During his deposition last week before a congressional panel investigating the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, Sidney Blumenthal -- a former journalist and Clinton White House adviser and my longtime friend -- was asked more than 45 questions by the Republicans about his relationships with me, Media Matters, and a pair of super PACs I founded, American Bridge and Correct The Record.
By comparison, Blumenthal was asked by those same Republicans fewer than 20 questions about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, only four questions about U.S. security there, and zero questions about the U.S. presence in Benghazi, according to a fact sheet circulated by Democratic committee staff.
The chairman of the House Select Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, was especially animated in quizzing Blumenthal, who, as the press reported weeks ago, is a paid consultant to my aforementioned groups. Gowdy asked Blumenthal about his role in the production and promotion of four Media Matters research posts that were sharply critical of various false claims made by conservative media on Benghazi. Another Republican asked if Blumenthal had written or edited a recent statement from Correct the Record pointing out the partisan agenda behind the committee's ongoing investigation. (Blumenthal testified, accurately, that he had no role in any of it, though even if he had, what does that have to do with the avowed purpose of the committee?)
Had the Republicans done some research, they would have discovered that our relationship is no secret. Blumenthal and I both wrote about it in our respective memoirs of the Clinton White House years, The Clinton Wars and Blinded by the Right, both published more than a decade ago.
So how did the House Select Committee on Benghazi suddenly morph into the House Select Committee on Media Matters? Why are the Republicans more interested in The Benghazi Hoax, the title of an e-book published by Media Matters, than in Benghazi itself? Let's count the ways.
The Select Committee on Benghazi is the tenth congressional committee to investigate the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks. None of them -- including the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee -- have found significant wrongdoing by the Obama administration, and many of the investigations have cleared the administration of the false conspiracies conservative media have put forward. Yet Gowdy's committee has been investigating the same issue for 409 days, longer than U.S. inquiries into Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination or Iran-Contra, according to a statement by the Democratic minority. They calculate the cost to U.S. taxpayers at $3.5 million -- and counting.
At this point, it's obvious that the committee's intended target is potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. If all the Republicans have left to nail her with is Media Matters and Blumenthal, this is an investigation that may as well shut down. There isn't even a whiff of scandal here. Media Matters sources of all its research to publicly available information and original reporting, and we make our work product public on this website. If the Republicans want to figure out what we're up to, the answer is a click away.
Not only is there nothing amiss here; we're proud of the good work we do.
I wish I could say the same for the Republican-led committee, which at this hour is refusing requests from committee Democrats and from Blumenthal to release the transcript of his deposition. Clearly, Gowdy doesn't want the public to see his handiwork.
On one level, the Republicans are sitting on the deposition -- while apparently leaking select parts to the media -- to save themselves from political embarrassment. Blumenthal was asked hundreds of questions in the course of a nearly nine-hour inquisition -- ostensibly so that the committee could learn more about a notional business deal to provide humanitarian assistance in Libya that ended up never coming to fruition, with no money changing hands and no favors sought from the U.S. government.
In fact, Blumenthal told me that the lead Republican lawyer for the committee told him and his lawyers at the end of a long day of questioning that "maybe we got five minutes worth of something."
Yet while the inquiry was a pointless waste of time and money with respect to the committee's mandate, in fact it was not without a purpose. The questions about Blumenthal's long-standing personal relationship with the Clintons, about his work at the Clinton Foundation, and about his work with us, were wholly illegitimate and out-of-bounds. But they were not without a design, and an insidious one at that.
By refusing to release the transcript, the Republicans want to hide the true nature of the Blumenthal deposition: Their partisan attempt to both chill Blumenthal's right to freely express his own political views and more broadly to intimidate our organizations -- organizations that have led the way in exposing the fraudulence of the Benghazi investigation itself. (Not to mention our role in specifically defending Hillary Clinton from the Republicans' unfair attacks on the subject).
If Democrats had hauled a politically active Republican before a congressional committee and spent hours grilling the witness on his political and professional associations and activities -- "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Democratic Party?"-- I can only imagine the hue and cry about the abuse of Congressional power we'd be hearing from the conservative echo chamber right now. Yet progressives for the most part have stayed silent in the face of this blatant effort to suppress First Amendment rights.
Well, not us. After the deposition concluded, I publicly offered to give Gowdy a tour of our offices at his convenience. There he would find hard-working staffers committed to providing the public with fact-based information upon which to understand and judge the critical issues of the day -- including the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi that have been shamelessly politicized by Republicans.
Gowdy would also meet groups that won't be thrown off-mission or harassed or cowed into standing down by desperate partisans who have nothing to offer voters in the coming election but recycled pseudo-scandals.
Hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered railed against the GOP for lacking a serious alternative health care plan should the Supreme Court rule against the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) tax credits. The plans put forward by Republican lawmakers as alternatives would each result in fewer people enrolled in coverage while paying higher premiums.
The Supreme Court will issue a ruling this month on the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which will determine whether a subclause in the ACA that says subsidies can be disbursed through "Exchanges established by the State" prohibits the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who bought insurance over the federal exchange.
The hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered criticized President Obama for not having a "plan B if the justices rule against him," but Sandra Smith and Andrea Tantaros turned the focus to congressional Republicans, calling them out for not having "a backup plan" after campaigning for years against the administration to repeal Obamacare. Tantaros called Republicans "lame", and characterized their actions as "inexplicable" and "pathetic":
In fact, Republicans in Congress have come up with five alternative plans if the ACA's subsidies are struck down, but as Vox noted each could lead to "very bizarre policy outcomes that are not good for the individual insurance market," and would result in fewer people enrolled in coverage while paying higher premiums:
Republicans lawmakers have also come up with five alternatives plans to keep the [federal subsidy] dollars flowing. The question is whether they'll do much good. Most of the plans would extend the availability of subsidies, while dismantling other parts of Obamacare. The result would likely be a world that looks much more like America before Obamacare -- where fewer people are enrolled in coverage and are paying higher premiums.
Take, for example, Sen. Ron Johnson's Preserving Freedom and Choice in Health Care Act. It would both extend the Obamacare subsidies and kill the health-care law's individual mandate, the unpopular requirement that nearly all Americans carry health coverage.
Without a requirement to purchase insurance coverage, health economists roundly expect that young, healthy people would no longer buy coverage. This, then, would lead to a spike in premiums as only the really sick people, who use their coverage a lot, opt to buy insurance plans.
The transitional period Johnson's bill imagines is one where the individual market is smaller and a more expensive place to shop.
These types of problems turn up again and again in all five Republican plans. When you try to repeal Obamacare and maintain the law's subsidies, it turns out you end up with some very bizarre policy outcomes that are not good for the individual insurance market.
An ABCNews.com article prominently highlighted Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) criticisms of the State Department for providing "heavily redacted" documents related to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya to the congressional committee investigating the attack. But as the article itself makes clear, congressional investigators were provided an unredacted version of the very document in question.
The article, headlined, "Blanket Redactions to Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Records 'Typical,' Issa Says" begins by highlighting the attack from the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee: "Rep. Darrell Issa ripped the State Department on Twitter today for heavily redacted records related to Hillary Clinton's involvement in the Obama administration's response to the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks."
But in the very next paragraph, the article establishes that Issa's attack was completely misleading, reporting:
However, though Issa suggested the redacted document was sent to the Benghazi Select Committee, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack, the committee actually received an unredacted version, according to committee aides. The heavily redacted version Issa tweeted was actually the one publicly posted on the State Department website as part of its release of Clinton's emails as secretary of state last month.
ABC News' article demonstrates a type of misinformation Media Matters has termed "privileging the lie." ABC News is legitimizing Issa's claim by headlining and beginning the article with an allegation its own reporting shows to be false. But rather than make that falsehood the focus of the story, the report is framed around Issa's allegations.
According to The Washington Post, such framing distinctions are crucial because social science research shows that, "once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it."
For this reason, former Media Matters senior fellow Jamison Foser has written, "If Candidate A lies about Candidate B, for example, the fact that Candidate A is lying should be the lede - otherwise the news report just drills the false claim into readers' and viewers' minds, allowing the misinformation to take hold before it is corrected."
In this case, however, ABC News privileged the lie, leaving its readers the worse off.
The raucous political warfare of the 1990s returned into view late last week with the stunning news that former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is under indictment for allegedly agreeing to pay more than $3 million in hush money to cover up sexual abuse involving a male student at a high school where Hastert taught decades ago.
Hastert's unsettling case doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics, per se. But his rise to the speakership back in 1998 sure did. Like virtually everything else inside the Beltway at the time, Hastert's promotion revolved around the Republicans' relentless impeachment pursuit against President Bill Clinton. And today, Hastert's alleged crime once again throws into focus what a strange and hypocritical spectacle it was for GOP men to play sex cop and crusade for impeachment.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton defined American politics in the 1990s. It also defined the Beltway press, which still clings to many of the bad Clinton-related habits it formed that decade. The impeachment farce, where the press teamed up with Republicans to wage war on a Democrat, could also explain why the Clintons today might not fully trust the media as Hillary Clinton expands her presidential run and the press stands "primed" to take her down.
Why won't Hillary Clinton open up to the press? Why can't Bill and Hillary handle the media? Why has she "withdrawn into a gilded shell"? Why does she wear media "armor"? Those questions have been rehashed in recent months as journalists focus on themselves and what role they'll play in the unfolding nomination contest.
A suggestion: Follow the path back to Dennis Hastert's impeachment era for clues to those Clinton press questions.
During the 1990s, Hastert remained a firm advocate of impeachment, at one point condemning the president for his "inability to abide by the law." Hastert stressed, "The evidence in President Clinton's case is overwhelming that he has abused and violated the public trust."
Of course it was the impeachment imbroglio that elevated Hastert, indirectly, to his lofty position of speaker of the House; a position he later leveraged into millions by becoming a very wealthy lobbyist.
The background: Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign in 1998 after the impeachment-obsessed GOP faced disastrous midterm losses. (Gingrich later admitted he was engaged in an affair with a Congressional aide at the time.) Up next was Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. "One of the loudest of those calling for the House to impeach Clinton over an extra-marital affair," noted the National Journal, Livingston was soon ousted after he was forced to publicly confess to committing adultery "on occasion."
Into that void stepped Hastert.
That means all three Republican House leaders who pursued Clinton's impeachment have now confessed or been accused of sexual and moral transgressions themselves. Those were the people the D.C press took its cues from during the impeachment charade?
As Orin Kerr noted in the Washington Post following the Hastert indictment:
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
While some in the press have conceded that the '90s impeachment was a strange circus, the truth is the Beltway press basically served as executive producers for the GOP's doomed theatrical run. It was the media elite who legitimized for years the right-wing's Javert-like pursuit of all things Clinton. "So much of the media was invested in breathless, often uncritical coverage of Clinton's impeachment," wrote Josh Marshall at Salon in 2002, while detailing the final release of the independent prosecutor's $70 million Clinton investigation.
Put another way, the same D.C. press corps that openly taunted the Clintons for years in the '90s, culminating with impeachment, is the same D.C. press corps that's now openly taunting them, for instance, regarding the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton's emails, and anything/everything else that can be presented as a Clinton "scandal" story.
That's why when the New York Times story about Hillary Clinton's email account first broke in March, "The media and politicos and Twitterati immediately responded with all the measured cautious skepticism we've come to expect in response to any implication of a Clinton Scandal," noted Wonkette. "That is to say, none." And that's why Times columnist and chief Clinton sex chronicler Maureen Dowd has, to date, published 100 columns mentioning "Lewinsky."
More than twenty years ago, the Clintons understood that the so-called liberal media was working with conservative activists and Republican prosecutors to try to destroy Bill's presidency. For the GOP, the motivation was purely partisan. For the press, it seemed to be a mix of careerism (Clinton bashing proved to be good for business), combined with a genuine dislike of the Clintons.
Today, it's often difficult to recapture just how completely bonkers the D.C. media establishment went during the impeachment saga, and how on some days it seemed journalists were more pruriently obsessed with the Clintons than their tireless Republican tormentors. The recent Hastert sexual abuse allegation helps bring into focus the absurdity of the era, and reminds us why, as a new campaign season unfolds, the Clintons might not fully trust the Beltway media.
From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's Politics Nation:
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Fox News' misleading smear of food stamp recipients as surfing freeloaders found its way into a congressional hearing aimed at examining the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
On May 20, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing addressing the "Past, Present, and Future of SNAP." Throughout the hearing, Fox News' misleading 2013 special, "The Great Food Stamp Binge" that attempted to make a surfing freeloader "the new face of food stamps" was referenced several times as evidence of abuse within the program.
Fox's misrepresentation of food stamp recipients found its way into the hearing when two members on the committee used the special as anecdotal evidence of abuse within SNAP. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) used Fox's example of a "surfer out in California living on food stamps and eating lobster" as evidence of abuse within the program, though he "forg[o]t which network" aired the special.
Later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) also referenced "the surfer that was on one of the news channels," claiming, "unfortunately, we see that in our districts, and I hear stories about that every day."
The surfer mentioned by Reps. Gibbs and Yoho was Jason Greenslate who featured in Fox's special as part of Fox News' longstanding history of maligning the poor and misrepresenting food stamp recipients. After it aired, the network delivered physical copies of the special to members of Congress in an attempt to influence a vote to cut SNAP benefits by billions of dollars.
What the special failed to note was the fact that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, the fraud and waste rate in SNAP is roughly only 1 percent. The special also ignored the fact that SNAP kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, many of whom are children, and that 82 percent of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled American.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), fought to correct the record by pointing out the "surfer on food stamps" is "not the reality of the program, and it's our job to tell anybody who says it is, that it isn't" (emphasis added):
REP. MCGOVERN: I want to make sure the record is corrected on this, we heard a couple of times mention the guy who is a surfer on food stamps. That is not the reality of the program, and it's our job to tell anybody who says it is, that it isn't. The majority of people on this program are kids, are senior citizens, are those who are disabled. And of those who are able-bodied, the majority of them work. Given the opportunity between working at a job that pays a wage where I wouldn't have to rely on this benefit, or a job that I have to work full-time and I still need to rely on SNAP, I mean, we know what people would decide. So let's not demonize this program by taking some examples that may have appeared on some news show that I won't mention the name of the news show, but anyway. But the point of the matter is we ought to be talking, we ought to make sure that the narrative we are echoing here reflects the reality.
The New York Post ran an op-ed pushing falsehoods and reckless speculation to attack Cheryl D. Mills, the former counselor and chief of staff to Hillary Clinton during her time at the State Department, in order to accuse her of having a "long track record of hiding Clinton documents."
From the April 22 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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The House Select Committee on Benghazi reportedly plans to release the findings of its redundant investigation into the terror attacks just in time for the 2016 general election. Fox News fought hard to establish the committee, and has devoted significant airtime attempting to link Benghazi to Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.
According to an April 22 Bloomberg report, the Republican-led House Select Committee will release a report "just months before the 2016 presidential election"detailing its ongoing investigation into the September 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) claimed in a statement that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "decision to seek the presidency of the United States does not and will not impact the work of the committee." A spokesperson for the Benghazi Committee cited "factors beyond the committee's control," including alleged obstruction by the White House, for delaying the release of the inquiry.
Ranking Democrat on the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) responded, accusing House Republicans of targeting Clinton and noting that with the delays, "this investigation is on track to last longer than the investigations of Iran-Contra, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, and 9/11, and it will squander more than $6 million in taxpayer funds in the process."
The Benghazi Select Committee is the product of a sustained campaign by Fox News and its affiliates to scandalize an American tragedy for political gain. The network's Benghazi Hoax, which Republican Mitt Romney tried and failed to capitalize on during the 2012 election, seems primed to be deployed against Hillary Clinton should she win the Democratic presidential nomination 2016.
From September 2012 to May 2014, a period of 20 months, Fox aired an astounding 1,098 evening and primetime segments dedicated to Benghazi, including several segments calling for the establishment of a special panel or committee to investigate the attacks and their aftermath. 105 of those segments raised the specter of Benghazi as a supposed factor against Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.
By November and December of 2014, when a separate GOP-controlled investigation exonerated both Clinton and Obama of culpability for the attacks and their aftermath, Fox News began blasting Republicans on that committee for being "soft on the Obama administration," and called on the newly-formed Benghazi Select Committee to take a stronger stance. And in March 2015, Fox capitalized on a botched Times report on Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account while serving as secretary of state to revive its Benghazi witch hunt. The network even adopted Benghazi committee Chairman Gowdy's unsubstantiated claim that Clinton may have obscured relevant emails from previous inquiries to hype the need for further investigations.
As Bloomberg notes, the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi have been subject to numerous congressional inquiries by at least seven different committees, as well as an independent review by the State Department. None uncovered any wrong-doing on the part of then-Secretary Clinton, her State Department staff, or members of the Obama administration.
After The New York Times' Michael Schmidt scandalized the State Department's response to a congressional inquiry into personal email use by government employees, Schmidt admitted to Fox News that he was unaware whether other agencies had offered similar responses to those questions. In fact, documents obtained by Media Matters show that two other agencies responded in similar ways, undermining the Times' report suggesting wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton.
Schmidt reported in an April 14 Times article on the State Department's March 2013 response to a 2012 letter from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa asking whether Hillary Clinton "used a private email account while serving as secretary of state." The article stated that "Mrs. Clinton did not reply" during her tenure and that State's response "ignored the question" by only providing general background on State policy, suggesting malfeasance by Hillary Clinton and her former department. The Issa letter had been sent to 18 department heads as part of a broad inquiry.
On the April 15 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren asked Schmidt whether he was aware of how other government agencies responded to the inquiry, noting that she was trying to figure out "whether or not it was just the State Department that was sort of dodging that question" or "if this was sort of the standard protocol." In reply, Schmidt acknowledged he didn't know how other agencies responded, stating, "we just know that they responded":
VAN SUSTEREN: Did any of the other agencies specifically answer that question, if you know, I'm trying to figure out, you know, whether or not it was just the State Department that was sort of dodging that question, whether other agencies, if this was sort of the standard protocol.
SCHMIDT: We just know that they responded. And when we went back to the State Department yesterday, to say why didn't you answer the question, they didn't answer our question.
In fact, according to documents obtained by Media Matters, two other agencies responded in a manner similar to the State Department.
2013 responses from both the Labor Department (DOL) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provided descriptions of department policies rather than directly address Issa's inquiry about whether officials had used personal email accounts. And the Labor Department response came in April 2013, after then-Secretary Hilda Solis stepped down, just as Clinton had stepped down as secretary of state between State's receipt of and response to Issa's letter.
From the April 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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Fox News' campaign of misinformation surrounding food assistance programs may be continuing to influence GOP legislation, as lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas consider measures addressing "fake problems" within their state's benefit programs.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas recently introduced legislation restricting where recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as "welfare") can spend their money and what they can buy. The bill would limit the daily spending allowance to $25 and ban recipients from using benefits at psychics and tattoo parlors. Another measure, introduced by the House GOP in Missouri, will similarly limit how recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly knowns as "food stamps") can use their benefits, prohibiting them from buying "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks."
As Dana Milbank explained in an April 8 op-ed for The Washington Post, legislation of this nature is "about demeaning public-benefit recipients" and has little to do with public policy. "Few can afford filet mignon on a less-than-$7/day food-stamp allotment" wrote Milbank, "they're more likely to be buying chuck steak or canned tuna."
Fox News has spent years denigrating food assistance programs and recipients, with its campaign coming to a head in August 2013 when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who had allegedly taken advantage of food stamps to purchase lobster and other luxury foods while refusing to work for a living. Labeling Greenslate as "the new face of food stamps," the network used the man as an example of fraud and waste within food assistance programs, despite the rate of trafficking in the program being just over 1 percent.
Fox's influence over Republican policymaking has previously been felt in legislation about food assistance programs. In the months after their special aired, the network distributed copies of it to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in anticipation of an upcoming vote to cut up to $40 billion of SNAP funding over ten years. The proposal would have threatened nearly 4 million Americans with greater food insecurity.
Now, Fox's misinformation is again threatening to create real hardships for those who depend on food assistance programs to make ends meet. In an April 7 article for the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote that the only evidence to back up claims of fraud used to justify food stamp and welfare restrictions in Kansas and Missouri is the "widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance."
The Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman also traced the Missouri bill back to its roots in Fox's campaign to demonize recipients of food assistance. In an April 3 post for Wonkblog, Ferdman wrote that the measures "fit a longtime conservative suspicion that poor people use food stamps to purchase luxury items" but that the myths perpetuated by Fox News "should be viewed as distortions of reality."
From the March 23 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the March 3 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the March 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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