The Washington Post reported this week that WJLA, ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, has taken a "subtle but noticeable turn to the right" since being taken over by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. This conservative tilt was on full display this week when the channel ran a news package promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about Benghazi from reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The Washington Post piece highlighted the concerns of some staff members of local ABC affiliate WJLA, that following the finalization of the sale to Sinclair in August 2014, "some of the stories ordered by Sinclair on a 'must-run' basis don't meet the station's long tradition of non-partisan reporting." One factor in this shift to conservative partisan reporting was announced in July prior to the sale, when Sinclair hired discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson as an "independent freelance reporter" to "focus on stories that follow the money and waste watch type of investigations."
However, prior to the September 17 opening hearing of the House Benghazi Special Committee, Attkisson ran a dubious report for Sinclair that appeared on WJLA highlighting the unverifiable claims of former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell alleging that some documents were intentionally withheld from the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi:
The same day Attkisson's report ran on WJLA, Attkisson appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends where she reiterated the report's unsubstantiated accusations. Host Steve Doocy lamented that only a handful of outlets such as Fox and the Daily Signal -- the Heritage Foundation website to which Attkisson occasionally contributes -- were covering this latest so-called "Benghazi bombshell." Attkisson concluded the segment by mentioning that her report was also broadcast to "maybe 30 million local news viewers" through Sinclair's affiliate stations.
Although Sinclair's support of right-wing misinformation has been widely documented and criticized for many years, its increasing influence in local media bodes ill for objective journalism at stations like WJLA.
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Right-wing media are using President Obama's plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a "hypocrite" because he's sending "more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS"; labeling the plan "arrogant" because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to "change the subject" by "fighting a really bad flu bug."
The White House announced on September 16 that the United States would send 3,000 troops to Africa to help combat the Ebola threat. The U.S. military and broader uniformed services effort will "entail command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support."
President Obama said in a speech that "[m]ore than 2,400 men, women and children are known to have died -- and we strongly suspect that the actual death toll is higher than that ... In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It's spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic."
Conservatives responded to the plan by mocking the president and his policies:
From the September 17 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
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From the September 17 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News' embellishments of discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson's latest Benghazi conspiracy theory have become increasingly detached from reality, most recently morphing into absurd allegations that Hillary Clinton supporters "scrubbed" documents to hide evidence of a supposed State Department effort to funnel weapons to the Islamic State militants in a "mini-Iran Contra" scenario, or, as Fox puts it, "the holy grail" of scandals.
After Attkisson highlighted disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell's speculating (he "couldn't help but wonder") that State Department staff "scrubbed" damaging Benghazi documents before the initial investigation, it took just hours for Fox's coverage of the claims to morph from reiteration into full-blown allegations that Hillary Clinton's office had facilitated the destruction of key documents in violation of federal law.
Fox's own Bill O'Reilly raised doubts about whether Attkisson's story constituted a scandal, but Fox's morning show kept the conspiracy drumbeat alive on September 17 edition of Fox & Friends, escalating the speculative claims to even greater heights. Co-host Brian Kilmeade and Fox News contributor Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer speculated that the allegedly removed documents would prove that the State Department enabled an Iran-Contra-like scenario by facilitating the transfer of weapons to Islamic State militants. Insisting that "all roads lead to principal officers," Shaffer imagined that the supposed documents may hide a "direct link" to what he called a "holy grail" of Benghazi allegations, and Kilmeade concluded that "this is almost like a mini Iran-Contra thing":
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly questioned whether the latest report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, which baselessly suggested a Benghazi cover-up by State Department officials, actually constituted a "scandal."
On the September 16 edition of his Fox News show, host Bill O'Reilly invited Attkisson to discuss her "troubling accusations against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" from "a disgruntled former State Department official." After Attkisson confirmed that her source had not witnessed such actions himself, O'Reilly dismissed the conspiracy explaining that "If no documents were removed, scrubbed, if they weren't taken out or destroyed, then I don't know if there is any scandal":
Later during the segment, Fox correspondent James Rosen reported that Attkisson's source had previously failed to disclose this accusation of a cover-up and that his account "bears a lot of further investigation before it can be deemed credible":
ROSEN: One point about this matter, Democrats on the House Oversight committee, which has previously investigated Benghazi, have noted that Mr. Maxwell was formally interviewed by that panel last year with a transcript prepared and despite many opportunities to do so, Mr. Maxwell never disclosed this shocking scene of obstruction of justice by high level state department officials that he now claims to have witnessed. That omission on his part at that time, along with other issues, will ensure that if and when Mr. Maxwell testifies before the House Benghazi committee, he will face some rough sledding in cross examination.
O'REILLY: Yeah. Why didn't you say it when you had the first opportunity? Yeah, I got it.
ROSEN: Yes now, all of this is not to say that what Mr. Maxwell claims to have witnessed never happen, just that it bears a lot of further investigation before it can be deemed credible.
From the September 16 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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Right-wing media accused President Obama of "advising" and "strategizing" for the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in reaction to reports that Obama said the group had made a strategic error in provoking support for U.S. military action against them.
Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
Fox News' live coverage of the Senate Armed Services hearing on U.S. strategy against the Islamic State repeatedly cut away when Senate Democrats held the floor.
On September 16, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the U.S. campaign to counter the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Fox News' America's Newsroom aired live coverage of the hearing for nearly 40 minutes without interruption. After opening remarks from Dempsey and Hagel, Fox aired questions from Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking majority and minority members, respectively. Yet when Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) was given the floor, Fox cut away, only rejoining footage once Republican Sen. John McCain (AZ) began questioning.
After airing more than six minutes of McCain's questions, Fox once again cut away during Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)'s time so that America's Newsroom co-host Martha McCallum could praise McCain for "obviously a very strong line of questioning."
An hour later, the network resumed coverage of the hearing only to highlight "heated" questions from another Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC).
In all, the network aired more than 16 minutes of GOP questions, while showing just over 8 minutes of Democratic questioning, according to a Media Matters count.
Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck connected an ongoing National Football League controversy surrounding domestic violence to the September 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The Fox & Friends host tweeted September 16, "Imagine if everyone that asked for transparency in the #nfl @nfl Demanded that same #transparency in our #government," adding the hashtags "#Benghazi" and "#IRS," references to the terrorist attack and the alleged targeting by the IRS of tax exempt organizations.
Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL after a video of him punching his now-wife and knocking her unconscious leaked, and the organization came under fire for not previously suspending Rice when he initially admitted to the assault. Fifteen female senators have asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to "institute a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence," and questioned whether the commissioner or other league officials may have attempted to "cover-up" evidence of the abuse.
Fox News has repeatedly attempted to claim the Obama administration engaged in a "cover up" of the Benghazi attacks, with the evening lineup alleging a "cover up" in 281 segments in the first 20 months following the attacks. Network personalities have previous invoked Benghazi in relation to meteorologists meeting with President Obama, the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, Gov. Chris Christie's bridge scandal, Yom Kippur, and Monday Night Football.
UPDATE: Hasselbeck later tweeted at the Huffington Post, which wrote up her comments:
With the House Select Committee on Benghazi scheduled to convene for its first public hearing tomorrow, Media Matters is unveiling All Questions Answered, the definitive user's guide to the committee that demonstrates how conservative inquiries into the 2012 attacks have been litigated over and over again.
You can read All Questions Answered at BenghaziHoax.com, a new Media Matters website featuring our latest research and curating nearly 1,000 pieces we have produced over the past two years chronicling and debunking the lies right-wing media have pushed about Benghazi.
Fox News and the conservative media have been politicizing Benghazi for more than two years, seeking to turn the tragic events of that night into a phony scandal in order to damage President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The network took credit for House Speaker John Boehner's decision to create the select committee, a development Fox News contributors had sought for months. In the two weeks after the announcement the network devoted over 16 hours and 27 minutes -- at least 227 segments -- to Benghazi, a value of more than $124 million.
An excerpt from All Questions Answered details how the right-wing press turned an innocuous email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes into a sham "smoking gun," leading to the creation of the committee:
Conservative media outlets were up in arms, and they were soon followed by mainstream reporters. According to this new right-wing narrative, the White House had been withholding these emails from the public and congressional committees. But what did these emails actually demonstrate?
Rhodes' job on the National Security Council was to provide communications guidance to administration officials speaking on foreign policy issues. In the wake of upheaval across the entire region, with violent protests taking place in Cairo and the attack on the United States' diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Rhodes was tasked with preparing messaging guidance for then-national security adviser Susan Rice. In the emails unveiled by Judicial Watch, Rhodes took CIA-authored talking points -- whose creation had been made public in detail a year earlier -- and turned them into a messaging document.
That no new information was revealed mattered little. Simply the perception that the Obama administration was hiding something from the public created a media firestorm.
All Questions Answered goes down the list of conservative questions about Benghazi one by one, debunking the lies and myths about the attacks and the Obama administration's response.
All Questions Answered is a supplement to Media Matters' best-selling 2013 ebook The Benghazi Hoax, which "tells in intimate detail the story of the deception created by those who fill airtime with savage punditry and pseudo-journalism and how the Republicans in charge of the investigative committees were empowered but ultimately failed to find a scandal - any kind of scandal - to tar a Democratic White House."
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.