Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
The cover of the June 3 issue of National Review shows a caricature of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with exaggerated features and playing a fiddle in front of what appears to be the attacked U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya engulfed by flames. The cover, as TPM noted, is likely "an allusion to the Roman Emperor Nero, who is said to have 'fiddled while Rome burned.' "
According to PBS, history has implied that Nero himself set the fire that burned Rome, so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking:
History has blamed Nero for the disaster, implying that he started the fire so that he could bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Much of what is known about the great fire of Rome comes from the aristocrat and historian Tacitus, who claimed that Nero watched Rome burn while merrily playing his fiddle. Gangs of thugs prevented citizens from fighting the fire with threats of torture, Tacitus wrote. There is some support for the theory that Nero leveled the city on purpose: the Domus Aurea, Nero's majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire.
Unlike Nero, Clinton is documented to have been active at the time of the attack in Benghazi. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified to a House committee on May 8 that Clinton called him the night of the attack for a report of the events:
HICKS: I think at about 2 p.m. -- 2 a.m., sorry -- the Secretary, Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi. And I told her that we would need to evacuate and she said that was the right thing to do.
Fox News hyped the candidacy of its former contributor Pete Snyder, calling him "a really good guy."
On May 17, the Virginia Republican Convention began. Over the course of the weekend, Virginia Republicans -- as described by a May 17 Washington Post article -- are gathering "to pick nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general, and rally behind Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II for governor."
One of the candidates for lieutenant governor is Snyder, a former Fox News contributor, whose campaign website -- as of May 18 -- features that fact in a front page box. The box links to a page that details Snyder's experience at Fox and includes a laudatory quotation from Fox News chairman Roger Ailes:
On the May 18 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, co-host Tucker Carlson hyped the candidacy of Snyder, trumpeting his chances of winning and calling him "a really good guy." Co-host Alisyn Camerota praised Carlson's "shout out":
CARLSON: I want to say good morning to our old friend Pete Snyder. You may remember, Pete was a Fox News contributor for quite a while. And I just wanted to note, today in the Commonwealth of Virginia is the Republican Party's meeting where the nominee for lieutenant governor will be chosen. Pete is in the running. It looks pretty good for him. It's just neat when people you know and like sort of ascend up the ladder politically. This man could be the lieutenant governor of Virginia and when he is, I'm calling him for dinner.
CARLSON: A good guy. Pete Snyder is a really good guy.
CAMEROTA: That's great
CARLSON: It's just nice to see that.
CAMEROTA: Nice shout out.
Mainstream media have dismissed recent scandal mongering by sources like Fox News over the initial de-classified talking points used to describe the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, as baseless and a distraction.
Recently released emails that detailed the creation of the initial talking points used to describe the attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi confirmed past reporting that changes made to the talking points were not political and were approved by intelligence agencies. Indeed, CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett concluded on CBS Evening News that the released emails proved that "[t]here is no evidence... [that] the White House orchestrated these changes."
The Washington Post and The New York Times went further, declaring the continued scandal mongering over the talking points drew continued focus to a "phony issue."
In a May 16 editorial, the Post asserted that conservative media and Republicans "[b]y focusing on the phony issue of talking points... are missing the opportunity to press for needed reforms at State, and a more active U.S. policy in the Middle East."
A May 16 New York Times editorial also noted that there was "never a scandal to begin with" regarding the Benghazi talking points, and that the emails recently released by the White House "made clear that there was no White House cover-up." The Times added that the fixation on the Benghazi talking points non-scandal has distracted from continued Republican obstruction:
While Washington was arguing about e-mail messages about Benghazi, it wasn't paying attention to the hundreds of thousands of defense furloughs announced this week because of the Republican-imposed sequester, which will become a significant drag on economic growth. It wasn't focusing on the huge drop in the deficit, which has yet to silence the party's demands for more austerity. And apparently it's considered old news that Republicans are blocking several of the president's cabinet nominees.
For those who are wondering whether this week's political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama's second-term agenda, here's a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)
Despite media's dismissal of a Benghazi talking points scandal and subsequent distraction, Fox has continued to draw from that well. During the May 17 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson falsely suggested that the CIA did not approve the finalized talking points. Co-host Steve Doocy baselessly added that the State Department and the White House said "wait a minute, we can't talk about this" in reaction to the first draft, and that they forced the CIA to remove information in the talking points identifying a group responsible for the attack.
Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pushed new and old falsehoods about the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, by misrepresenting recently-released emails that prove that government agencies drafted talking points without references to terrorism in order to protect the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
In his May 16 Washington Post column, Krauthammer misrepresented emails recently released by the Obama administration -- that document the process of drafting the talking points used by officials to discuss the September 2012 attacks -- to claim the emails revealed that the CIA was forced to change the talking points for political reasons. According to Krauthammer, references to Al Qaeda were removed from the talking points after the State Department raised concerns that the talking points needed to reflect "the political interests, the required political cover, of all involved," including "the need to protect the president's campaign." He also dismissed an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, which explained that the talking points in fact needed to protect the investigation into the attacks, claiming this "excuse was simply bogus" because the FBI, "which was conducting the investigation, had no significant objections."
But the 100 pages of emails reveal that removing information from the talking points that could compromise the investigation was the primary priority of multiple agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. Following the initial emails among CIA officials on September 14, 2012, about whether or not references to al Qaeda should be included in the talking points, CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston stressed the need to ensure their work did not conflict with the National Security Section (NSS) of the Department of Justice and the FBI's criminal investigation into the attacks:
Folks, I know there is a hurry to get this out, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it conflicts with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. -- even internally, not to mention for public release. I am copying [CIA FO] who may be more familiar with those instructibns [sic] and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.
Subsequent emails from the FBI reveal that contrary to Krauthammer's claims, the Bureau did have concerns with the initial CIA draft. A 7:51pm email from the FBI Press Office on September 14 requested a review of two of the talking points with recommended edits:
[CIA OPA] in coordination with CWD, we have some concerns:
1. The accuracy of the sentence of the first bullet point which states "On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening tob break into the Embassy." And-- who is the "we" that is referenced?
2. We recommend editing the last sentence in the second bullet point to "That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
A later email sent at 9:19pm on September 14 by the FBI Press Office revealed their concern that the Department of Justice be brought in to approve all further changes, because they would also be conducting key aspects of the investigation:
Just a question- but separate from the FBI concerns, has DOJ provided input? They will have to deal with the the prosecution and related legal matters surrounding the federal investigation.
Furthermore, The Washington Post, Krauthammer's own paper, reported more detail from senior administration officials about the email exchange, explaining that both CIA and FBI officials believed references to Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, should be removed from the talking points to protect the investigation:
CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The emails confirm what General David Petraeus, then-director of the CIA, reportedly testified to Congress in November: that references to terrorist groups were removed from the talking points in order to avoid tipping off those groups that intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, and thus preserve the ongoing investigation.
Krauthammer also pushed the debunked claim that Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of staff to the embassy in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, was "ordered not to meet with an investigative congressional delegation" and subsequently got "a furious call from Clinton's top aide for not having a State Department lawyer (and informant) present." In fact, Hicks' official congressional testimony reveals that the State Department merely instructed him to follow standard procedure and not speak to the congressional investigators without a State attorney present. Furthermore, Hicks made clear that he had received no direct criticism from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and simply said the "tone of the conversation" led him to believe Mills was unhappy with him.
Krauthammer's false accusations are part of the attempt by conservative media and the GOP to save Republican scandal-mongering on the Benghazi attacks, even as the charges of "scandal" collapse around them.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, based on a series of dubious factual errors, is now offering a flawed comparison between the Watergate scandal and the Obama administration's response to the September terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.
There's no small irony to Woodward injecting himself into what has become a scandal driven by deceptively edited emails passed off to reporters, given the recent attention he received after using a similar method to support his ridiculous accusation that a White House aide threatened him.
In his latest attempt to jump into the debate on the side of the right wing, Woodward demonstrates a striking lack of familiarity with the basic facts of what happened.
Here's what Woodward said during his May 17 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, and what's wrong with those statements.
WOODWARD: You were talking earlier about kind of dismissing the Benghazi issue as one that's just political and the president recently said it's a sideshow. But if you read through all these e-mails, you see that everyone in the government is saying, "Oh, let's not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al Qaeda. Let's not tell the public that there were warnings."
If Woodward actually did read through all the recently-released emails from intelligence officials and other administration aides discussing the assembly of the much-ballyhooed talking points used in the wake of the attacks, he seems to have missed a few things. Administration officials suggested removing references to the al Qaeda ties of attackers because they were worried about tainting the investigation of the perpetrators, as David Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time of the attacks, later testified. Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell reportedly advocated for removing references to general CIA warnings about potential attacks -- there had been no specific threat warning for that day. As CBS News pointed out on May 16, the CIA signed off on all changes, and there is "no evidence" that the White House "orchestrated" the changes.
WOODWARD: I hate to show, that this is one of the documents with the editing that one of the people in the State Department said, 'Oh, let's not let these things out.'
Woodward appears to be holding this document, in which hand-written edits were made removing several paragraphs of the talking points during the "deputies meeting" of the National Security Council. But that editing was reportedly performed by the CIA's Morell, not anyone from the State Department. Morell reportedly approved the document for distribution.
Fox News has announced it's hired former Rep. Allen West as a contributor. The far-right Republican and the conservative news network are a match made in heaven: West's incendiary rhetoric against progressives and Democrats closely mirrors Fox News' own smears and attacks. Media Matters looks at eight reasons why West is a perfect fit for Fox News.
Allen West served in congress for one term as a Republican before being booted out by voters. By signing with Fox News, he'll join an oasis of former Republicans candidates, officeholders, and administration officials including: John Bolton, Scott Brown, Herman Cain, Liz Cheney, Al D'Amato, Mike Huckabee, William Kristol, Jon Kyl, Angela McGlowan, Oliver North, Dana Perino, and Karl Rove.
If West decides to run again for office, he'll have plenty of company. Scott Brown, Liz Cheney and Geraldo Rivera are considering runs for office as Republicans, and Fox News has a track record of helping former Republican politicians stay in the public eye until they reenter politics.
West told reporters in December 2011: "If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine ... Let's be honest, you know, some of the people in the media are complicit with this and enabling them to get that type of message out."
Fox News has also frequently compared Democrats and their policies to Nazis. Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly portrayed his opponents as Nazis, and once claimed that Media Matters founder David Brock employs "Joseph Goebbels Nazi stuff."
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes once responded to NPR firing analyst Juan Williams by claiming of NPR executives: "They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism." (Ailes later apologized.)
Republicans leaders are reportedly concerned that the scandal machine that has been kicked into high gear in recent days will lead to similar backlash the party faced over its endless and costly investigations into President Clinton in the 1990s:
To veteran lawmakers, the sudden proliferation of investigations cannot help but raise the ghost of 1998. After seizing control of Congress in 1995, Republicans opened investigations into the White House Travel Office, allegations of malfeasance around the Whitewater Development Corporation, and claims of campaign finance improprieties in the 1996 presidential campaign. Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, famously shot a melon in trying to prove that the White House lawyer Vincent W. Foster Jr. did not commit suicide.
But it was the impeachment of Mr. Clinton that cost Republicans seats in the House, cost Newt Gingrich his job as House speaker, and ultimately lifted a moribund Democratic president from the political depths.
Right-wing media have been quick to invoke Whitewater, the real estate scandal that developed during Clinton's first term, as part of their endless quest to scandalize the Obama administration over the tragedy in Benghazi.
And reliance on shady Whitewater tactics - which involved leaking selectively edited transcripts to the media to push forth the scandal -- was on full display this past week, leading to a critical question: how will the media respond to the campaign of press manipulation?
CBS News reported on May 16 that Republican staffers have been selectively and deceptively leaking information to reporters in order to keep the Benghazi "scandal" alive. As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained:
So here's what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week's Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
ABC News, which initially reported that it had "obtained" the actual emails showing greater White House involvement editing the talking points than administration officials had acknowledged, was forced into a slippery acknowledgement that its "exclusive" report was based only on summaries of emails, a method of reporting that journalism experts called "highly problematic ethically" and "sloppy."
ABC's flawed reporting on the emails, based on selective leaks, has led to questions about reporter Jonathan Karl's future, vividly demonstrating the consequences of this type of press manipulation. But whether fellow journalists - and viewers - will demand accountability from Karl remains to be seen.
It's the Whitewater experience, which GOP leaders are reportedly skittish of repeating, that provides a blueprint for accountability over this type of press manipulation.
In the 1990s it was David Bossie, at the time an investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight, who leaked selectively edited transcripts to the press in order to advance the scandal mongering of President Clinton. Bossie was reportedly fired for his role manipulating the press.
Will the media, which once again saw one of their own get burned by relying on selective leaks in furtherance of a hunting of a president, demand accountability this time?
Appearing on Fox & Friends, Roger Ailes' biographer Zev Chafets joined host Steve Doocy in toasting Fox News' coverage of the so-called Benghazi scandal. Doocy was positively giddy about how Fox had been out way ahead of the mainstream press on the story of last September's terror attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Lybya. The host credited his boss, Ailes, for leading Fox's obsessive Benghazi charge for the last eight months.
"Now everybody else is catching up," Doocy crowed on May 16.
Chafets agreed ("this is Fox News at its best") and claimed that the White House had tried to stifle the controversy because "it doesn't obviously want the story to be about its incompetence in a situation in which people could have been saved and evidently nobody tried."
Did you note the dark irony there? In raising a glass to Fox's Benghazi coverage, Chafets peddled one of Fox's favorite Benghazi lies: "Nobody" had tried to save the Americans who came under deadly fire that night.
Ever since ABC News' bogus "exclusive" last week regarding administration emails about the editing and writing process of the talking points issued in the wake of the Benghazi terror strike, Fox News had been taking one long extended victory tour, claiming its eight-month campaign to demonize the president and to spread nearly nonstop misinformation about the terror attack had been fully vindicated.
"The mainstream media finally catches up to the Benghazi scandal," jabbed Chris Wallace on May 10. On America Live, host Martha MacCallum bragged, "When you look at Fox's coverage of Benghazi, we've been establishing the facts from the get-go." And right-wing blogger Jim Hoft cheered Fox's ball-spiking in the end zone with the headline, "FOX News Gloats Over Benghazi Coverage... We Told You So!"
The Fox team has also been rallied by their Benghazi enablers in Congress, with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) insisting Ailes "deserves credit" if there's a full Benghazi investigation. "Thank God for Fox," cheered Benghazi critic Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
But even the most cursory review of Fox's obsessive Benghazi coverage reveals it to be a train wreck of epic proportions. In fact, it represents a textbook study in why people, and especially journalists, should use extraordinary caution whenever they're tempted to take seriously Fox's editorial content.
As of this writing, there is no indication that the IRS's inappropriate targeting of conservative political groups has any connection whatsoever to the White House. And some conservative talking heads are even acknowledging as much. But they're not letting that stop them from naming Barack Obama as the culpable party, arguing that the president is responsible due to his preternatural ability to bend the average bureaucrat to his maleficent will from afar.
It all started with RedState founder Erick Erickson, who wrote on May 15 that "Barack Obama never specifically asked that tea party groups and conservatives be targeted." But...
But by both his language and the "always campaigning" attitude of his White House, he certainly sent clear signals to Democrats with the power and ability to fight conservatives to engage as they could. Given his rhetoric against his political opponents, it is no wonder sympathetic Democrats in the Internal Revenue Service harassed and stymied conservative groups and, though little mentioned, pro-Israel Jewish groups and evangelical groups.
"President Obama did not have to tell the IRS specifically to harass conservative, evangelical, and Jewish groups who might oppose him," Erickson observed. "His rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the permanent campaign of the White House operations made clear what he wanted."