is reportedly working on convincing House Democrats to support the compromise, arguing that it is "not an impediment to citizenship but rather works alongside citizenship."