CNN is challenging the accuracy of reporting on a supposed email from a White House aide that seemed to suggest an effort to provide political cover for the administration following the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The new revelations regarding the email comes after the allegedly flawed reporting has spread through the media.
CNN host Jake Tapper reported today that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes about Benghazi "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations." Tapper writes that the email shows that someone provided outlets like ABC News and The Weekly Standard with "inaccurate information" to make it appear that the White House was "more interested in the State Department's desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and warnings about these groups so as to not bring criticism to the State Department than Rhodes' email actually stated."
From Tapper's report:
In the email sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 9:34 p.m., obtained by CNN from a U.S. government source, Rhodes wrote:
"Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
"There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don't compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
"We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies."
You can read the email HERE.
ABC News reported that Rhodes wrote: "We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting." The Weekly Standard reported that Rhodes "responded to the group, explaining that Nuland had raised valid concerns and advising that the issues would be resolved at a meeting of the National Security Council's Deputies Committee the following morning."
Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. While Nuland, particularly, had expressed a desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and CIA warnings about the increasingly dangerous assignment, Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his email on the State Department's concerns.
The allegedly inaccurate characterizations of the Rhodes email by ABC News and The Weekly Standard were repeated in numerous media outlets, and a Republican research document.
The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal provided incomplete reporting of GOP criticism that President Obama downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. None of these newspapers provided their readers with Obama's actual comments labeling the attacks an "act of terror," thereby giving undue weight to Republican attacks.
From the May 14 edition of Fox News Channel's America's Newsroom:
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Yesterday on Fox News, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered thanks to Fox News President Roger Ailes and his colleague Lindsay Graham (R-SC), giving them credit if heightened scrutiny of the terrorist attack in Benghazi results in "a full investigation."
Host Neil Cavuto agreed with the praise for his boss' handiwork, offering confirmation for McCain's suggestion by replying "yeah... head of this network for not letting go of this."
Graham -- appearing on Greta Van Susteren's program a few hours later -- agreed with McCain's assessment, telling the On the Record host "thank God for Fox" while also praising CBS -- presumably for the reporting of Sharyl Attkisson.
The examples of McCain and Graham serve as a reminder that the network has been an active player in the politicization of the Benghazi story from the beginning. This is part of a distinctive pattern we've previously reported at Media Matters in past attempts to flame supposed Obama administration scandals, known as the Fox Cycle.
From day one, when the network distorted a timeline of the attack to attempt to justify a press statement by Mitt Romney's campaign that in conservative writer David Frum's words attempted "to score political points on the killing of American diplomats," Fox viewed Benghazi as a way to score political points against the president.
It was Fox's Megyn Kelly who linked an Obama campaign poster to a blood-smeared wall left after the attack on the diplomatic facility.
Only two weeks after the attack, Sean Hannity claimed Obama was "covering up for Al Qaeda," a charge repeated by Eric Bolling who went on to blame the president for the attack because he had "spik[ed] the football on killing Bin Laden."
In October, Fox had already turned its attention to Hillary Clinton when network analyst Ralph Peters told Bill O'Reilly: "The blood of the ambassador and the other three Americans is on Hillary Clinton's hands."
Later in the month, the hosts of The Five criticized the president for preparing a response to the attacks because it "was too little far too late" and demonstrated "an inept foreign policy."
A few days later, the hosts of Fox & Friends opined that the president might order military action against Libya to gain the upper hand in the presidential debates.
As Election Day approached, Roger Ailes' personal lawyer and Fox News contributor Peter Johnson, Jr. told the hosts of Fox & Friends that the administration may have "sacrificed Americans" for political purposes.
Fox did not let up after the election. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy asked if General Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White House to toe the company line."
McCain and Graham should be thankful that Fox from the start has viewed the tragedy in Benghazi as a political weapon to use against the White House. No claim too paranoid, no attack too unseemly. They are right; without Roger Ailes' ability to generate a scandal, the media might be discussing how to ensure our diplomatic outposts are properly protected so a tragedy like what occurred on September 11, 2012, never happens again. Instead we are now in step four of the Fox Cycle -- mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
Step six -- the story is later proven to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done -- cannot come soon enough.
Fox News accused President Obama of dismissing as a "sideshow" four Americans killed in attacks in Benghazi, Libya, by distorting remarks he made at a press conference.
During a May 13 press conference, Obama responded to a question regarding the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi and the initial talking points used to describe the attack.
Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson accused Obama of dismissing the victims of the attack as a "sideshow," using a version of Obama's response cropped by Fox:
CARLSON: Three things jump out at me. There was the question, right off the bat. The mainstream media is finally paying attention to this story. The president probably knew he was going to possibly get the question now after ABC jumped into the game last week. But to say that is a sideshow, is that offensive to the four people who died in Benghazi? If you're one of those family members today, do you think that's offensive to call this a sideshow?
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Well he said that talk--
CARLSON: We still have not apprehended anybody for those murders, number one. If he's talking about the talking points being a sideshow, you now have people saying that they were changed 12 times and what the White House said originally -- they only changed two words -- may not be the truth.
From the May 15 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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From the May 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Fox News have come to the same conclusion -- describing the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya as an "act of terror" is different, and somehow less accurate, than describing them as a terrorist attack.
On September 12, 2012, the day after the Benghazi attacks, Obama delivered a speech in the Rose Garden in which he referred to the attacks as an "act of terror," saying: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." The following day, Obama twice referred to the attacks as an act of terror, once in Colorado and once in Las Vegas.
During an appearance on Fox News' America Live, Issa accused Obama of minimizing the attacks by referring to them as an "act of terror," saying: "An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack. The truth is, this was a terrorist attack."
On Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent James Rosen shared Issa's sentiment that Obama downplayed the attacks. "Obama argued that he has been characterizing Benghazi from the get-go," he said. "But the president's words in the Rose Garden on September 12 were vague, not explicit." Rosen added: "What's more, the president spent the weeks after Olsen's testimony in campaign season continuing to steer clear of the terror label."
On September 13, 2001, former President George W. Bush described the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as an "act of terror."
Fox News anchor Bret Baier complained that President Obama's description of his administration's response to attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya attempted to rewrite history. On May 13, Obama recalled how he had previously described the attacks in the context of terrorism. Baier argued that if Obama's comments were laid out in a video timeline, "it doesn't match up to what he said today" -- but a video timeline produced by Media Matters illustrates the opposite.
Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint press conference on May 13, where Obama was asked about his administration's response to the attacks on our U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Obama pointed out that he had explicitly deemed it an "act of terror" while speaking in the Rose Garden the day after the attack. He noted how, "What we have been very clear about throughout that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were."
Baier appeared on Happening Now after Obama's press conference, where he stated, "Let me say one thing about [Obama's] timeline on talking about terror." Baier suggested that if you "set that aside" Obama's remarks in the Rose Garden - where he called Benghazi an "act of terror" - then Obama has avoided referring to Benghazi as such. Baier went on, "If you just lay it out in a timeline, what the president said and what he was asked about it, it doesn't match up to what he said today."
Media Matters indulged Baier's request for a video timeline, which reveals that Obama both called the Benghazi attacks an act of terror while emphasizing that an investigation was ongoing, just as the president said today:
Fox has misrepresented Obama's statements on whether the Benghazi attacks constitute an act of terror for the last eight months, often ignoring his remarks entirely or bizarrely claiming Obama was referring the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, not the Benghazi attacks, when he spoke from the Rose Garden.
From the May 13 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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From the May 13 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl is helping to promote a dishonest narrative regarding why then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus expressed disapproval for a set of talking points written in response to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Karl's reporting on the issue has ignored the central reason Petraeus said that he didn't like the talking points: he thought they didn't do enough to connect the attacks to demonstrations in Cairo that were triggered by an anti-Islam video. Since right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have spent months accusing the Obama administration of politically-motivated lying for stating that there was a link between the attacks and the video, this point is crucial.
According to CBS News, in a September 15 email, Petraeus wrote that "he doesn't like the talking points and he would 'just assume they not use them... This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn't even mention the Cairo warning. But it's their call.'"
The "Cairo warning" Petraeus mentioned appears to refer to the following sentence that CBS News reported was added to the original talking points but subsequently removed:
On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy [in Cairo] and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy."
As has been extensively reported, the September demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video. In the days and weeks following the attack, President Obama both referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" and offered criticism of that video for "spark[ing] outrage through the Muslim world."
It was not unreasonable for Petraeus and Obama to cite a link between the attacks and the video - according to the New York Times, the Benghazi attackers told bystanders that "that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video." In fact, the original set of talking points prepared by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that the attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
But in reporting on the same Petraeus email, Karl has left out Petraeus' stated reason for disliking the talking points and in one case allowed his interviewer to suggest that Petraeus actually opposed linking the attacks to the video.
The right-wing's Benghazi witch hunt is turning its attention to Thomas Pickering, a career diplomat, and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, in a campaign to discredit their non-partisan report on the Benghazi attacks and push for a permanent, partisan investigation -- an investigation Republicans are actively using to raise money and campaign against Democrats.
Pickering and Mullen led the State Department Accountability Review Board, which in December issued its findings as to what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya, surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on a diplomatic facility that led to the deaths of four Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported in a May 12 article that Pickering and Mullen would be the next targets of the right-wing campaign to politicize those attacks:
House Republicans on Monday plan to take another step in a widening Benghazi investigation, by asking leaders of an independent review board to agree to be questioned about their investigation of last year's attacks in Libya.
The formal request, to be submitted in letters on Monday, comes as GOP lawmakers move to discredit the investigation by the Accountability Review Board, a panel appointed under federal law last year by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to size up the adequacy of U.S. security measures and preparations at the diplomatic mission that was overrun in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist assault.
This move to discredit the Accountability Review Board and push for a permanent investigation comes after Victoria Toensing, a Republican lawyer who represented a "whistleblower" who on May 8 testified for the third time about the attacks, penned a Weekly Standard blog post challenging Pickering and Mullen's report:
The White House has touted the Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation of the Benghazi massacre as a review "led by two men of unimpeachable expertise and credibility that oversaw a process that was rigorous and unsparing." In fact, the report was purposefully incomplete and willfully misleading.
The two men in charge of the ARB, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, a diplomat and military man respectively, have no meaningful investigative experience. Instead of letting the facts lead the direction of the investigation, the report appears designed to protect the interests of Hillary Clinton, the State Department higher ups, and the president.
But Toensing's criticism, the foundation of the attacks on the ARB, itself is incomplete and misleading.
According to Toensing, a fatal flaw in Pickering and Mullen's investigation was their failure to interview then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Pickering addressed that decision during a May 12 appearance on Meet the Press, saying that he did speak with Clinton and that the conversation was "more than sufficient for the preponderance of evidence that we had collected to make our decisions."
Toensing also built her call for further investigation on the discredited claim that the State Department's counterterrorism bureau was cut out of the decision-making process while the attacks were underway:
Mark Thompson, my husband's client, testified that he asked twice to be interviewed by the ARB and was not. Mr. Thompson was the deputy assistant secretary in charge of coordinating the deployment of a multi-agency team for hostage taking and terrorism attacks. Yet, he was excluded from all decisions, communications, and meetings on September 11 and 12, 2012. Why?
But during his May 8 Congressional testimony, Thompson, an assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, acknowledged that the counterterrorism bureau was involved. That acknowledgement supports an earlier statement from the head of the State Department's Counterterrorism Bureau, who said: "at no time was the Bureau sidelined or otherwise kept from carrying out its tasks."
At this point, the indictment of Pickering and Mullen amounts to little more than criticizing the length of their conversations with Clinton and manufactured outrage over how far down the chain-of-command a meeting invite went.
These and other already answered questions are the basis of the right's continued push for yet another hearing. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
Interest in the Benghazi attacks was rekindled by a hearing last week in which the former No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Tripoli, Libya, testified about his experiences the night of the attacks. The diplomat, Gregory Hicks, testified as a whistleblower, criticizing administration statements in the first days after the attack that it had grown out of a demonstration.
As a result of Mr. Hicks's testimony, Republican lawmakers said Sunday that additional whistleblowers are likely to emerge. They also are pushing for the appointment of a special select committee to probe the attacks, bringing together investigations now under way at five different GOP-controlled panels.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has called the administration's response to Benghazi--including inaccurate "talking points" used as the basis for early public statements--a "coverup" and endorsed the idea of a select committee, as did Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.). Mr. Inhofe predicted last week that the Benghazi investigation would lead to an impeachment debate.
A hint as to why the right continues to ask questions that have already been answered came May 10 with the revelation that Republicans were using the endless Benghazi investigations to raise money. Benghazi is more than just a fundraising opportunity for the right. It's also, and perhaps more importantly, an early attack on Hillary Clinton in advance of the 2016 election cycle, a fact driven home by conservative ads pivoting off Benghazi and by Fox News' graphics team:
From the May 13 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
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A Wall Street Journal editorial asked questions that have already been answered regarding military deployments in response to the Benghazi attack when it rehashed false claims that U.S. military forces were not deployed to the region around Benghazi, Libya, and suggested that political considerations hampered a quicker response.
In a May 12 editorial, the Journal suggested that military forces were not sent to respond to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi and dismissed explanations offered by the military and the Obama administration about why a quicker response was not possible:
One issue worth more examination is which U.S. and NATO military assets were available in the region to respond to the attack, and why they didn't. The White House and Pentagon insist there was nothing within range that would have made a difference, but we also know that military officers respond to the political tone that civilian officials set at the top.
Did the well-known White House desire to retreat from Libya influence the ability and willingness of military officials to respond in real time? The lives of Americans around the world could hang on the answer.
In fact, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under both Obama and George W. Bush, confirmed the Pentagon and administration assertions that military forces could not have responded to the attack in enough time to prevent any casualties. In a May 12 Face the Nation appearance, Gates argued that the notion that any military forces could have responded in time to possibly avert further attacks without being in harm's way was a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities."
Furthermore, it is known that "there was nothing within range that would've made a difference" because those assets were deployed. During a February 7 Senate hearing about the Benghazi attack Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained that President Obama ordered him to "do whatever you need to do in be able to protect our people there." In that vein, Panetta ordered two anti-terrorism security teams stationed in Spain to deploy to Libya and another special operations team to deploy to the region. The anti-terrorism team headed to Libya arrived after the attack. From the November 2, 2012 CBS News timeline of the Benghazi attack:
Midnight (6 p.m. ET) Agents arrive at the annex, which receives sporadic small-arms fire and RPG rounds over a roughly 90-minute period. The security team returns fire and the attackers disperse.
Over the next two hours, Sec. Panetta holds a series of meetings and issues several orders: Two Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) platoons stationed in Rota, Spain prepare to deploy - one to Benghazi and the other to the Embassy in Tripoli; A special operations team in Europe is ordered to move to Sigonella, Sicily - less than one hour's flight away from Benghazi; An additional special operations team based in the U.S. is ordered to deploy to Sigonella.
Around 7 p.m. (1 p.m. ET): Americans are transported out of Tripoli on a C-17 military aircraft, heading for Ramstein, Germany.
Around 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET): U.S. special forces team arrives in Sigonella, Sicily, becoming the first military unit in the region.
Around 9 p.m. (3 p.m. ET): A FAST platoon arrives in Tripoli.