Fox News figures took part in a press conference today announcing a "citizen's commission" to investigate the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. In the process they promoted outlandish conspiracies about the incident while re-hashing false stories that have been investigated and debunked.
The event was organized by Accuracy in Media (AIM), a fringe conservative group responsible for promoting many conspiracy theories over the years. Roger Aronoff, AIM's editor, led the event.
In attendance were Admiral James Lyons (Ret.), General Thomas McInerney (Ret.) and former CIA officer Wayne Simmons. McInerney is a Fox News military analyst, while Simmons is a frequent guest on Fox. Lyons regularly writes opinion columns for the Washington Times.
Thanking Fox For Pushing Benghazi
Speakers at the event lauded Fox News for its role in elevating the Benghazi story and praised them for continuing to keep the controversy in the news.
In his opening remarks, Aronoff complained that "for the two months between the incident in Benghazi and the presidential election, the media were basically AWOL on this story." He promoted AIM's Citizens Commission on Benghazi website and said that "Fox News did an excellent one hour special [on Benghazi], which you can go see that on our website." The special, Benghazi: The Truth Behind The Smokescreen, hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier, was an error-filled presentation that continued Fox's pattern of misinformation on Benghazi.
Gen. McInerney also praised Fox News ("of which I am a military analyst") for its "superb special" on Benghazi while complaining that the rest of the media "has not put the emphasis to get the answers" on Benghazi.
In comments to Media Matters, Simmons said, "I would suggest that fortunately for the country that Fox had the foresight to recognize early that there really was something dramatic and very important to the country that happened in Benghazi and the decision makers at Fox chose to not allow that to fall to the wayside. And I think that was, in fact I'm certain that was a big benefit to the nation and hopefully we can continue to move that investigation forward. "
Benghazi Response Lies, Bashing Generals
The speakers asserted, despite evidence and sworn testimony to the contrary, that a "stand down" order had been issued which prevented U.S. military assets from assisting people inside the besieged consulate. "There's only one person in this nation that can say 'stand down' in a situation like that," said McInerney, "and that's the President of the United States."
Wayne Simmons said that the people killed fighting in Benghazi must have known at some point that "it was over," and "that tears my heart out, angers me, disgusts me knowing that there were decision makers in the United States at the very highest levels -- including the White House -- that had an opportunity, we believe, to change that course."
In fact, no "stand down" order was ever given during the entire Benghazi episode.
The panelists also made the argument that U.S. military assets were close enough in the region to respond in time, and repeatedly questioned why this had not been done.
When Media Matters raised the testimony of Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said it was impossible for military assets to respond quickly enough to make a difference and that a stand down order hadn't been given, the panelists called into question Dempsey's credibility.
Lyons said Dempsey has "had a number of questionable actions he's taken, which really makes him -- his credibility is on the line." McInerney said Dempsey's testimony was "very troubling" to ex-military officials. "He certainly has enough combat experience," McInerney said of Dempsey, "but I don't know how many F-16s he's flown before, or what he understands about air power, with that response. That should trouble all Americans, but I can tell you it particularly troubles those people on active duty today and those retired military."
Same Old Benghazi Conspiracies & Debunked Assertions
While Aronoff claimed that the goal of the commission is to "establish the facts, get to the truth of the situation," the speakers reiterated long-debunked false claims and assertions about the Benghazi attack, while hinting at a wider conspiracy to hide the truth.
McInerney insinuated that the fact that military assets weren't in place to rapidly respond to the attack made the situation seem "almost like it was a set-up."
Lyons claimed that he has never seen "a cover-up as intense as the Benghazi cover-up" and compared the State Department's Accountability Review Board that investigated the attack to "having the mafia investigate a crime scene."
Simmons said the people killed in Benghazi "realized they were sold out, they knew help was not coming" and that "they were put out to slaughter."
Asking "what is it you're trying to hide?" Lyons cast the non-disclosure agreements signed by witnesses of the attack as something sinister and compared the situation to Watergate. Lyons' suggestions notwithstanding, it is customary for witnesses in an ongoing criminal investigation to adhere to non-disclosure policies, and survivors have been interviewed by FBI investigators. The transcripts of those interviews have been made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Lyons also asserted that "it is my understanding" that the Libyan militia guards protecting the Benghazi compound "were not allowed to put ammunition into their weapons." It's not clear what Lyons was referring to; he might have been inaccurately referencing the rumor that Marines at the Cairo embassy were prohibited from carrying live ammunition -- a rumor the U.S. Marine Corps dismissed as "not accurate."
McInerney also asked, "where is the picture in the situation room of the president and his senior advisors watching what's going on?" The White House released a picture available as far back as January that shows President Obama meeting with senior advisers on the night of the attack.
Full "Commission" Includes Another Fox Contributor, Birthers
The full list of commission members includes Fox News contributor Allen West, and Larry Bailey, the founder of Special Operations Speaks who has described himself as "a birther" conspiracy theorist. McInerney has also allied himself with birther causes and has said that President Obama faces "serious -- and widely held -- concerns that he is ineligible" to be president. Also listed as a commission member is General Paul Vallely, who claimed that President's Obama's birth certificate is a "forgery."