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.
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's Lou Dobbs and Megyn Kelly attacked President Obama as "Nixonian" and claimed that he revealed his "inner Nixon" over scrutiny that the IRS applied to tea party groups, despite the fact that the president labeled the IRS's actions "outrageous."
Obama addressed concerns at a press conference Monday over reports that the IRS applied extra scrutiny to tea party groups. He vowed to hold the agency "fully accountable" and called the alleged misdeeds "outrageous." Pointing to those comments, Kelly asked if Obama's condemnation was forceful enough, while Dobbs compared Obama with President Nixon, stating, "This is an agency with an enemies list. This is Nixonian. This is a president whose inner Nixon is being revealed."
But Carl Bernstein, one of The Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, deflated the idea that the IRS targeting was comparable to Watergate in an interview with Politico:
'In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying 'Use the IRS to get back on our enemies,' said Bernstein, whose reporting helped lead to Nixon's eventual resignation. 'We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution -- we have no evidence of any such thing.'
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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In coverage of a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, conservatives are pushing new myths about the Obama administration's response to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Here is the truth about what really happened.
Washington Times columnist Jeffery Kuhner accused President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of abusing their power which to the death of four Americans in Benghazi.
In his May 10 column, Kuhner claimed that Obama was "engaged in the systematic abuse of power" in his handling of the September 11, 2012, terror attack in Benghazi. He also claimed that Clinton sent Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens "on a suicide mission," while Obama failed to send help to Libya, leading to the deaths of two others. From The Washington Times:
The success of Tesla Motors complicates Fox News' narrative about green energy investments, but the network has a strategy: simply ignore the fact that the company received a federal loan.
Tesla, a leading electric automaker, received a $465 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program in 2010. The company has since become a fixture in car magazines and one of the most conspicuous successes of the Obama administration's green energy policies, recently announcing that it intends to pay back the loan five years ahead of schedule and reporting its first quarterly profits. On the heels of the latter news came word that the notably tough reviewers at Consumer Reports had given the Tesla Model S sedan a 99 out of 100 rating, proclaiming "we've never seen anything quite like the Model S. This car performs better than anything we've ever tested before."
On Friday, Fox News reported the quarter one profits -- "encouraging" -- and the positive review, pronouncing the automaker a "huge success."
One major problem: somehow, Fox News neglected to mention the federal loan guarantee program that helped Tesla obtain vital capital to develop the Model S. By contrast, Fox News has repeatedly used a negative Consumer Reports review of Fisker's hybrid electric Karma sedan as a hook to attack the Obama administration's green loans, without mentioning successes like Tesla or the money that Congress set aside to cover losses, knowing that not every company would succeed.
Fox News' Stuart Varney portrayed a natural gas automaker as a "green energy failure," even though he pushed the federal government to make transit agencies buy vehicles from the same company only a few months prior.
Vehicle Production Group (VPG), a Michigan-based company that makes wheelchair-accessible vans, recently ceased operations and closed its offices. The company, which had drawn attention for designing the first vehicle specifically for people with disabilities, was awarded a $50 million conditional loan commitment in 2010 to develop vans with natural gas engines as part of the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program.
On Wednesday, Varney depicted the company as "the latest embarrassment for the [Obama administration's] green energy policy" on Fox & Friends:
But Varney did not mention that VPG received its loan under a program that President George W. Bush signed into law, or that the natural gas vehicles it was intended to subsidize are a component of T. Boone Pickens' energy plan, which Fox News personalities have previously supported. Pickens funded and advocated for VPG himself.
In the run-up to the May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing on the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News personalities repeatedly attempted to smear President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by equating their response to the crisis with the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s that resulted in the impeachment -- and ultimately resignation -- of President Richard Nixon.
Right-wing media figures have desperately tried to illustrate the existence of an Obama administration "cover-up" since news of the Benghazi attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, first reached U.S. airwaves. The right-wing outcry culminated in a House Oversight Committee hearing showcasing the testimony of self-described "whistleblowers," which Fox News promised would help make the case that the White House had lied to the American people about the timeline of events in Benghazi.
This wasn't the first time Fox pundits have made the Benghazi-Watergate claim. In September 2012, The Five co-host Eric Bolling described the "cover-up" as "the biggest news story since Watergate." In fact, right-wing media have a long history of trying to tie Obama to the Nixon scandal.
Fox News contributor John Bolton delivered a devastating blow to the right-wing scandal mongering over Benghazi when he acknowledged that it was impossible to know at the exact moment of the September 2012 terrorist attack whether it was appropriate to shift security resources away from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
A key aspect of the right's conspiracy theory posits that an Obama administration official refused to send reinforcements to the Benghazi diplomatic outpost to defend Americans under sustained attack by terrorists. It's been amply established at this point that a team of reinforcements was dispatched from Tripoli, where the main embassy is located, to Benghazi, some 400 miles away, after the attacks began. That security team arrived after a first attack ended, the attack that ended in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, but before a second attack began.
Bolton, appearing on the May 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, took issue with the decision not to send a second reinforcement team to Benghazi - a central component of hyper-partisan congressional hearings underway this week. Critics of the administration have pointed to that decision as evidence that it abandoned Americans who were under attack. But the additional reinforcements would not have been able to get to the Benghazi compound before the second attack was concluded. Here's Bolton's response:
When the attack began, no one could know when it would end. No one could know what the geographical limitation was. Was it simply an attack in Benghazi? Could terrorists be poised to attack the embassy in Tripoli? Were other posts around the Middle East in jeopardy? So the notion that you're just going to sit and wait for this to work itself out left a lot of other people at risk.
But it's precisely the fact that it was unclear that the embassy in Tripoli was safe that informed the decision over whether to send a second reinforcement team away from the embassy. NBC News reported that Department of Defense officials confirmed that a second unit was denied authorization to leave Tripoli for Benghazi during the night of the attack, in part because the security situation in Libya remained unclear:
U.S. military officials confirmed late Monday that a four-man Special Operations Forces team was denied permission to leave the US Embassy in Tripoli following reports that the consulate in Benghazi had been attacked.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the team was reviewing security at U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East and was not prepared for a combat assault mission, being armed with only 9mm sidearms.
They also noted that the situation at Benghazi remained unclear and there were concerns the Embassy in Tripoli also could become a target.
Bolton's seemingly accidental acknowledgement should put an end to the campaign - enabled and encouraged at every step by Fox News - to drum up a scandal of Watergate-sized proportions.
A new book from Jonathan Alter claims that Fox News President Roger Ailes told producers to cut off the microphone used by Fox host Geraldo Rivera as he pushed back against Fox's politicization of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Appearing on Fox & Friends the day before the 2012 election, Rivera accused The Five's Eric Bolling of being "a politician trying to make a political point" with Bolling's claim that the government did "nothing" in response to the attack.
The New York Times reports that Alter writes in the upcoming book The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies that "Ailes called the control room and told the producers to cut Rivera's mic."
Peggy Noonan is lucky, in a way, for the existence of Karl Rove and Dick Morris. The duo absorbed most of the mockery and heat for their irrationally optimistic predictions that Mitt Romney would trounce President Obama last November, allowing pundits like Noonan, who were no less sanguine about the impending Romney ascendance, to ease into 2013 relatively unscathed. The day before the election, you'll recall, Noonan explained on her Wall Street Journal blog why Romney would win. "All the vibrations are right," she sensed, "Something old is roaring back."
Election Day came and went and now Noonan has to grapple with the fact that her political seismometer was off and explain why the president she thought so feeble was able to sew up reelection so easily. To that end, she's written a Journal column speculating on whether Obama is already a lame duck, and argues that part of what's keeping Obama back is that he was too good at getting reelected.
Which has me thinking of two things that have weakened the Obama presidency and haven't been noted. One was recent and merely unhelpful. The other goes back, and encouraged a mindset that became an excuse, perhaps a fatal one.
The recent one: In the days after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they'd done--the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million. When people talk about 2012 they don't say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans.
This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate. The president's position would be stronger now if more people believed he had one.
Ah yes, the aura of competence that every politician so dreads.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power, wherein the dithering Congress can be whipped into shape by the president's mystical powers of persuasion and leadership. What Noonan is describing here is the Iron Man Theory of Presidential Politics, arguing that Obama, stripped of his technology, would have been as vulnerable and powerless as Tony Stark without his impressive suit of armor. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does help to explain why Noonan was misled by the "vibrations" -- Obama flipped a switch and activated his army of robot voters.
In an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show, NRA board member Ted Nugent blamed the epidemic of suicides among veterans and active duty military on frustration with President Obama for supposedly "violating" the Constitution.
Nugent, who has appeared on Jones' show several times, told the host that the military is frustrated with Obama for "violating the oath that they're dying for," which is leading to an unprecedented increase in suicides.
Nugent went on to describe the Obama administration as "treasonous" and also characterized the president as a "groomed America hater."
On Sunday, Nugent will appear at the NRA's Annual Meeting for an event titled "Freedom Is Not Free - Repaying Our Debt to Heros [sic]" which is billed as a tribute to "those who gave all to utilize our precious freedoms as provided by the ultimate sacrifices of the US Military warriors and their families."
From the April 30 edition of The Alex Jones Show:
TED NUGENT: I'm going to hit you with something even more ugly, and just heartbreaking, and anti-American than anything else -- I bet you've covered this, Alex.
We have an epidemic, an unprecedented increase in heroes of the U.S. military committing suicide, and I'm going to tell you why. And I'm sure the leftist blogs are going to attack me, misquote me, but I'll tell you why more and more warrior heroes of the military are killing themselves: Because they are in absolute frustration and heartbreak that their boss, their Commander-In-Chief violates the Constitution that he has made an oath to while their hero warrior blood brothers are being blown to smithereens and blown up while executing their oath to the same Constitution that the president, the vice president, and the attorney general violate.
There is a heartbreak in the warrior community.
Fox News' Brit Hume is continuing the network's effort to rehabilitate the Bush family name by lavishing praise on Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential nominee.
Fox spent the week of the George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication lionizing Bush's tenure and whitewashing the effects of his policies; several hosts even bragged that Bush "kept the country safe" from terrorists after the September 11 attacks. From Fox & Friends to America's Newsroom, Fox uncritically allowed former Bush officials to spin Bush's record on fiscal discipline as probably "the best track record of any modern president," and to falsely claim that he helped grow the economy despite "inheriting a recession." According to a Media Matters review, 71 percent of Fox's guest appearances about President Bush's library and legacy were by former Bush White House personnel.
Now Fox's senior political analyst Hume is turning the Bush rehabilitation effort toward President Bush's younger brother and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday on April 28, Hume discussed whether Jeb Bush should run for president in 2016, remarking, "The country may indeed be ready for another Bush." The next day on America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum asked Hume about his comment. Hume responded by lavishing praise on the younger Bush, saying, "a great many political observers had identified Jeb as ... the most gifted natural politician among the lot of them." He continued:
HUME: I think it is the fact that Jeb Bush is an especially gifted political figure. He's a disarming personality. He's highly articulate. He's deeply versed in policy, especially domestic policy. He has a connection to the Hispanic community. His wife is Hispanic. He speaks the language. He showed that when he was governor of Florida. He was a successful and generally popular governor of Florida. So he's got a lot going for him.