On January 15, 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan review of its findings in an investigation of the September 11, 2012, attacks on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Much of the report dispels myths perpetuated by Fox News over the last sixteen months.
A six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick destroyed several myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, myths often propagated by conservative media and their allies in Congress to politicize the attack against the Obama administration.
Since the September 2012 attacks, right-wing media have seized upon various inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong talking points about Benghazi. Some of those talking points made their way into the mainstream, most notably onto CBS' 60 Minutes, earning the network the Media Matters' 2013 "Misinformer of the Year" title for its botched report.
Kirkpatrick's series, titled "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," debunks a number of these right-wing talking points based on "months of investigation" and "extensive interviews" with those who had "direct knowledge of the attack." Among other points, Kirkpatrick deflates the claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the attacks and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack:
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Fox News, scores of Republican pundits, and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), among others, dragged then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice through the mud for citing talking points that mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video on Sunday morning news programs following the attacks. Despite right-wing media claims to the contrary, however, Kirkpatrick stated that the attack on the Benghazi compound was in "large part" "fueled" by the anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. He wrote (emphasis added):
The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.
Another talking point that right-wing media used to accuse the Obama administration of a political cover-up was the removal of Al Qaeda from Rice's morning show talking points. Kirkpatrick, however, affirmed in his NYTimes report that Al Qaeda was not involved in the attack in Benghazi (emphasis added):
But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda's international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker's boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.
Kirkpatrick also dispelled the notion that the attack on the compound was carefully planned, writing that "the attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs."
This NYTimes report should lay to rest these long-debunked yet oft-repeated talking points on the part of both right-wing media and their conservative allies.
For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attack, read The Benghazi Hoax, the e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.
As part of the latest hoax about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News is distorting a document recently unearthed by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
Fox and Judicial Watch are trying to keep alive the phony right-wing narrative that the Obama administration somehow covered up the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed.
A December 12 FoxNews.com article about the Judicial Watch documents says, "Newly released documents show an official at the State Department urged a contractor providing security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi not to respond to media inquiries, in the wake of the September 2012 terrorist attack."
Thus far, the only portion of the "documents" that Judicial Watch has released is an out-of-context, three-sentence quote from an email sent by State Department contracting officer Jan Visintainer to Blue Mountain Group, a firm that helped provide security at the diplomatic post in Benghazi. The email is dated September 26, 2012 -- about two weeks after the attacks.
In reality, the quote from the email shows that Blue Mountain Group first suggested declining to speak with the media, and Visintainer agreed that this was the correct course. Visintainer also said he spoke about the matter with public affairs personnel at the State Department.
Here is the entirety of the quote cited by Judicial Watch and Fox News:
"Thank you so much for informing us about the media inquiries. We notified our public affairs personnel that they too may receive some questions. We concur with you that at the moment the best way to deal with the inquiries is to either be silent or provide no comments."
Yet, in a blog post misleadingly titled "State Dept. Ordered Benghazi Security Co. to Dodge Media," Judicial Watch called this email "scandalous."
No matter. Fox News and others in the conservative media are more than happy to forward this latest exaggeration to continue to push their Benghazi hoax.
Image via Steve Rhodes
From the November 26 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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From the November 25 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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From the November 7 edition of CNN's New Day:
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CNN and Fox News repeatedly aired Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)'s threat to hold up presidential nominations unless witnesses to the 2012 Benghazi attacks are made available for questioning. The senator's implication -- that no witnesses have yet been questioned -- went unchallenged until CNN's Wolf Blitzer finally got Graham to admit that survivors of the attacks were in fact questioned by Congress earlier this month.
On October 28, Graham announced that he would block all executive branch nominees until survivors of the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya have been questioned by Congress. Graham appeared on Fox's Fox & Friends Monday morning, claiming:
GRAHAM: Fourteen months later, the people who survived the attack in Benghazi have not been made available to the U.S. Congress for oversight purposes.
Fox News continued to amplify Graham's rhetoric on Greta van Susteren's On The Record. Van Susteren noted on the October 28 edition of her show that Graham is "threatening to hold up all nominations for federal government positions ... until survivors of the Benghazi attack appear before Congress."
CNN briefly followed suit. The October 29 edition of CNN's New Day featured a report on Graham's threats from John King, who said that Graham "is saying, 'fine, you don't want to send them up to testify, I'm going to block almost every nomination if not every nomination going through the Senate."
But when Graham appeared on CNN's The Situation Room later that day, host Wolf Blitzer finally asked Graham if he was aware of any Benghazi witnesses who had been questioned by Congress. Graham responded, "It's my understanding that the survivors, the State Department personnel who survived the consulate attack, one of that group has been interviewed by the House, and the CIA agents at the annex have not been interviewed by the Intelligence Committee of the House and the Senate."
From the October 28 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson:
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From the September 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the September 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow used the anniversary of the September 11 attacks to smear President Obama with the accusation that "he hates us," but was elected because Americans suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.
In a discussion on Fox Business' Varney & Co. about the anniversary of the September 11 terror attack, host Stuart Varney asked Ablow whether America's psyche had changed in the twelve years after the attack. Ablow responded that America suffers from a "captive mentality" like Stockholm Syndrome. As evidence, Ablow pointed to the election of Obama, who he claimed "doesn't even like us, he hates us," concluding that "when things get bad enough," America "will elect a patriot" (emphasis added):
ABLOW: Yes, but I hope not irrevocably so. Because I think what it set in motion is a kind of captive mentality. The same kind of thing that happens when a plane is hijacked and people aboard say "You know what? I am starting to think like the people who took this plane over." Why? Because they want to be safe and they want to endear themselves to their adversaries. And I think that the whole Obama apology tour, the election of Barack Obama was a manifestation of us wanting to say, "Look, we are not that bad, don't hurt us. Here is this guy, how bad can we be? He doesn't even like us, he hates us and we are electing him president."
CHARLES PAYNE (Fox Business contributor): When do we come out of this Stockholm Syndrome that you are talking about, when do we escape it?
ABLOW: It's good to be with another psychiatrist. Stockholm Syndrome -- We escape it when things get bad enough from that failed psychological attempt. Right? what is it? It's a form of denial. Bad enough that, just like an alcoholic falling on the pavement, you say, "You know what, oh my God, this didn't work. Trying to dodge and weave around who we are and pretend we're other than that by electing someone friendly to adversaries is not working, hence we will elect a patriot, someone very high on the Constitution and someone who isn't afraid to use power when it's indicated." And then we'll set things right.
Since the September 11 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News has played the key role in wrongfully framing that tragedy as a political scandal.
Conservative activists and elected officials have praised the network for their focus and said that without Fox, the Benghazi attacks never would have been as big of a story. For their part, Fox employees have often patted themselves on the back over their coverage while criticizing the "media at large beyond Fox News" for not giving the story more attention.
But Fox's coverage has not been entirely monolithic. On several key occasions, some of Fox's own on-air hosts and guests -- including hosts Shepard Smith, Geraldo Rivera, and Juan Williams, military analyst Jack Keane, and guest Thomas Ricks -- contradicted the network's typical mix of lies, spin, and conspiracy theories to inject actual facts about the Benghazi attacks and the administration's response.
On the evening of September 11, 2012, a heavily armed group of terrorists allegedly led by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia attacked a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith were killed in the assault. The remaining members of the mission were evacuated to a nearby CIA facility, which came under artillery fire early the next morning. Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both CIA contractors who had served as U.S. Navy Seals, were killed in that attack.
At roughly 10:24 p.m.* on the east coast, Mitt Romney's campaign released a statement accusing President Obama of "sympathizing" with the attackers; this politicization was immediately echoed by the right-wing noise machine.
Over the past year, conservative media figures and activists, led by Fox News, have repeatedly created and promoted lies, smears, and conspiracies related to the Benghazi attack. While the attack raised meaningful questions about how we can best protect U.S. diplomats in dangerous environments, the right has instead sought to use what happened in Benghazi and in the days that followed to bring down President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other members of the administration.
Much of the criticism has revolved around two lines of attack: That the Obama administration downplayed the role that terrorists played in the attack, and that the administration held back additional U.S. military forces that could have been used to save lives. In reality, President Obama referred to the attack as an "act of terror" during his September 12 Rose Garden speech, and U.S. officials have made clear that all available and appropriate forces were sent as quickly as possible. As former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz wrote in their book Under Fire:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
In this report, Media Matters chronicles:
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens used the possibility of military intervention in Syria to rewrite the history of the Iraq war, falsely claiming the Bush administration's case against Iraq was supported by solid evidence.
Stephens, the Journal's foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor for international opinion pages, criticized the Obama administration's case for intervention in Syria by comparing it to Bush's decision to invade Iraq, which he claimed was made based on "highly detailed" intelligence revealing weapons of mass destruction. Stephens claimed the "testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix" supported the Bush administration's case for war, and accusations that the Bush administration lied were "libel" and "cheap slander":
Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on whitehouse.gov. The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."
By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.
The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.
So what should President Obama say when he addresses the country Tuesday night? He could start by apologizing to President Bush for years of cheap slander. He won't.
But Hans Blix told CNN in 2004 that the Bush administration "chose to ignore" his team's concerns about the lack of solid evidence in favor of war, and that prior to the invasion the evidence of WMDs in Iraq was revealed to be "shaky":
"I think it's clear that in March, when the invasion took place, the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart," Hans Blix, who oversaw the agency's investigation into whether Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Blix described the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 as "shaky," and said he related his opinion to U.S. officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"I think they chose to ignore us," Blix said.
Furthermore, an investigation into the lead up to the Iraq war found that statements President Bush made about Iraq misled the American people and Congress by inaccurately depicting the available intelligence. The 2008 Senate Intelligence Committee's report found that "policymakers' statements" in particular misrepresented the nature of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Bush's allegations "that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership" were "not substantiated by the intelligence." The report also found that statements by Bush and Vice President Cheney indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists for use against the U.S. "were contradicted by available intelligence information."
While there are serious questions about the wisdom of using military force in Syria, any debate must include the facts -- not the Journal's fanciful rewriting of history.
From the September 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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