Fox News host Gretchen Carlson dubiously suggested that a Senate report on the Benghazi attack would damage a potential 2016 presidential run by Hillary Clinton, even while admitting that the report barely mentioned Clinton.
On the January 16 edition of Fox's The Real Story, Carlson asked whether a newly released Senate Select Intelligence Committee report could potentially damage any 2016 political aspirations for Hillary Clinton. Carlson began her segment by claiming the report means "potential new problems for Hillary Clinton and any White House aspiration she may have." Carlson acknowledged that Clinton "is barely mentioned by name in this report," but she still went on to ask if Clinton will "escape any association" with the attack:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that released the Benghazi findings, has patently denied the report lays any blame on Clinton. In a statement released by her office, Feinstein clarified that the report does not assign "culpability to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the tragedy":
Statements on the Senate floor this morning and some media reports about the Senate Intelligence Committee's bipartisan report on the attack against our diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, intimate that the report assigns culpability to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the tragedy.
This is patently false.
The report approved on a bipartisan basis says no such thing. As a matter of fact, Secretary Clinton is not mentioned a single time in the 58-page bipartisan section of our Benghazi report.
Carlson then went on to rehash the already debunked accusation that Clinton deliberately played a role in dismissing the attack as an act of terror and instead blamed it on protests due to an inflammatory anti-Islam video, saying "Yeah, and maybe her biggest difficulty is the fact that she did still blame it on the videotape days after" some officials allegedly told the Obama administration otherwise.
Carlson failed to note what the Senate report did say about the video's role in the attack. The report indicated that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the intelligence community (IC) received multiple reports of protests, through media accounts, over an anti-Islam video at the diplomatic facility. The report goes on to say that it took days for U.S. personnel to determine through eyewitness statements that there were indeed no such protests. Details like this from the Senate report have been repeatedly ignored by Fox while they continued to hammer calls for a further investigation into Benghazi.
In 2008, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman -- channeling progressive bloggers including Media Matters fellow Duncan Black -- described the "Clinton rules," in which "pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent." Pointing to press coverage of Whitewater and a distorted comment from then-presidential contender Hillary Clinton as examples, he warned that this pattern threatens to "distract voters from the issues."
To some extent, the Clinton Rules waned as Hillary Clinton entered the Obama administration and rose to new heights of popularity. But as a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign looms, a revival of those rules can be seen in the uproar over "Hillary's Hit List," an excerpt from a forthcoming book on Hillary Clinton by Politico's Jonathan Allen and The Hill's Amie Parnes that both publications published January 12.
The excerpt reveals that shortly after Clinton dropped out of the 2008 presidential race, two longtime campaign aides assembled a detailed, ranked list of "who had endorsed Hillary, who backed Barack Obama, and who stayed on the sidelines."
Allen and Parnes seem torn between trying to grab attention and acknowledging that this behavior is absolutely commonplace in politics. The story's lede describes a "political hit list" -- language that suggests the Excel spreadsheet was somehow unusual -- and uses highly-charged words like "treacherous," "betrayal," and "traitor" to describe listees who had opposed Clinton.
But the reporters also note that the list's creation was "standard operating procedure for any high-end political organization" and "a necessity of modern political warfare." In the penultimate paragraph, they write:
It would be political malpractice for the Clintons not to keep track of their friends and enemies. Politicians do that everywhere. The difference is the Clintons, because of their popularity and the positions they've held, retain more power to reward and punish than anyone else in modern politics. And while their aides have long and detailed memories, the sheer volume of the political figures they interact with makes a cheat sheet indispensable.
In other words, every politician has such a list, but the Clintons' list is longer and more detailed because they've dealt with more people over lengthy careers in politics at its highest level.
Notably, as even Fox News' Howard Kurtz has noted, in 2,600 words on this alleged "hit list," there is no mention of even a single instance of retribution from the Clintons against anyone on the list. Indeed, according to a Kurtz source, the document was created to ensure the Clintons could reward those who had helped them, not punish those who hadn't.
These facts haven't prevented a media firestorm over the article. While some reporters have pointed out that Allen and Parnes have uncovered an unsurprising political exercise, others were quick to portray it as a significant development that gets to the supposedly vengeful character of Hillary Clinton.
From the January 13 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live:
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From the January 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 13 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News ignored growing evidence of a culture of political retribution in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office while instead attacking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for keeping an "enemies list" -- in reality, a list of endorsements Clinton sought in 2008 -- something Fox's own senior political analyst described as "perfectly reasonable," and dismissed as "not a huge deal."
Thousands of e-mails released last week revealed examples of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration exacting political retribution from a list of those people whom the governor or his aides believed had crossed him in some way. According to The Star-Ledger, a circle of Christie staff and allies appears to have taken political retribution to a new level when it conspired to send the borough of Fort Lee into traffic chaos by closing lanes to the world's busiest bridge." And a new Wall Street Journal report detailed how Christie allegedly treated Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D) by cutting him off from state administrators after Fulop declined to endorse Christie in the gubernatorial election.
In a segment on Fox's America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum neglected to report those updates in the Christie scandal, choosing instead to juxtapose Christie's problems with a report that ran in both Politico Magazine and The Hill that detailed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign and its efforts to gain lawmakers' endorsements. Both the original report and Fox News labeled the list of endorsements as "Hillary's Hit List."
Fox senior political analyst Brit Hume compared the Politico report to the Christie Scandal, claiming it "raises to some extent the question [about Clinton] you're now hearing raised about Chris Christie," asking whether or not she "fostered a climate" that encouraged aides to seek political retribution. Despite Hume's direct comparison, the reports regarding Christie detail numerous incidents of alleged abuse while the Politico report mentions no actual allegations of political retribution, only that the Clinton campaign tracked its political endorsements -- an act that Hume himself described as "perfectly sensible" and "not a huge deal."
When news of the Christie scandal originally broke, Fox News largely ignored it - an omission that CNN media critic Brian Stelter said may have been due to political considerations and Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' role as "Republican kingmaker" who "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie." When it did cover the scandal, Fox pointed to Christie's handling of the scandal as a "lesson in leadership" while attacking Clinton and President Obama for their handling of what Fox perceives as similar scandals.
Hume attributed competing media organizations' coverage of Christie to political bias, explaining that "journalists look at a story and if it's somebody they don't particularly care for or whose politics they don't agree with -- when that person slips up it just seems, as they look at it, like a bigger story." Ironically, that explanation may explain Fox News' focus on Clinton.
Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
From the January 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the January 10 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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In the wake of revelations that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) office carried out a political vendetta against a NJ Democrat by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, right-wing media have sprung into damage control mode to protect the prominent Republican governor, using any excuse to distract and deflect attention from the scandal.
On January 8, New Jersey's The Record reported that top aides within Christie's office coordinated in order to create "traffic problems in Fort Lee" by closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an alleged act of political retribution against the city's Democratic mayor after he refused to endorse Christie's re-election campaign.
Right-wing media have reacted by attempting to deflect criticism from Christie, praise Christie's handling of the scandal in contrast to perceived scandals in the Obama administration, or ignore the unfolding scandal altogether. That defense of Christie was exemplified in a January 9 editorial from The Wall Street Journal, in which the Journal argued that "Mr. Christie's contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama's handling of the tax agency's abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything," and concluded, "If Mr. Christie really didn't know about this cheap exercise in political payback, and nothing new emerges, the incident shouldn't interfere with the Governor's expected presidential run."
Which brings us to the Obama Administration, which quickly leaked to the media that the U.S. Attorney is investigating the lane closures as a criminal matter. Well, that sure was fast, and nice of Eric Holder's Justice Department to show its typical discretion when investigating political opponents.
This is the same Administration that won't tell Congress what resources it is devoting to the IRS probe, and appears to be slow-rolling it. It has also doubled down by expanding the political vetting of 501(c)(4) groups seeking tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS tax-exempt shop and took the Fifth before Congress, was allowed to "retire," presumably with a pension. Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller resigned under pressure but no other heads have rolled. Yet compared to using the IRS against political opponents
Following the example of the Journal and others, Media Matters has crafted a how-to checklist for conservative media covering the Christie bridge scandal:
Here are other examples of right-wing media appearing to follow this methodology:
Fox News praised Gov. Chris Christie's handling of the bridge scandal plaguing his administration as a "lesson in leadership" despite the many lingering questions surrounding his office's involvement in the story.
Gov. Christie held a nearly two-hour long press conference on January 9 amidst allegations that a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, NJ may have been orchestrated by his administration as political retribution. Christie has denied involvement for months, and the story exploded into a full-blown scandal on January 8 when emails and text messages published by a local paper suggested that Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority colluded to close access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create massive gridlock.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Christie's press conference, saying it "really indicated to many what leadership looked like after facing a crisis."
The Fox hosts went on to argue that the Obama administration could learn a lot from Christie's "brilliant" response:
Not all media was as taken with Christie's performance. In contrast to Fox, The New York Times' editorial board wrote that Christie's press conference left "plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer." According to The Times, Christie's "version of reality simply does not add up" and that until "full and conclusive investigation can restore public trust" Christie "has zero credibility":
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie's top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
The email documents released on Wednesday were heavily redacted. Why? And when will the full emails be made public?
Why did Mr. Christie insist that the traffic snarl was connected to a "traffic study," even after Port Authority officials denied there was any such study? Did he try to get the Port Authority to stop its own internal investigation of the problem?
NBC News had similar concerns, reporting that in the press conference Christie did not "resolve the mystery behind the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September" or why local officials working to investigate the jam "got no help," listing six "of the most pressing" questions that Christie left unanswered.
From the January 9 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the January 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Politico reports today that The Senate Conservatives Fund has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" buying one of conservative radio host Mark Levin's books. According to FEC filings, the Fund has spent $427,000 since September 10th on copies of Levin's 2009 book Liberty and Tyranny.
From the January 9 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.