Debunked Right-Wing Myths Persist In State Newspapers

››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

State-based editorial boards from around the country have acted as an echo chamber for conservative misinformation by repeating national conservative media outlets' myths.

MYTH 1: Senator Carl Levin Asked The IRS To Only Target Conservatives

Fox's Doocy: Judicial Watch Emails Show Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) "Trying To Use The IRS To Go Ahead And Clobber His Political Opponents." On May 15, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy argued that Judicial Watch's newly released emails show that "something illegal happening there" and that Levin was "caught red handed trying to use the IRS to go ahead and clobber his political opponents" (emphasis added):

DOOCY: So bad news for the White House because this blows up their story, and bad news for Carl Levin because he's been caught red handed trying to use the IRS to go ahead and clobber his political opponents. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/15/14]

Breitbart.com: "Levin Pressured IRS To Target Conservative Groups." On May 15, a blog at Breitbart.com claimed that the newly released emails showed "Democratic Sen.Carl Levin (D-MI) pressuring the IRS to target conservative groups":

[N]ewly released emails obtained by Judicial Watch detail Democratic Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) pressuring the IRS to target conservative groups. On March 30, 2012 Levin wrote to then IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman about his concern with the political activity by conservative nonprofits.

"Some entities claiming tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations under 26 U.S.C.&501(c)(4) appear to be engaged in political activities more appropriate for political organizations claiming tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C.&527. Because of the urgency of the issues involved in this matter, please provide the following information by April 20, 2012." [Breitbart, 5/15/14]

State Editorial Boards Parroted Right-Wing Media Myth Levin Wanted The IRS To Target Conservative Groups

Boston Herald: "Targeting Of All Those Tea Party Groups By The [IRS] Was Indeed Being Orchestrated Out Of Washington." The Boston Herald repeated unfounded claims that the IRS headquarters in Washington was responsible for scrutinizing tea party groups:

Well it turns out that the targeting of all those Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service was indeed being orchestrated out of Washington after all -- thus disputing White House accounts that it was just the work of "rogue" agents in some back-shop operation in Cincinnati.

Really? Is anyone surprised?

The new information came from a batch of emails recently acquired through a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch -- a far more extensive collection than had previously been provided to congressional investigators.

[...]

The treasure trove of new documents includes an exchange of letters between U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee on investigations, and top IRS officials, including then Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller, in which Levin presses for more aggressive action against conservative groups -- pleas that grow more urgent as the 2012 presidential election nears. [Boston Herald, 5/18/14]

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Carl Levin "Pressured Top IRS Officials" For Political Gain. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review repeated disputed claims and misinformation surrounding the IRS investigation into tea party groups:

Judicial Watch obtained the documents through Freedom of Information Act litigation. It says they include emails confirming that Washington IRS officials directed that extra scrutiny -- which contradict assertions by now-retired Lois Lerner, then head of the IRS' nonprofit division, blaming overzealous staff in Cincinnati. Other emails show she misled internal IRS investigators about her office's role in that targeting.

Additional documents show Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., pressured top IRS officials as the 2012 election approached to revoke conservative groups' tax exemptions and deny their tax-exemption applications. In one such letter, Mr. Levin urged the IRS to investigate 12 groups for "political activity" -- and though he now tells The Washington Times he urged the IRS "to enforce the law against both conservative and liberal groups," just one of the 12 groups he singled out was "notably left-leaning," according to Judicial Watch. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 5/18/14]

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Senator Levin Targeted Conservative Groups For Political Purposes. The Review-Journal furthered the myth that Senator Levin targeted conservative groups for review by the IRS in order to influence the 2012 presidential election:

A deeper look into this story shows that not only was the Obama administration willing to lie to the American people -- yet again -- to achieve its political goals, but so were others in our government. In what amounts to a severe abuse of power, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote letters to the IRS, urging them to investigate, delay and otherwise impede conservative nonprofit groups. Sen. Levin wanted these investigations completed by April 2012 so the groups could be shut down prior to that year's presidential and congressional elections. Politically sympathetic officials within the IRS were all too eager to agree to the request by subjecting conservative nonprofits to questionnaires and requests for information about their activities.

Sen. Levin's demands were part of an orchestrated attack campaign against tea party and conservative groups by Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who repeatedly called "shadowy front groups" a "threat to democracy." So you have a leading Democrat pushing the IRS -- the government itself -- to crush political enemies engaged in First Amendment expression during an election year. And you have the government deliberately misleading the public and stonewalling inquiries into the matter. [Las Vegas Review Journal, 5/28/14]

TRUTH: Sen. Levin Expressed Concern About Tax Exemption Violations By Nonprofits By Both Democrats And Republicans

July 27, 2012: Levin Cited Political Activity On Both Sides: "This Is Not A Partisan Issue." Levin sent another inquiry to the IRS on July 27 expressing concern that groups with tax-exempt status were not fulfilling the regulations of a "social welfare" organization, jeopardizing their 501(c)(4) status. In the letter, Levin provides the example of two television advertisements that were put on by 501(c)(4) organizations, pointing out that "the subject of Advertisement #1 is a Democratic Senator, and the subject of Advertisement #2 is a Republican Senator," and concluded, "This is not a partisan issue." [Judicial Watch, accessed 5/15/14]

October 23, 2012: Levin Asked IRS To Examine Potentially Improper Political Activity Of Both Democratic And Conservative Organizations. In an October 23 letter to the IRS, Levin asked the IRS to specifically look into four organizations to see if they were "engaged primarily in the promotion of social welfare" -- two from each side of the aisle. Levin listed Crossroads Grassroots, Priorities U.S.A., Americans for Prosperity, and the Patriot Majority USA as the specific groups he wanted the IRS to review. Of those, both Priorities U.S.A. and Patriot Majority are progressive-leaning groups. [Judicial Watch, accessed 5/15/14]

For more information on conservative myths involving the IRS, click here.

MYTH 2: Hillary Clinton Shared Responsibility For Boko Haram Kidnapping

Fox News: If Hillary Clinton Had Designated Boko Haram A Foreign Terrorist Organization, It Could Have Prevented Kidnapping Of Nigerian School Girls. On the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck tried to place blame on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by arguing that Clinton had refused to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), claiming that if she had done so, it "could have saved these girls earlier":

DOOCY: This is really something. We've with been telling you over the last couple of days about this terrorist group called Boko Haram out in Africa, how they've killed an entire village. They have since, in the last couple of weeks, they have kidnapped 300 young girls. They're going to sell them into slavery.

KILMEADE: And prior to that, boys.

DOOCY: They burned a bunch of boys. They burned down a village. It's all bad. And now word is, because we did not place them on the terror list, of officially known terrorist groups, it's going to be harder to go after them. And who exactly made sure that they were not placed on the terror list? Hillary Clinton.

[...]

HASSELBECK: And the rights of women and young girls, those were pillars of what she wanted to accomplish in her time at the State Department. But right here, what she didn't actually tweet, and perhaps because it was over 140 characters, was the fact that her own State Department, as Steve just mentioned, did not place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations which would have forbidden any sort of authority to increase securities to them, increase assistance to Nigerian security forces in that area and perhaps could have saved these girls earlier. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/8/14]

State Editorial Boards Echoed Fox By Placing Blame For The Kidnappings On Hillary Clinton

Union Leader: Hillary Clinton Failed To Designate Boko Haram As Terrorists For Political Reasons. The Union Leader blamed Hillary Clinton for the kidnapping of 300 Nigerian girls because she did not designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization while she was secretary of state:

The bill, called the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2012, bullet-pointed some of Boko Haram's atrocities and links to other terror groups. It required Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to Congress on why she would or would not designate the group an FTO.

[...]

In June of 2012, President Obama designated three top Boko Haram leaders as terrorists. But the administration refused to give the group FTO status, even as it murdered Christians and railed against the West. This week Politico exposed the reason for the President's and Secretary Clinton's reluctance to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization: politics. [Union Leader, 5/14/14]

Augusta Chronicle: Hillary Clinton Defended Boko Haram As Secretary Of State. The Augusta Chronicle claimed Clinton made excuses for Boko Haram while acting as secretary of state:

Shamefully, the Obama administration long ago tried to protect jihadists by refusing to acknowledge we were fighting a war on terror. And under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the administration actually refused to place Boko Haram on a list of foreign terrorist organizations.

In fact, the State Department in 2012 said it was poverty and "poor government service delivery" that Boko Haram was upset about. One department official even tried to convince Congress that, "Similar to the United States, Nigeria's religious diversity is a source of strength." [Augusta Chronicle, 5/27/14]

TRUTH: The Decision Not To Classify Boko Haram As A Terrorist Organization In 2012 Was Supported By Nigerian Experts, Would Not Have Prevented Kidnappings

A Letter Written To Clinton By Nigerian Experts Expressed The Negative Repercussions Of Placing Boko Haram On The FTO List. A letter from 25 academic and policy experts concluded that listing Boko Haram as an FTO would cut off foreign aid groups' access to areas controlled by the group:

Should Boko Haram be designated an FTO through this regime, it would be illegal for non-governmental organization to interact with members of Boko Haram - even if the purpose of such contact was to persuade them to renounce violence. The US Supreme Court upheld these restrictions in 2010, declaring that such contact would constitute providing "material support" to terrorist groups. Commenting on the threat this poses to the Carter Center, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said this legal restriction "threatens our work and the work of many other peacemaking organizations that must interact directly with groups that have engaged in violence." It would therefore be illegal for third party intermediaries to play a role in some future peace process or in the confidence building measures required to get there. [Letter To Secretary Clinton, 5/21/12]

Experts: Labeling Groups As An FTO Greatly Hinders Future Negotiations. Experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained that the FTO designation makes it nearly impossible to conduct formal negotiations with groups such as Boko Haram:

Yet the relevant law does not require a designation for all groups that meet the criteria. FTO designation is deliberately left to the discretion of the secretary of state and reflects his or her judgment about the most appropriate way to mitigate a given threat. As a report by the Congressional Research Service explains, "There may be competing priorities in dealing with a group, such as a desire to engage a group in negotiations or to use the FTO naming as leverage for another foreign policy aim." The Taliban's continuing absence from the FTO list, despite also meeting the criteria, is one reflection of these competing priorities. [Center for Strategic and International Studies, 10/4/12]

Washington Post: "No Evidence That An FTO Designation Any Sooner Would Have Prevented The Kidnappings." According to The Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler, there is no evidence to support the idea that Clinton could have prevented the kidnappings by designating Boko Haram as an FTO in 2012 (emphasis added):

Hindsight is always 20/20. In retrospect, perhaps the State Department could have moved quicker with a designation, as Jackson conceded to Congress. But at the time the officials involved in the discussions believed they had come up with an acceptable compromise that would not upset the Nigerian government and would have helped improve the behavior of the Nigerian military.

Given the facts at hand, it was not an unreasonable solution -- and the process by which the decision was made was fair-minded and thorough. Officials on both sides of the debate argued their case, and, as is often the case, a compromise was reached. Moreover, there is no evidence that an FTO designation any sooner would have prevented the kidnapping of the girls. [Washington Post, 5/19/14]

For more information on Boko Haram's designation as a terrorist organization, click here.

MYTH 3: 60 Minutes Revealed New Benghazi Revelations

CBS Claimed There Was A "Lingering Question" About The US Response To The Benghazi Attacks. Lara Logan stated that there was a lingering, unanswered question about why there was no military response to the Benghazi attack:

LOGAN (VOICEOVER): [T]he lingering question is why no larger military response ever crossed the border into Libya -- something Greg Hicks realized wasn't going to happen just an hour into the attack.

LOGAN: You have this conversation with the defense attaché. You ask him what military assets are on their way. And he says--

HICKS: Effectively, they're not. And I -- for a moment, I just felt lost. I just couldn't believe the answer. And then I made the call to the annex chief, and I told him, "Listen, you've got to tell those guys there may not be any help coming."

LOGAN: That's a tough thing to understand. Why?

HICKS: It just is. We--for us, for the people that go out-- onto the edge, to represent our country, we believe that if we get in trouble, they're coming to get us. That our back is covered. To hear that it's not, it's a terrible, terrible experience. [CBS, 10/27/14, via Real Clear Politics]

Fox's Doocy On 60 Minutes Report: "It's Great That Mainstream Media, Finally Catching Up" On Benghazi Story. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said on the October 28, 2013, edition of Fox & Friends , "It's great that mainstream media, finally catching up. CBS did this story on Benghazi and I see criticism from the left where they go, 'You guys are covering a phony scandal.' 60 Minutes doesn't cover phony scandals." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/28/13, via Media Matters]

Fox's MacCallum: Like Fox, "Another Very Strong News Network Also Wants Some Answers" On Benghazi. America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum said on October 28, 2013: "Now 60 Minutes, the venerable news program, Sunday night news program, is putting a lot of focus on this story ... Here at Fox News we've been covering this story for a very long time. At times we've been criticized for continuing to cover this story. Leslie [Marshall], now it continues to be a broader issue and another very strong news network also wants some answers here." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 10/28/13, via Media Matters]

State Editorial Boards Repeated CBS' and Fox's Benghazi Misinformation

Union Leader: Benghazi Attack "Warnings Were Ignored." The New Hampshire Union Leader repeated the false claims made by CBS surrounding the Benghazi attack:

This past Sunday, "60 Minutes" aired a report on Benghazi that was a year in the making. It showed, among other things, that the security contractor hired to run the mission's unarmed guard team had warned repeatedly that the mission would fall to an attack because the armed Libyan guards could not be trusted. A Green Beret commander based in Tripoli had warned Washington that al-Qaida was preparing to attack Americans in Benghazi and the only option was "leave Benghazi or you will be killed." Those warnings were ignored. [Union Leader, 10/28/13]

Orange County Register: Based On The "60 Minutes" Report, Senator Graham Should Filibuster All Presidential Nominees. The Register joined the conservative praise of the "60 Minutes" report and claimed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) "should follow through on his threat to block Senate floor votes" until the questions raised by CBS were answered. [Orange County Register, 10/28/13]

Columbus Dispatch: "Nothing Is Phony About This Scandal." In an editorial days after the bogus 60 Minutes report, The Columbus Dispatch echoed the conservative myth that the White House was covering up a botched response to the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi in September 2012:

In a damning report Sunday on the CBS news show 60 Minutes, the worst revelation was not about the administration's attempts to mischaracterize and minimize what happened but the fact that key eyewitnesses present evidence that the State Department and other officials knew and failed to act on multiple security warnings leading up to the well-planned, coordinated attack.

Among others, the show interviewed Green Beret Commander Andy Wood, who was one of the top U.S. security officials in Libya. A picture emerged of a State Department that ignored repeated warnings about gathering threats and weak security. What the program illustrated was that even as the government was spying on millions of Americans and foreigners in the name of fighting terrorism, in Libya, it ignored flashing warning signs right in front of it. [Columbus Dispatch, 10/30/13]

The Post and Courier: "'60 Minutes' Reveals New Details About the Staggering Neglect" Surrounding Benghazi Attack. Charleston, South Carolina's Post and Courier repeated CBS' claims of negligence on the part of the White House during the Benghazi attack:

But the Benghazi news sounded freshly appalling Sunday night as CBS' "60 Minutes" revealed new details about the staggering neglect and ineptitude that led to the deaths of four Americans -- including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens -- on Sept. 11, 2012.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., rightly kept Benghazi in the news Monday by warning that he will block administration nominations for federal government positions until Benghazi survivors appear before Congress. [The Post and Courier10/30/13]

TRUTH: CBS' Benghazi Report Pulled After Falling Apart Under Scrutiny

CBS News Pulled Benghazi Report After Key Witness' Story Fell Apart. Days after CBS News vigorously defending the report despite widespread scrutiny, CBS finally pulled its report after information came to light that the report's key witness was found to have given a different version of events to the FBI. [Media Matters, 11/7/13]

For more information on right-wing media's Benghazi Hoax, click here.

MYTH 4: Obama Would Cede Control Of The Internet To Foreign Countries

Fox's Gregg Jarrett: "Why Should The Obama Administration, Or One President, Make A Decision To Give Away Something That Has Been Probably One Of The Greatest World Inventions Ever By Americans?" On the March 15 edition of America's News HQ, co-host Gregg Jarrett moderated a discussion about the possible implications of the U.S. relinquishing control of the internet to international bodies. Jarrett claimed that this step could be the "first ten steps to a complete takeover by something that could potentially harm openness and freedom," and asked why "one president" should be allowed to "make a decision to give away something that has been probably one of the greatest invention by Americans." [Fox News, America's News HQ, 3/15/14]

Fox's Tucker Carlson: "It's Only Because The Obama Administration Has Really Alienated The Rest Of The World" That We Are "Under All This Pressure" To Give Up The Internet. During the March 15 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, Fox co-host Tucker Carlson blamed the Obama administration for causing pressure to give up control of the Internet. In a discussion with Fox host Mike Huckabee, Carlson claimed, "it is only because the Obama administration has really alienated the rest of the world, the opposite of what they promised to do, that we are under all this pressure to give it up." [Fox News, Fox & Friends Saturday, 3/15/14]

State Editorial Boards Repeated Claim That The President Would Hand Over Control Of The Internet To Foreign Countries

Mercury News: Obama "Will Give Up Control Of The Internet," Possibly To Foreign Governments. An editorial by the San Jose Mercury News editorial board echoed right-wing media's fear that internet infrastructure would be handed over to foreign governments:

In that context, the Obama administration has announced it will give up U.S. control of the Internet to an international governing body. This has been in the works for more than a decade -- but the president needs to be certain that the transition to a nonprofit will maintain a free and open system. That is not at all clear today.

[...]

Critics of releasing control now, including Republican Newt Gingrich, fear that foreign governments will swoop in and stifle its democratic principles. It's a legitimate fear, given that in 2012, the World Conference on International Telecommunications considered handing control of Internet operations to the United Nations, a frightening thought. [Mercury News, 3/20/14]

Multiple State Papers Reprinted The Mercury News Editorial. At least four other papers reproduced the Mercury News editorial claiming President Obama may be handing over control of internet infrastructure to foreign countries. [The Lawton Constitution, 3/25/14, via Nexis; Evansville Courier & Press, 3/25/14, via Nexis; Tampa Tribune, 3/27/14; The Olympian, 3/27/14]

TRUTH: The United States Never Planned To Give Up Key Internet Infrastructure To Foreign Governments

Assistant Secretary Of The Commerce Department Assured Critics That Key Internet Infrastructure Would Not Be Turned Over To Foreign Governments. Testifying before congress, Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary of the Commerce Department, made it clear that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) would not be replaced with an organization under foreign control:

With the March 14 announcement, NTIA has taken the next step in the 16-year process to privatize the coordination and management of the DNS. ICANN last month began the process of convening stakeholders for the first of many public discussions on this topic. During this period, NTIA's role will remain unchanged. As we have said repeatedly, we will not accept a transition plan that would replace the NTIA role with one led by governments or an inter-governmental organizationand we have established a framework of four principles that the process must address. This must be a careful and thoughtful process. If a plan that meets these criteria cannot be implemented by September 30, 2015, we can extend the contract for up to four years. [Testimony of Lawrence E. Strickling, 4/10/14]

Commerce Department Announced Intent To Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions. In a March 14 press release, the NTIA, an Executive Branch agency that advises the president on telecommunications and information policy issues, announced the administration's plan to transition internet domain name functions:

To support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking and governance, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today announces its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.

[...]

From the inception of ICANN, the U.S. Government and Internet stakeholders envisioned that the U.S. role in the IANA functions would be temporary. The Commerce Department's June 10, 1998 Statement of Policy stated that the U.S. Government "is committed to a transition that will allow the private sector to take leadership for DNS management." [NTIA.gov, 3/14/14]

For more information on the changes to internet infrastructure management, click here.

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