From the July 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News ran with the unsubstantiated and explicitly discredited claim that the U.S. might have paid a cash ransom to an Afghani militant group in exchange for the recent release of an American soldier, an assertion that has been repeatedly denied by the White House.
During the June 9 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum and Fox's senior political analyst Brit Hume hypothesized that in addition to releasing five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. may have paid a cash ransom to the Haqqani network, Bergdahl's captors. Hume claimed that because the Haqqani network "is interested in money," "that gives rise to the question, which the administration has yet to answer, as to whether in addition to the release of these five Taliban prisoners, some ransom was paid."
MacCallum ran with the ransom idea:
MACCALLUM: A lot of layers and a lot of questions. And I would imagine Congress would have questions about that money as well.
HUME: Of course.
MACCALLUM: Whether or not they would have been put in the loop on that, right?
HUME: Sooner or later that question's going to be asked to somebody under oath, or perhaps the administration may come out and say, 'Yes, in addition we paid X amount of money to get this guy freed because we thought it was so important. And we'll see how people react to that.
MACCALLUM: But that raises the question then, why would you need to release these Taliban prisoners if that was part of the deal? And that goes back to perhaps some of these other questions about --
HUME: Well if it turns out that ransom was paid -- and this is speculation -- if it turns out ransom was paid, and that was what did the trick, that really does, as you suggest Martha, sharpen the question of well, why did you need to release these Taliban starting-five, as they've been called by some people?
Fox even floated their theory in the following segment with Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy (CA), asking McCarthy, "What about this other question with the money ... how will you get to the bottom of the question whether or not money was exchanged?"
It's a conspiracy theory that parrots Fox contributor Oliver North's unsourced speculation that "somebody paid a ransom" for Bergdahl -- and one that has already been explicitly debunked.
The White House has flatly denied that money was exchanged for Bergdahl's release. While a ransom was previously considered as a possibility in the prisoner swap negotiations, a National Security Staff spokesperson explicitly denied the idea last week, according to the Houston Chronicle:
The White House countered Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Clear Lake, in a statement Friday after the congressman had questioned whether President Barack Obama paid ransom for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release.
"The United States did not provide money in return for Sgt. Bergdahl," National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
In fact, after Fox's lengthy speculation, an official White House Twitter account reiterated the fact that no cash was exchanged in response to right-wing claims:
From the June 6 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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From the June 6 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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From the June 6 edition of MSNBC's The Reid Report:
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A growing number of mainstream media outlets are holding Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accountable for flip-flopping on his support of a deal to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban capitivity.
McCain joined in the right-wing outcry that followed the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member remaining in enemy hands from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling Politico that he "would not have made this deal" if he was the president and denying that he was ever told of the potential prisoner exchange in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.
McCain's rejection of the deal stood in stark contrast to his position on the issue just months ago, when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he "would be inclined to support" "an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," depending on the details -- an inconsistency the media initially missed.
He went on to day the exchange was "something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain's February position was already a change from the position he held in January 2012, when Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings reported that McCain "reluctantly came around" on the idea of exchanging the five Guantanamo detainees in question for Bergdahl.
After Media Matters raised the issue of McCain's inconsistency on Bergdahl's release, CNN's Jake Tapper noted McCain's conflicting stances on the prisoner exchange on the June 5 edition of The Lead. The New York Times wrote that McCain "switched positions for maximum political advantage." And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow criticized McCain for standing "against his own idea."
Days later, Tapper went on to press McCain on the inconsistency. McCain disputed the "flip-flop charge" by noting that he'd made his support contingent on "the details." McCain said the details of the deal that secured Bergdahl's release "are outrageous" and "unacceptable."
This attempt to rewrite history was short-lived. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in the following morning, pointing out that "the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners -- was known at the time he indicated his support" and stamping McCain's statements with the upside-down Pinnochio that denotes "flip flop":
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can't object to the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners-that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.
The New York Times called McCain on "switch[ing] positions for maximum political advantage" and Politico included the flip-flop in a list of times McCain has complained of misrepresentation this week.
From the June 6 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News provided ample coverage of two separate instances of U.S. Marines imprisoned in Mexico on gun charges, using the stories to criticize the Obama administration for what was deemed an inadequate response to each situation. But Fox paid no attention to a nearly identical case of a jailed U.S. soldier that occurred during the Bush administration.
On March 31, Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was arrested after he claimed he accidentally crossed into Mexico with personal firearms in his car, and has been held in a Mexican prison on weapons charges since that time.
Fox News heavily covered the story. A Nexis search of the network's evening programming showed that since March 31, there have been at least 31 segments about Tahmooressi's detainment, including phone interviews with Tahmooressi, his mother, and his friends. Fox host Greta Van Susteren demanded President Obama take action to free the Marine on the May 20 edition of Fox's On the Record. Later on the show, Fox contributor Allen West bashed Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as "neutered pajama-boy leaders."
More recently, Fox ramped up its criticism of the purported lack of action to more absurd levels, conducting polling asking whether the border with Mexico should be closed until Tahmooressi is returned, and one Fox host going so far as to suggest that an exchange of "five jailed illegal immigrants" with Mexico for his return, a reference to the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity after several years.
And in 2012, after U.S. Marine Jon Hammar was arrested in Mexico for carrying an antique shotgun across the border, Fox devoted at least 35 evening programming segments to Hammar, according to Nexis, often similarly complaining about the Obama administration response.
But when Spc. Richard Torres was arrested after crossing into Mexico in a similar alleged accident in mid-2008, Fox News' evening shows voiced no such criticism over the failure of the Bush administration to act quickly to secure his release. In fact, a search of Nexis shows that they never covered the story at all, an omission that cannot be explained away by differences in the cases, as the circumstances of are remarkably similar.
From a May 30 CNN report on Tahmooressi's arrest:
The Marine's mom said he accidentally crossed into Mexico with three personal firearms -- all bought legally in the U.S.
The 25-year-old had intended to drive to meet friends in San Ysidro, California, on March 31.
He was moving from Florida to California in the hope of getting a job and continuing treatment he had just begun for post traumatic stress related to his two combat tours, she said.
With all his possessions in his truck, Tahmooressi accidentally drove across the border, she said.
When he realized his mistake, his mother said, he dialed 911 and asked the operator to help him. No help came, Jill Tahmooressi said. Her son first encountered Mexican customs agents, she said, and he believed they understood that he'd made an innocent error. They seemed to be getting an escort car to help him, she said.
But officers with the Mexican military interfered, she told "New Day," and her son was arrested.
And from a May 10, 2008, Houston Chronicle report on Torres' arrest:
When he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, Spc. Richard Torres was carrying a small arsenal in his car: an AR-15 assault rifle, a .45-caliber handgun, 171 rounds of ammunition, several cartridges and three knives.
At a checkpoint, Torres didn't try to hide the weapons. But he insisted he hadn't meant to cross the border with the guns, which in Mexico are restricted for use only by the military. While searching for parking in El Paso, he said, he inadvertently drove onto a bridge leading to Mexico and could not turn around.
Now the Iraq veteran is in a Mexican jail while a judge decides whether to believe his account: that an experienced soldier accidentally ended up in a border town where drug cartels pay top dollar for exactly the kind of high-powered weapons he happened to have.
Torres ultimately spent a little more than a month in jail before he was released.
Methodology: On June 4, Media Matters searched Fox News Network transcripts separately for "Andrew Tahmooressi," "Jon Hammar," and "Richard Torres" for all available dates. Thirty-one results were found for "Andrew Tahmooressi," 35 results were found for "Jon Hammar," and zero results were found for "Richard Torres."
Since the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, media have scandalized the administration's negotiations with the Taliban, conducted through a third-party, despite the fact that foreign policy experts and military leaders have long acknowledged the necessity of such negotiations.
From the June 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the June 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the June 4 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Conservatives have responded to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by attacking his father, questioning President Obama's sanity and patriotism, and calling for impeachment.
Allen West has a suggestion for how to respond to the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: give Allen West's political action committee money.
West, a Fox News contributor and former Republican congressman, sent an email today to his mailing list criticizing the Obama administration for securing the release of Bergdahl from the Taliban in Afghanistan in a prisoner swap.
He wrote that in getting Bergdahl released, "America now negotiates with terrorists" -- a statement that ignores the country's long and bipartisan history of such negotiations -- and added: "Today is just another sad day where our own Commander-in-chief is more dangerous than the enemies we're fighting."
West segued from calling Obama worse than terrorists because he negotiated the release of a captured soldier to soliciting money for his political action committee, The Allen West Guardian Fund. West wrote: "I have just the solution ... Will you make an immediate contribution of $25, $50, $100 or more right away to Allen West Guardian Fund?"
West, who served in the Army but left under a cloud of controversy, has advocated that "the U.S. House of Representatives should file articles of impeachment against Barack Hussein Obama" in response to the Bergdahl negotiations. He also suggested that Bowe Bergdahl's father may have claimed the White House for Islam by saying a common Arabic phrase during his Rose Garden appearance with the president to announce his son's release from captivity.
In December 2013, as Paul Waldman noted, West criticized President Obama for purportedly having "abandoned" Bergdahl. West wrote: "This past POW/MIA national day of recognition, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated a pledge to secure the young Army NCO being held captive, but have there been any actions? Any time, attention, or even mention from the Commander-in-Chief? Nah, no camera highlights in it for him." He later admonished readers to "not forget" Bergdahl because he deserves "our time and attention."
Media Matters previously documented how conservatives pundits have raised funds for their organizations by invoking the September 2012 Benghazi attacks.
Fox News pitched the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as "Benghazi 2.0" after an Obama administration spokesperson declined to take a stand on whether Bergdahl is guilty of desertion before all the facts are in because, "like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty"
Since the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only prisoner of war left in the Afghan conflict, in a prisoner swap, Republican strategists have led a coordinated campaign to hype claims that Bergdahl was a deserter. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf pointed out that the allegations have not yet been fully investigated and the government is "still establishing a fact pattern," but Fox has already began to aggressively hype the argument and accuse the Obama administration of lying about the facts.
On the June 3 edition of The Kelly File, Fox News' strategic analyst Col. Ralph Peters attacked the "arrogance" of Harf's statement, framing it as an insult to the troops and "Benghazi 2.0":
PETERS: Megyn, what you just saw and heard was Benghazi 2.0. A political flunkie in the State Department insisting that she knows better what happened on the ground than the soldiers on the front line or the people in a firefight. The arrogance is boundless. You know, I wish -- the Obama administration, if it can't have the grace to be decent about anything else, at least stop insulting our troops. She called those soldiers from the front lines liars. And by the way, she's the liar!
Fox & Friends had a similar take. Also responding to Harf's statement, co-host Steve Doocy called State's refusal to issue an immediate verdict on allegations of Bergdahl's desertion "unbelievable," putting the claims in the context of Fox's favorite Benghazi myth:
DOOCY: And how familiar does that sound: 'Don't listen to the guys on the ground.' Wait a minute, that's what we did in Benghazi, remember?
Doocy was attempting to jump off of a portion of the right-wing media's Benghazi mythology that has been so consistently repeated by Fox that, to many conservatives, it has become impervious to facts.
For more than a year, the network has been fixated on a set of administration talking points that then U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used on September 16, 2012 and that linked the Benghazi attacks to an anti-Muslim video. Previous investigations have found that the talking points reflected the intelligence community's best assessment at the time and that further information only became available 2 days later, after the FBI disseminated its interviews with eyewitnesses -- which quickly led the administration to update its assessment. Yet Fox has continued to ignore reality and imagine the delay was part of an elaborate plot to conceal the truth about the attacks.
Fox has seen first hand how ignoring reality and doubling down on misinformation can get results. The network's revisionist history of how information about the Benghazi attack was disseminated; it succeeded in convincing House Republicans to establish a select committee on Benghazi based on a false attack.
But like Fox's Benghazi scandal-mongering, this supposed "Benghazi 2.0" falls flat in context.
Far from calling "soldiers on the front lines liars" or suggesting the administration won't "listen to the guys on the ground," Harf was simply echoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to note that Bergdahl remains "innocent until proven guilty" but that the appropriate investigation will take place:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) according to those around him, his platoon mates, his squad mates, company mates, they said he walked off the base.
MS. HARF: Lucas, some of them - other - there are conflicting reports out there about this. Look --
QUESTION: Are there?
MS. HARF: There are. Go Google it on the web and you'll find a ton of conflicting reports. The fact is we're still establishing a fact pattern about what happened, how he ended up in Taliban captivity. So when he is able to share those, as Chairman Dempsey said today, he will. He also said, like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our army's leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family.
So I think people need to be really careful about believing every second or third-hand report out there, and also what the President, what the Secretary, what Chairman Dempsey have said: Regardless of how he went missing, it is our responsibility to him to bring him home, period.