Right-wing media are seizing on news that the State Department will not release some of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails after the Intelligence Community said they contained Top Secret information to baselessly claim that the emails in question include a non-existent "stand down order" issued by Clinton during the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
A Wall Street Journal column used the recently released film depicting the Benghazi attacks to revive old myths about the attacks while claiming that the movie "ought to" threaten Hillary Clinton's presidential run.
Earlier this month, Michael Bay released his latest movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Before it hit theaters, conservative media used the film to recycle debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks, including that officials issued a "stand down order" and that no military assistance was sent to Benghazi during the attacks. Right-wing media also hyped the possibility that the movie could "pose a threat to" Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and could raise questions about the attacks that eight congressional probes previously failed to answer. Fox's Megyn Kelly claimed the film "reintroduces Benghazi as a potential campaign issue that cannot be helpful to Mrs. Clinton." Another Fox host argued that "if anyone sees this movie ... and then goes on to vote for Hillary Clinton, they're a criminal."
In his January 20 column for the Journal, Daniel Henninger asserted, "'13 Hours' is a graphic, reasonably accurate depiction" of the attacks and "makes the memory of the government's tall tale, which it insisted on repeating for more than a week, hard to stomach." That "tale," the claim goes, involves "the Obama administration's YouTube coverup, the story--or 'talking points'--about how an obscure anti-Islamic video made in California caused Benghazi to happen." Henninger also twisted facts to place blame on Hillary Clinton, writing, "There ought to be a political reckoning over this" for Clinton, who "was complicit in a White House concoction she knew the night of the attack was untrue."
The myths pushed by the conservative media chorus about the film have been repeatedly debunked. According to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the "stand down order" right-wing media claim occurred on the night of the attacks never happened. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, explained military aid was deployed, but was unable to reach Benghazi before the attacks concluded, and called out conservative media's "cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces." Henninger's assertion that the Obama administration attempted to "coverup" the story behind the attacks by blaming a YouTube video has been debunked by Senate Select Committee reviews and the by attackers themselves. The "talking points" Henninger mentioned were edited to avoid revealing what the administration knew to the terrorists groups responsible for the attacks.
As The Washington Post's Erik Wemple explained, conservative media are "promoting the Bay movie for its potential to revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton" and in doing so, "acting as an advocacy organization." And Media Matters' David Brock wrote "there's no scandal" in the film or the events it depicts, "only a partisan witch hunt."
In recent weeks, Fox News has been aggressively promoting Michael Bay's myth-filled Benghazi movie in an effort to criticize the Obama administration and damage Hillary Clinton's presidential run. Megyn Kelly, the host that Fox News tries to position as more news-minded than the network's most opinionated personalities, has been leading the charge.
According to a Media Matters study, from January 4 through January 19, Fox News devoted more than 2 hours and 53 minutes to discussing Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The Kelly File made up nearly half of that time, with more than 1 hour and 22 minutes of coverage. (By comparison, The Five, the show that devoted the second most time to promoting 13 Hours, spent less than 24 minutes on the movie.)
Kelly showed Fox's hand early, kicking off a segment about the movie on her January 4 program by touting an "exclusive" report on "the gripping new film that may pose a threat to Hillary Clinton's hopes for the White House." The idea that the film might have an impact on Clinton's presidential run was a regular feature of The Kelly File's coverage, coming up in seven segments.
The effort to use Bay's movie to hurt Clinton politically comes a few short months after the Republicans' House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing featuring hours of Clinton testimony fell "flat on its face." Though Hillary Clinton is not mentioned in Bay's movie, Kelly was nonetheless intent on making her 13 Hours coverage about Clinton.
The Kelly File revived the myth that Clinton dismissed the deaths of the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack during a congressional hearing. In seven separate segments, Kelly or her guests raised the myth that Clinton and senior White House officials deliberately lied about the attackers' motives. Kelly's show also featured five segments promoting the myth that the Obama administration issued a "stand down" order during the attacks.
At times, Kelly sounded more like a paid spokeswomen for the film, rather than a news anchor. She introduced her January 18 hour-long special on the film by calling 13 Hours "a blockbuster movie ... that could change everything you thought you knew about Benghazi. And directly impact the 2016 race for the White House." She also called the movie "extraordinary" and "a dramatic, compelling, white knuckled experience," while advising her viewers "don't plan on getting popcorn, don't plan on needing to use the restroom, because you will not leave your seat for two hours."
As The Hollywood Reporter noted, Kelly's praise of the film was so strong that Paramount Pictures, the studio which released the film, "even inserted quotes from Kelly ('riveting') and Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes ('extraordinary') into a TV commercial for 13 Hours ... presumably because these two news personalities are more trusted by conservatives than are the movie critics who typically show up in such advertising." The studio also reportedly "supplied Fox News behind-the-scenes footage" that Kelly used on-air, and "arranged for Kelly to interview three of the real-life heroes portrayed in the film."
According to a Media Matters analysis, Kelly also promoted the movie more on her show from January 4 through January 19 than the syndicated entertainment news shows Extra!, Entertainment Tonight, and Access Hollywood combined. Those shows covered the movie for a total of 7 and a half minutes over the same period.
Kelly's dedication to promoting right-wing misinformation surrounding the Benghazi attack is unsurprising given her track record at the network. As an otherwise-glowing profile of Kelly in Vanity Fair highlighted earlier this month, despite Kelly's attempt to cast her show "as a 'news' show as opposed to an opinion show, like Hannity or The O'Reilly Factor, [it] is made up largely of the kind of stories you'd find on many other Fox News shows at any other time." As Media Matters noted in 2013 when Kelly's new time slot was announced, Kelly regularly uses her perceived journalistic bona fides to cast conservative misinformation as "news."
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple noted of the network's 13 Hours coverage: "Fox News, even after hyping the bona fide revelations in the book version of '13 Hours,' is promoting the Bay movie for its potential to revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton. In so doing, Fox News isn't acting as a news organization, which reports events as they arise; it's acting as an advocacy organization, verily rooting for the movie to tilt the contemporary political debate."
Media Matters searched for the terms "Benghazi" and "13 Hours" in IQ Media from January 4, 2015 to January 19, 2015 in the shows, Extra!, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight. For the methodology for the original study, click here.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple highlighted how Fox News' coverage of Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi "is promoting the Bay movie for its potential to revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton" during her presidential run, and how the network, in doing so, is "acting as an advocacy organization."
Fox News has hyped 13 Hours repeatedly, claiming that the film would "raise a lot of questions" about the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi. In addition to using the movie to push the debunked "stand down order" myth, Fox has argued that Bay's film could "pose a threat" to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Fox's Andrea Tantaros argued, "if anyone sees this movie ... and then goes on to vote for Hillary Clinton, they're a criminal." Prime-time host Megyn Kelly, during a segment that pushed multiple Benghazi myths, said the movie "reintroduces Benghazi as a potential campaign issue that cannot be helpful to Mrs. Clinton." Kelly also attacked Wemple for a blog post that called out Kelly and her network's "obsession" with the Benghazi attacks and their potential political implications for Clinton.
In a January 19 piece for The Washington Post's Erik Wemple blog, Wemple explained again how 13 Hours "is giving the network a do-over opportunity" to "attempt to elevate the flick as a political watershed" and "revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton." Wemple noted that by "rooting for the movie to tilt the contemporary political debate," Fox has failed at "acting as a news organization, which reports events as they arise." Wemple concluded that any movie that negatively highlighted the Obama administration "could surely bank on similar excitement from the country's No. 1 cable news outfit":
On her program, [Megyn] Kelly criticized the Erik Wemple Blog for a Jan. 5 post we'd written about the love affair of Fox News with the new Michael Bay movie "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi." That movie is based on a book of similar title written by Boston University professor Mitchell Zuckoff and a team of security operators who were on the ground on the night of the tragic Benghazi, Libya, attacks of Sept. 11, 2012. The book carried a number of revelations -- including the claim of the security contractors that they were told to "stand down" before rushing to assist personnel at the besieged U.S. diplomatic outpost -- that made news upon its publication in 2014. Fox News was particularly aggressive in promoting the book.
"13 Hours" the movie is giving the network a do-over opportunity. The network is frequently running clips of the movie, interviewing the security operators -- particularly Mark "Oz" Geist, Kris "Tanto" Paronto and John "Tig" Tiegen -- and otherwise attempting to elevate the flick as a political watershed. On her Jan. 4 program, Kelly herself led into an interview with this trio by saying, "Breaking tonight a 'Kelly File' exclusive on the gripping new film that may pose a threat to Hillary Clinton's hopes for the White House." There was really nothing "breaking" that night -- just a rehash of the same news threads that had been aired at the time of the book's release.
On her program last night, Kelly disagreed with that point of view. "Wemple of the Washington Post seems to have an issue," said the host in a segment with Fox Newsers Chris Stirewalt and Howard Kurtz. "We did that interview with those three heroes and the feedback we received from the viewers was extraordinary. They wanted to know more. They wanted to know how they could help these guys. They couldn't wait to see this movie. Wemple has a different reaction, which was, '[dismissive sound effect] What did we learn that was new?' I've got news for you, Erik Wemple. You go and you sit through '13 Hours.' You sit there, white-knuckled. When you can't move at the end of it, and a tear comes to your eye, unless you're not human. And you tell me whether this is going to have no impact on the story of Benghazi, which is relevant in this 2016 presidential campaign."
Now to the heart of Kelly's criticism. She demands, "And you tell me whether this is going to have no impact on the story of Benghazi, which is relevant in this 2016 presidential campaign." We have no opinion or projection on whether or not the "13 Hours" movie will have an impact on the ongoing presidential race, nor whether it should have such an impact. Our point is narrower: That Fox News, even after hyping the bona fide revelations in the book version of "13 Hours," is promoting the Bay movie for its potential to revive Benghazi as a problem for Clinton. In so doing, Fox News isn't acting as a news organization, which reports events as they arise; it's acting as an advocacy organization, verily rooting for the movie to tilt the contemporary political debate. If Bay could only produce a Hollywood reenactment of Obamacare's lowest moments or of the failures of the president's Islamic State policy, he could surely bank on similar excitement from the country's No. 1 cable news outfit.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent called for President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to be hanged over their supposed malfeasance during the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terrorist attacks.
In a January 20 post published on his Facebook page, Nugent wrote that Clinton and Obama "should be tried for treason & hung" while pushing the conservative media myth that Obama or Clinton issued a "stand down" order during the September 11, 2012, attack:
From the January 19 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the January 18 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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From the January 16 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow:
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From the January 15 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Media Matters for America founder David Brock wrote an op-ed for U.S. News & World Report's Debate Club noting that conservatives are using the new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi to revive their partisan witch hunt over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The Michael Bay-directed film has been marketed to conservatives, many of whom hope the movie revives already-answered questions about the attacks.
"I'm sure there's no scandal because the questions have been asked and all the questions have been answered," Brock wrote. "And if you don't believe me, look to the seven congressional investigations that have found no evidence of wrongdoing by administration officials, including Hillary Clinton. Yet Fox News is still trying to convince viewers that there is a there there."
To read Brock's op-ed, "There's No Scandal, Only a Partisan Witch Hunt," go here.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sounded like a "dedicated Rush Limbaugh listener" at the January 14 GOP presidential primary debate, wrote Vox's Matthew Yglesias, highlighting how Cruz is gaining popularity among conservative voters by "espousing orthodox conservative views" and echoing many of Limbaugh's falsehoods and conspiracy theories.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto told Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Trey Gowdy (R-SC), that his on-going investigation into the attacks will only "carry currency" if the FBI acts against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or "recommends taking actions with the Justice Department."
Following the January 14 Republican presidential debate on the Fox Business Network, Neil Cavuto suggested to Gowdy that the only way for the Benghazi Select Committee to "carry currency" is "if the FBI acts on this or recommends taking actions with the Justice Department." Gowdy responded by suggesting that the committee's findings were a forgone conclusion, claiming "the smoking gun is the fact that she had her own unique server arrangement," but noted "whether or not there's any criminality ... the voters can judge that:
NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): At the Benghazi hearings a lot of people were saying, alright, Gowdy's got to deliver a knockout blow here. And after all those hours, [people are] amazed by your legal skills and ability to parlay this and go after her, maybe the mainstream media attention, all that they said in the end they didn't lay a glove on her. What do you make of that?
TREY GOWDY: I think the smoking gun is the fact that she had her own unique server arrangement.
CAVUTO: And that ironically could be her real Achilles heel.
GOWDY: But you know the world we live in Neil, once people know that she had her own server, that's no longer the smoking gun. But go back two years ago. If you were told that a Benghazi committee would find her emails that nobody else found, Chris Stevens' emails that nobody else found, and Patrick Kennedy, Susan Rice, you would say "they did a great job." Those are all home runs.
CAVUTO: But it's like people almost want to say, this will only carry currency I think, and I think you raise a number of great issues to your point, if the FBI acts on this or recommends taking actions with the Justice Department. What do you think happens if that happens, Congressman, but the Justice Department doesn't act?
Gowdy: There's one jury that our framers gave us every four years in November and the fact that DOJ may or may not do something, the voters can certainly mete out their own discipline and to Senator Rubio's point the mishandling of information, the decision to have your own server, whether or not there's any criminality, the jury can judge that. The voters can judge that.
The latest admission by Cavuto and Gowdy that the goal of the select committee is to "deliver a knockout blow" to Hillary Clinton comes after months of allegations that the committee abandoned conducting a comprehensive investigation into the attacks, turning its mission instead into a political "sham" meant to damage Clinton.
In October 2015, The New York Times reported that Bradley Podliska, a former investigator on the Republican-led Benghazi committee, accused the committee of becoming "preoccupied with the State Department's role in the controversy surrounding the Benghazi attack and less interested in a comprehensive investigation."
A month earlier, in September 2015, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), came under fire for comments he made on Fox News' Hannity in which he boasted that the Benghazi committee was damaging Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. McCarthy's comments led to a repudiation from House Republicans with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) calling on McCarthy to apologize.
Shortly before Michael Bay's latest movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, hit theaters, The Hollywood Reporter published a long report on how the film had been carefully marketed to conservative pundits. In return, the film was praised as "riveting" and "extraordinary" by people the studio could use to validate the movie to their hoped-for audience.
This is not a case of conservatives desperate for movies that speak even vaguely to their values getting hoodwinked by Hollywood.
President Obama is barely a presence in 13 Hours, and the film never mentions Hillary Clinton. But it's full of the kind of dog-whistles that are engineered to appeal to conservative moviegoers who have been imbibing conspiracy theories about Benghazi for years.
Over the years, the right-wing media has developed a series of myths around the idea that a "stand down order" was issued by someone high up in the Obama administration. According to the conspiracy, this was a "political decision not to rescue" the Americans because they were "expendable." According to CIA personnel, the Pentagon, the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Tripoli commander Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and nine other military officers, no such order was ever given.
13 Hours nods to the myth. As it becomes clear to the characters that the State Department compound has come under attack and Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) is endangered, the CIA contractors gear up and prepare to rush to their aid. This results in an angry confrontation between Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), the leader of the contractors, and the CIA base chief Bob (David Costabile), who wants them to wait while he tries to rally State's local Libyan guards rather than reveal the presence of the CIA base and endanger the lives of the Americans there.
"We're not supposed to be here," Bob tells Woods. "You will wait." Woods responds by mocking Bob's concerns and driving off with the other contractors as Bob is left to limply yell that they are not cleared to go.
The scene itself has some possible truth to it -- while there are disagreements over whether the real-life CIA contractors were literally told to "stand down," it's long been known that they argued with their base chief for roughly 20 minutes over how to respond to the attack before going to the State facility. But right-wing media have used the depiction of the events in the film as evidence that their initial conspiracy was accurate, moving the goalposts in order to justify their past claims.
To the conservative mythmakers, the "stand down order" is significant because, they claim, the United States had all sorts of military assets available that could have saved the lives of the Americans killed in Benghazi -- but those assets never showed up, because of the government's inexplicable refusal to use them. They specifically cite the supposed failure of the military to send a fighter jet over Benghazi as an example of the government's unwillingness to help Americans in peril.
In fact, several special operations teams were ordered to deploy, but did not arrive in Libya until long after the attack had concluded. The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee determined that there were not any "response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack."
Military leaders agree, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has accused critics who claim more U.S. forces should have responded of having a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities." Gates also explained why sending a fighter jet over Benghazi would have been a bad idea:
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
Bay's 13 Hours shows the Americans under fire baffled by the inability of their government to provide aid, specifically their failure to have a fighter jet perform a flyover of the annex. CIA analyst Sona Jillani (Alexia Barlier) leads the effort, calling up the military and asking for a "low loud f-you flight," only to be rebuffed. "I called for air support -- it never came," she tells the contractors as they mourn for their fallen comrades.
At times, the film provides a broader perspective, briefly detailing the deployment of special operations forces and F-16s prepping on the tarmac. But most of the film is tightly centered on the events on the ground in Benghazi, and so it never explains why they don't show up. Without more explanation, viewers with limited knowledge of the attacks have little choice but to believe the right-wing narrative.
Right-wing media have spent years pushing the myth that the Obama administration deliberately misled the public by tying the attack to an anti-Islam YouTube video that triggered massive anti-American protests across the Middle East in September 2012.
As congressional investigations have found, the Obama administration had been referencing initial reports from the CIA that the Benghazi attacks had grown out of protests against the video. The attackers reportedly "did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video," and the assault's alleged ringleader reportedly said that they were acting in "retaliation" for the video.
In one of the film's oddest moments, some of the special operators are talking on the roof of part of the CIA annex between attacks when one says he had heard that American press are reporting on the attack on the diplomatic facility, but that they are "saying it's a street protest about an anti-Islam film." "I didn't see a protest," another replies.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) began his closing statement on the Fox Business GOP debate with a plug for Michael Bay's Benghazi movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi. Cruz's movie endorsement parrots Fox News' campaign to use the movie to undermine Hillary Clinton. Recently Fox has co-opted the film as an attack against her presidential run and devoted a substantial number of segments to promoting the film, including an upcoming hour-long special on The Kelly File. A 13 Hours reference by Rick Santorum also made its way into Fox Business' undercard debate earlier in the evening. From the January 14 Fox Business' Republican Candidates Debate:
TED CRUZ: "13 Hours." Tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them.