The House Select Committee on Benghazi has been unable to corroborate Sharyl Attkisson's latest "bombshell" Benghazi exclusive, which claimed that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents" about the 2012 attacks before they were turned over to investigators. According to the committee's ranking Democrat, a "second witness" allegedly undermined the report.
In September, Attkisson reported for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal that former State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell alleged he had witnessed an "after hours session" at State Department headquarters at which he was told that employees had been ordered to "pull out anything that might put anybody" in the department's leadership "in a bad light" before documents were handed over to the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the attacks. Maxwell claimed the actions were "unethical." Fox News quickly trumpeted the story as "a smoking gun of a potential cover-up," claiming that it showed State had been "scrubbing the documents" which were "destroyed" on Clinton's behalf.
The implication that documents were withheld as Maxwell claimed -- which the State Department told Attkisson was "totally without merit" -- never really added up. Maxwell, one of four State employees to be disciplined for their role in the Benghazi attacks, had testified before two House committees and given multiple interviews in the 18 months before the Attkisson piece. But he reportedly never mentioned the alleged "after hours session" in those previous statements, instead focusing on how he was supposedly scapegoated to protect higher-ups at State from accountability. Slate's David Weigel called the discrepancy "baffling," writing of the account, "Holy ... what the ... why not mention that sooner? Previously, this was a story of a guy who was railroaded in order to protect the Clintons. It could have been a story about a guy who witnessed Clinton allies hiding evidence. ... Why hold off on the 'scrubbing' until now?"
Now, new evidence calls the story further into question. In a November 2014 letter just published by Mother Jones on the eve of the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings writes to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), stating that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a "second witness that he claimed was present during this document review" who could "corroborate his allegations," but that the "second witness" denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleges that Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff.
In the letter, after highlighting an October 17 Fox News interview in which Gowdy said he planned to investigate Maxwell's claims, Cummings writes:
In fact, several weeks before you made those public statements, your staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell, but they did not include, invite, or even notify Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for your staff a second witness that he claimed was present during this document review at the State Department. Mr. Maxwell identified this person as someone who could corroborate his allegations and someone he believes is credible.
Then, on October 16 -- one day before you appeared on Fox News -- your staff interviewed this second witness, again without including Democrats. However, this second witness did not substantiate Mr. Maxwell's claims. To the contrary, he did not recall having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, and he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department. He further reported that he never engaged or was aware of any destruction of documents.
I did not discover any of this information from you or your staff but from the witnesses themselves. When my staff inquired with your staff about what they learned from the witness identified by Mr. Maxwell, your staff stated that he had worked at the State Department during the relevant time period. Beyond that, however, they reported: "we learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don't plan to conduct any additional follow-up."
I am sure you understand -- as a former prosecutor -- that evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their allegations depends on whether the information they provide can be corroborated. Although your staff stated that they learned nothing "of note," in fact they learned that this claim was not substantiated by a key witness. If our goal is the truth and not a preconceived political narrative, these interviews should have been conducted jointly, with both Democrats and Republicans present.
Gowdy has not directly addressed Cummings' claims about Maxwell's story, either in a staff statement or in a letter to the committee's Democrats released after Cummings' letter was published by Mother Jones. He instead warned that Cummings' "characterization of witness testimony... not only risks an adverse effect on the investigation but could also negatively impact the witness' careers."
Research provided by Sophia Tesfaye and Cal Colgan.
The rhetoric around the debunked right wing media meme about the existence of "no-go zones" throughout France, the United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe, ratcheted up last week. Driven by politics, viewers, listeners, and page views, even the multiple mea culpas from Fox News just last weekend haven't stopped the myth.
By the conservative telling, in these supposed "Muslim only" enclaves the population has "take[n] over parts of the country, entire portions, towns," (allegedly more than 700 in France alone!), and outside police are forbidden as extremism and Sharia Law flourish. And now, they present an active threat to the United States and our American values.
"If people don't want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they're really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities," Louisiana Governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential contender Bobby Jindal said last week, continuing, "What they're really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat." When criticized for the bogus claim, he pointed to the work of a foreign policy think tank led by Fox News contributor John Bolton.
On his radio show, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins warned that America has already succumbed to the spread of "no-go zones," blaming a failure to assimilate into American culture. "There are some areas in this country that, in effect, that has occurred. Dearborn, Michigan, is one of the places. There are some places in Minneapolis," he said. The Muslim-bashing continued on conservative outlets like Breitbart News and WND, which continued to post stories with inflammatory headlines like, "ISLAM EXPERTS: NO-GO ZONES LOOMING FOR AMERICA; Back Jindal's view non-assimilation is trouble because Muslims 'supremacist at core,'" and "EUROPEAN 'NO-GO' ZONES REMAIN UNASSIMILATED HOTBEDS OF RADICAL ISLAM."
While the narrative is long on fear mongering, it is short on actually examining the very real societal barriers, stigma, and racism that Muslim immigrants to Europe and their second and third generation children face as they actually try to assimilate. These barriers are mostly erected by the same society and government that accuses them of not wanting to assimilate, instead fueling Islamophobia and isolation.
It's compounded in France by decades of broken promises for investment, job training programs, improved schools, rhetoric of stemming the growing tide of racism, even calls for a Marshall Plan for the working-class suburbs that surround Paris. Instead, the problem has been left to fester, further isolating the Muslim community, as the far-right European anti-Muslim movement continues to grow.
I had the opportunity to work for a number of years on a project through the French American Foundation and the American Embassy in France aimed at helping and encouraging young minority candidates, many of whom were especially inspired by President Obama's election. A majority of them were Muslim and from the banlieue. Contrary to conservative propaganda, they saw themselves as French first, period. They were passionate about their county, incredibly smart, insightful and committed to serving France by being a part of the political system, and each talked about having to work overtime to illustrate their assimilation in the face of increasing racial tensions in France.
CNN contributor Newt Gingrich revived a debunked claim about Boko Haram's designation as a terror group in order to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Speaking to attendees at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gingrich claimed that the Obama administration, currently and during Clinton's tenure at the State Department, is not doing enough to confront terrorism threats. As evidence, Gingrich pointed to Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group based in Nigeria, saying, "Boko Haram has ten thousand fighters, and last year Boko Haram killed more people than Ebola. But the State Department for years, under Secretary Clinton, wouldn't even list them as a terrorist group."
The implicit argument of Gingrich's attack is dishonest -- experts, including a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria appointed by President Bush, opposed designating Boko Haram a terror group out of concern it would empower the extremist group. Instead, in 2012 the State Department under Clinton designated the individual leaders of Boko Haram as "foreign terrorists." Reuters reported that the move was historic, noting it was the "first time [State] has blacklisted members of the Islamist group." Boko Harm went on to receive designation as a terrorist group in 2013.
Gingrich's smear was right out of the conservative media playbook. Fox News and other right-wing outlets spent considerable time suggesting Clinton and the Obama administration tried to appease Boko Haram, even suggesting the administration was partially responsible for the failure to save 300 young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
Fox News personalities attacked President Obama for not using the words "Islamic" or "Islam" to describe terrorism in his 2015 State of the Union address, but they ignored that the official GOP response, delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), didn't mention Islam either.
What happened to the extended victory lap?
Convinced that last year's midterm losses for Democrats signaled the effective end of Barack Obama's presidency and a resounding victory for all-things conservative and Republican ("On Fox News, there were smiles all around"), just three weeks into the new year Fox News is left wondering what happened to the "lamest" of the lame duck presidents. The one Fox News was going to mock for two more years while trying to tarnish his legacy.
Rebounding to approval ratings not seen since 2013, Obama, instead of floundering, is riding a crest of post-midterm successes, while Americans reward him for the country's rebounding economy. The result: Obama's the one quietly circling the victory track.
"You can hardly tell from our NBC/WSJ poll that the Republican Party was the big winner from the midterm elections just two months ago," noted NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann this week. "Somehow, Obama and the Democrats stole the Republicans' post-election honeymoon."
If that didn't sting badly enough, Fox at the same time continues to wrestle with the unfolding crisis over the network's demonstrably false and stunning claim that some parts of Europe, including in France as well as Britain's second largest city, Birmingham, have become Islamic and are "no-go zones" for non-Muslims, including for British law enforcement.
The misstep became an international punch line, with observers in Europe guffawing at Fox News' trademark ignorance. "When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fool's Day," British Prime Minister David Cameron told ITV News. "This guy is clearly a complete idiot," he said, referring to Steve Emerson, who Fox had hosted to discuss recent terror attacks in Paris.
In a rare move for Fox, it apologized repeatedly for its colossal "no-go zone" blunder. Yet the story continues to haunt the network: Paris' mayor, Anne Hidalgo, announced on Tuesday that the city might sue Fox News over the bogus claim that portions of Paris remain cordoned off from non-Muslims. "The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced," Hidalgo told CNN.
Bottom line: It's not even February and Fox News is already having a really bad year.
From the January 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News established close ties with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as each used one another to amplify smears against the Obama administration related to the Benghazi attacks in 2012. Now Graham is cashing in the credibility and profile Fox and Benghazi helped him build, announcing he's exploring a run for president in 2016.
Days after Fox News apologized for promoting an embarrassing falsehood about England having "no-go zones" controlled by Muslim extremists, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) repeated the myth during a speech and on CNN.
Last week, frequent Fox guest Steve Emerson -- part of the network's stable of extremists who lead its conversation about Islam -- provoked international outrage with the false claim that the city of Birmingham is "totally Muslim" and a place "where non-Muslims just simply don't go in." (British Prime Minister David Cameron described Emerson as a "complete idiot," for example.)
As the Emerson controversy raged on, another Fox News guest argued that governments should "put razor wire around" the mythical "no-go zones" and catalogue the residents. On Saturday, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro apologized for Emerson's "incorrect" comments, telling viewers, "We deeply regret these errors and apologize to the people of Birmingham, our viewers and all who have been offended."
Despite Fox's retraction, the myth of no-go zones apparently lives on. During a speech in London, Gov. Jindal reportedly alleged that some immigrants are seeking "to colonize western countries, because setting up your own enclave and demanding recognition of a no-go zone are exactly that."
Appearing in an interview from London, Jindal also told CNN correspondent Max Foster that he's heard "from folks here" that "there are neighborhoods where women don't feel comfortable going in without veils" and "where police are less likely to go."
Foster challenged Jindal's assertion, noting that "I've lived here a long time, I don't know of any no-go zones for non-Muslims." In response, Jindal said "the radical left absolutely wants to pretend like this problem's not here."
Appearing on The Bill Press Show, Media Matters senior fellow Karen Finney discussed how Jindal was still repeating the falsehood.
Jindal's repetition of a Fox-fueled myth is representative of the role the network plays in misinforming conservatives. Falsehoods about death panels in health care reform, weapons of mass destruction, economics, and leaders like President Barack Obama, Secretary John Kerry and Secretary Hillary Clinton have all been grist for the mill on Fox and have become a part of conservative folklore.
From the January 16 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News has repeatedly pushed the debunked myth that 30 percent of released Guantanamo Bay detainees return to terror. In reality, the estimated number is around 7 percent, and has declined during Obama's time in office.
Following a firestorm of media criticism, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch backtracked on controversial tweets he made following terrorist attacks in Paris, France that all Muslims should be held accountable for terrorism.
In January, terrorist attacks in France killed 17 people, including an attack on the satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. Rupert Murdoch responded to the attack by tweeting that "Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible." The tweet was roundly criticized and condemned as "incredibly irresponsible."
On January 14, Murdoch walked back his controversial comments on twitter writing that he "did not mean all Muslims responsible for Paris attack" but that the "Muslim community must debate and confront extremism":
Certainly did not mean all Muslims responsible for Paris attack. But Muslim community must debate and confront extremism.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 14, 2015
Tens of thousands of jihadi victims are Muslims and millions fighting back. But important for people of all faiths to address the threat.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 14, 2015
But Murdoch's response ignored Muslims who are speaking out against extremism. Following the Paris attacks, Muslim organizations as well as leaders of Arab states denounced the attacks as "brutal and cowardly." And as Media Matters' Karen Finney explained, Murdoch's rhetoric "alienates rather than engages Muslims who both regularly denounce and are often the victims of Islamic terrorism."
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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From the January 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the January 13 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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