From the September 18 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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The Washington Post reported this week that WJLA, ABC's Washington, D.C., affiliate, has taken a "subtle but noticeable turn to the right" since being taken over by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. This conservative tilt was on full display this week when the channel ran a news package promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about Benghazi from reporter Sharyl Attkisson.
The Washington Post piece highlighted the concerns of some staff members of local ABC affiliate WJLA, that following the finalization of the sale to Sinclair in August 2014, "some of the stories ordered by Sinclair on a 'must-run' basis don't meet the station's long tradition of non-partisan reporting." One factor in this shift to conservative partisan reporting was announced in July prior to the sale, when Sinclair hired discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson as an "independent freelance reporter" to "focus on stories that follow the money and waste watch type of investigations."
However, prior to the September 17 opening hearing of the House Benghazi Special Committee, Attkisson ran a dubious report for Sinclair that appeared on WJLA highlighting the unverifiable claims of former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell alleging that some documents were intentionally withheld from the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi:
The same day Attkisson's report ran on WJLA, Attkisson appeared on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends where she reiterated the report's unsubstantiated accusations. Host Steve Doocy lamented that only a handful of outlets such as Fox and the Daily Signal -- the Heritage Foundation website to which Attkisson occasionally contributes -- were covering this latest so-called "Benghazi bombshell." Attkisson concluded the segment by mentioning that her report was also broadcast to "maybe 30 million local news viewers" through Sinclair's affiliate stations.
Although Sinclair's support of right-wing misinformation has been widely documented and criticized for many years, its increasing influence in local media bodes ill for objective journalism at stations like WJLA.
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the September 17 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News' Bill O'Reilly questioned whether the latest report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, which baselessly suggested a Benghazi cover-up by State Department officials, actually constituted a "scandal."
On the September 16 edition of his Fox News show, host Bill O'Reilly invited Attkisson to discuss her "troubling accusations against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" from "a disgruntled former State Department official." After Attkisson confirmed that her source had not witnessed such actions himself, O'Reilly dismissed the conspiracy explaining that "If no documents were removed, scrubbed, if they weren't taken out or destroyed, then I don't know if there is any scandal":
Later during the segment, Fox correspondent James Rosen reported that Attkisson's source had previously failed to disclose this accusation of a cover-up and that his account "bears a lot of further investigation before it can be deemed credible":
ROSEN: One point about this matter, Democrats on the House Oversight committee, which has previously investigated Benghazi, have noted that Mr. Maxwell was formally interviewed by that panel last year with a transcript prepared and despite many opportunities to do so, Mr. Maxwell never disclosed this shocking scene of obstruction of justice by high level state department officials that he now claims to have witnessed. That omission on his part at that time, along with other issues, will ensure that if and when Mr. Maxwell testifies before the House Benghazi committee, he will face some rough sledding in cross examination.
O'REILLY: Yeah. Why didn't you say it when you had the first opportunity? Yeah, I got it.
ROSEN: Yes now, all of this is not to say that what Mr. Maxwell claims to have witnessed never happen, just that it bears a lot of further investigation before it can be deemed credible.
Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
On September 6, Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland spoke at a Cobb County Republican breakfast in Georgia to an audience of 75 people, who each paid $10 to attend his "update on the Benghazi investigation."
Westmoreland is one of seven Republican members picked to serve on the House select committee, which holds its first public hearing tomorrow and could stretch its inquiries into the 2016 election year. The latest Republican-run body follows what has been a parade of costly and repetitive investigations into the Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans.
Despite a laundry list of nearly identical conclusions about the events, and the complete absence of a White House cover-up or wrongdoing, Republicans, spurred on by Fox News, press ahead in search of "answers" to supposedly elusive questions.
But in Cobb County that Saturday morning, Westmoreland insisted the committee's not "a partisan witch hunt." He stressed another point, according to a report in the Marietta Daily Journal [emphasis added]:
"I think our enemy stands on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.," Westmoreland said to loud applause.
And so it goes.
Last week, as Fox's Benghazi cover-up conspiracy sputtered across the two-year anniversary line, Roger Ailes' team was furiously promoting not one but two new books, claiming both tomes boasted revelations that deepened the alleged controversy. (They do not.)
Benghazi, of course, has been politicized in the most disturbing way possible, to the point where Fox News and conservatives have has turned an American tragedy into something of a macabre Twitter punchline. It's become sort of a Groundhog Day of exploitation and fakery with more than one thousand on-air Fox segments -- during evening coverage alone -- devoted to the endless pursuit. And now the Republicans' select committee, virtually sponsored by Fox News, is set to add more chapters to the sprawling production, which conveniently doubles as a GOP fundraising tool.
According to press reports, the committee's first hearing will focus on the State Department's Accountability Review Board, which looked into the details surrounding the Benghazi attacks. In other words, Republican investigators have decided to investigate the Benghazi investigators. Again.
And at this point, does anyone even remember in 2012 when the family of slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens beseeched opportunists not to politicize his death? ("It would really be abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue.") Or when the mother of one of the other murdered Americans in Benghazi scolded Mitt Romney when he kept referencing her son on the presidential campaign trail? ("It's wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama.")
Those wishes were almost instantly trampled and are now long forgotten by most; distant echoes drowned out by the churning gears of phony outrage.
The professionally sustained hysteria over the minutia of Benghazi --the YouTube video, Susan Rice's talking points, the allegedly nefarious White House emails, and the imaginary stand-down order -- they were all constructed for partisan purposes and none of them were based on fact or common sense.
With the House Select Committee on Benghazi scheduled to convene for its first public hearing tomorrow, Media Matters is unveiling All Questions Answered, the definitive user's guide to the committee that demonstrates how conservative inquiries into the 2012 attacks have been litigated over and over again.
You can read All Questions Answered at BenghaziHoax.com, a new Media Matters website featuring our latest research and curating nearly 1,000 pieces we have produced over the past two years chronicling and debunking the lies right-wing media have pushed about Benghazi.
Fox News and the conservative media have been politicizing Benghazi for more than two years, seeking to turn the tragic events of that night into a phony scandal in order to damage President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The network took credit for House Speaker John Boehner's decision to create the select committee, a development Fox News contributors had sought for months. In the two weeks after the announcement the network devoted over 16 hours and 27 minutes -- at least 227 segments -- to Benghazi, a value of more than $124 million.
An excerpt from All Questions Answered details how the right-wing press turned an innocuous email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes into a sham "smoking gun," leading to the creation of the committee:
Conservative media outlets were up in arms, and they were soon followed by mainstream reporters. According to this new right-wing narrative, the White House had been withholding these emails from the public and congressional committees. But what did these emails actually demonstrate?
Rhodes' job on the National Security Council was to provide communications guidance to administration officials speaking on foreign policy issues. In the wake of upheaval across the entire region, with violent protests taking place in Cairo and the attack on the United States' diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Rhodes was tasked with preparing messaging guidance for then-national security adviser Susan Rice. In the emails unveiled by Judicial Watch, Rhodes took CIA-authored talking points -- whose creation had been made public in detail a year earlier -- and turned them into a messaging document.
That no new information was revealed mattered little. Simply the perception that the Obama administration was hiding something from the public created a media firestorm.
All Questions Answered goes down the list of conservative questions about Benghazi one by one, debunking the lies and myths about the attacks and the Obama administration's response.
All Questions Answered is a supplement to Media Matters' best-selling 2013 ebook The Benghazi Hoax, which "tells in intimate detail the story of the deception created by those who fill airtime with savage punditry and pseudo-journalism and how the Republicans in charge of the investigative committees were empowered but ultimately failed to find a scandal - any kind of scandal - to tar a Democratic White House."
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.
A new report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson baselessly suggested State Department staff removed damaging documents on Benghazi instead of turning them over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for investigation. But Attkisson's claims have been denied by the State Department and are based solely on speculations from a disgruntled employee after he was disciplined for his "lack of leadership" and engagement by the ARB.
In a September 15 report for The Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Attkisson reported that a former State Department diplomat alleges that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." The Daily Signal described this as a "Benghazi Bombshell."
Attkisson reported that the diplomat, Raymond Maxwell, a former deputy assistant secretary responsible for North Africa, says that in late 2012 he observed an "after-hours session" at which a State Department office director "close to Clinton's top advisers" directed staff to separate out Benghazi documents "that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office or the seventh floor in a bad light" from "boxes and stacks of documents." Attkisson notes that "'seventh floor' was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors." Maxwell told Attkisson that while he was present, Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan "appeared to check in on the operation and soon left."
Speculating that potentially missing, possibly damaging documents made it impossible for the ARB's investigation to be thorough, Attkisson reported that Maxwell said "he couldn't help but wonder if the ARB--perhaps unknowingly--had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing."
Fox News' America's Newsroom quickly reported Attkisson's claims, calling them a "bombshell development" and a "smoking gun of a potential cover-up":
From the September 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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The newly-released 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi documents the experience on the ground the night of the September 2012 terrorist attacks, effectively debunking a number of old media myths surrounding the tragedy.
The book, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and five former CIA contractors who defended the diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex during the assault, is an interesting eyewitness portrayal of the attacks and the heroism the men displayed. But while the book has received ample media attention, outlets are largely ignoring several key points from 13 Hours' narrative that undermine false media narratives about the attacks.
On CNN's The Lead, host Jake Tapper interviewed three of the authors and specifically focused on what he called the "biggest point of contention" between the authors and administration officials, which is their description of the so-called "stand down" order. According to the contractors, though they were ready to leave the CIA annex to defend the diplomatic post almost immediately following the initial distress call, they were asked to wait for approximately 20 minutes as their CIA base chief attempted to contact local a Libyan militia for assistance and develop a plan. They disagreed with the delay and wanted to move in more quickly.
This disagreement was eventually politicized and inflated by media and political figures, who insisted that members of the Obama administration, or then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ordered rescue efforts to "stand down" permanently and leave Americans to die. But as the contractors explained to Tapper, though they believe they could have done more to save American lives that night had they been allowed to leave immediately, they did not view the decision as one of "malice" towards Americans, nor did they place the blame for the decision on anyone higher up than the base chief.
As the New York Times noted, their story "fits with the publicly known facts and chronology" we already knew about the non-existent "stand down" order. For example, the Associated Press reported last year on the disagreement between CIA leaders and security contractors about the delay to try to gather support from militia allies, citing Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland pointing to the disagreement as a possible source of the "stand down" myth.
The "stand down" order dispute has defined the majority of media coverage on the book. Fox News, which produced a special based on the book, has used the "stand down" reporting in 13 Hours to suggest they've been right all along about it. But Fox figures are moving the goalposts -- they network's obsession with a "stand down" order has revolved around the idea that the administration ordered a forces to not respond that night, which does not resemble the story laid out in the book.
While media have been focused on whether the contractors were ordered to "stand down," 13 Hours actually debunks other myths surrounding the attacks.
A Republican activist, attorney, and key player in the Benghazi hoax accused a former congressional staffer of harassing Benghazi eyewitnesses during congressional testimonies before going to work for Hillary Clinton -- but the staffer in question actually left Congress months before the interviews of those eyewitnesses took place. The false claim is just the latest in a long line of fictions from the Benghazi hoaxster, who has been discredited by Republicans members of the House Intelligence Committee and Benghazi CIA contractors alike.
Victoria Toensing appeared on the September 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends to aid the network in reviving the myth of a "stand down" order in Benghazi. Going even further, Toensing claimed that Michael Allen, former chief of staff for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, orchestrated the harassment of three CIA contractors giving their eyewitness testimony on the Benghazi attacks before Congress, even speculating that Allen purposefully prohibited the Committee from getting answers before leaving to join a "Hillary organization":
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): When these three operators and the others came back and they testified behind closed doors to the House Intel Committee, I understand they were harassed by the House Intel Committee that we thought were trying to get all the answers. What was up with that?
TOENSING: Republicans. And they were told, they were accused that they were not telling the truth. They were threatened with "the committee is not going to pay your travel expenses," which committees always do for witnesses who come in from out of town, "because you're writing a book and you're going to make money, and by the way, you shouldn't be writing a book."
Now you say why would that happen with the Republican-dominated House Intelligence Committee? Well, that chief of staff, the head of that staff that harassed these three brave men, a few months later went to work for Beacon Global Strategies. That is a Hillary organization.
The Society of Professional Journalists, the "leading professional association of working journalists," overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions partly in response to 60 Minutes' Benghazi debacle and CNN's failure to disclose Newt Gingrich's political ties, the group's ethics chair said Monday.
He also cited Washington Post columnist George Will's failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity as the type of conflict of interest journalists should seek to avoid.
On September 6, SPJ announced the release of its first new Code of Ethics in 18 years, Smith said. The group explained that the "code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior."
Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.
"I think there is a lot of room to criticize a lot of media today for their lack of transparency," Smith said following the release of the new code on Saturday. "On Fox, I've seen it happen, on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, these conflicts that show up, they do not reveal them in the story."
In the release announcing the changes, SPJ stated:
The idea of transparency makes a debut in this code. Although this code does not abdicate the principle of being independent of conflicts that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, it does note more strongly that when these conflicts can't be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.
Asked which specific incidents prompted the change, Smith pointed to two major ethical failures that emerged in late 2013.
In October 2013, 60 Minutes aired a since-retracted segment promoting a book written by Dylan Davies, a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks whose accounts were later discredited. In its initial segment, CBS failed to disclose that Davies' book was published by Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, which is owned by CBS Corporation.
"Once they found out [a CBS company] was publishing, wouldn't it make sense there were some internal pressures on Lara Logan to rush that vetting?" Smith said. "I think the book deal is what forced that interview on to TV before it was ready. They could interview him and promote the book."
Smith also cited CNN failing to disclose Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich's financial contributions -- through his PAC -- to various politicians he had discussed or interviewed on-air. CNN actually changed its ethics policy to make clear that Gingrich's actions were not violations.
"That's problematic, right?" Smith said about CNN. "Don't you believe the audience deserves a full accountability of someone who has benefited financially or contributed their work to a particular candidate?"