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?"
From the September 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report With Bret Baier:
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Fox News exploited witnesses to the Benghazi attacks to further its Benghazi hoax just days before a GOP-led select committee holds its first public hearing, even though these witnesses were previously interviewed in congressional investigations that months ago debunked claims made during the Fox News Reporting: 13 Hours at Benghazi special.
The September 5 Fox special featured interviews with three CIA security contractors who were present in Benghazi during the September 2012 attacks, and aimed to answer "Whether or not military assistance was requested by the security team and whether orders from above hindered their response to the violence that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans." The chairman of the Benghazi Select Committee already took notice of the Fox program and used it to justify the establishment of his committee.
The witnesses on Fox mentioned that they requested the support of combat aircraft and insisted, contrary to multiple independent and congressional reports, that they were told to "stand down" by the chief of the CIA base in Benghazi. They later claimed that if there had been no delay, Ambassador Stevens would still be alive:
What Fox failed to mention was that the CIA officers and contractors present in Libya during the attacks were previously interviewed by Congress in private testimony before a House intelligence subcommittee. This testimony destroyed the myths that anyone had been ordered to "stand down" and that a speedier response would have saved more lives.
A December 2013 Associated Press report on this testimony cited Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), "who heads a House intelligence subcommittee that interviewed the employees," to explain that the CIA personnel were fully aware there would be no air support:
He explained that the lack of air support was clear to all CIA employees working in Libya because of a 2011 CIA memorandum sent to employees after NATO forces ended their mission in support of the Libyan revolution.
One contractor testified that he shouted repeatedly over the agency's radio system to his CIA security boss that they should request combat aircraft. But the security chief explained to lawmakers that he ignored his subordinate's demands because he said he knew that no combat aircraft were available for such a mission, Westmoreland said.
The testimony revealed that there was a delay in the CIA response team departing to the aid of those under attack at the diplomatic facility in an attempt to round up additional support for them from a local Libyan militia, and that "[s]ome CIA security contractors disagreed with their bosses and wanted to move more quickly." Westmoreland told AP that "he believes this disagreement was the source of allegations that the CIA ordered security personnel to 'stand down' and not help the people inside the diplomatic mission."
The full report from the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee ultimately found that "There was no 'stand-down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening," according to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), a member of the committee. The Senate Intelligence Committee and independent Accountability Review Board also found that no orders from above obstructed the rescue operation, despite the suggestion by Fox that this occurred.
The AP report also said of the testimony by the CIA officers and contractors present in Libya during the attack:
None of those who testified said a quicker response would have saved the lives of Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith at the temporary diplomatic facility.
The statements made by the CIA contractors in this Fox special are ultimately old news and don't match up with their testimony in a congressional investigation that debunked many of the network's narratives about the attacks.
Fox News' Special Report continued the network's attempts to push the myth that a "stand down order" was issued to American security personnel on the ground during the 2012 Benghazi attacks, a claim immediately debunked by a panelist on the show.
On the September 4 edition of Special Report, host Bret Baier aired video of his interview with three CIA security personnel who responded to the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. The interview will be featured during Fox News' special "13 Hours at Benghazi," which will air on September 5 and is based on a forthcoming book of the same name that the personnel played a role in writing. Introducing the interview, Baier asked the former security personnel about what he claimed to be "one of the most controversial questions arising from Benghazi: Was helped delayed?" Baier described the interview as a "dramatic new turn in what the Obama administration and its allies would like to dismiss as an old story."
The three CIA security personnel explained to Baier that the CIA's station chief in Benghazi told them to wait before responding to the attacks. One of the men told Baier "I assumed they were trying to coordinate us to link up with 17 February, which is the local militia."
But contrary to Baier's presentation of the story as new and "dramatic," New York Times reported in a September 4 article that the security personnel accounts made in the book "fits with the publicly known facts and chronology," explaining that U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that "the Central Intelligence Agency security team paused to try to enlist support from Libyan militia allies."
In fact, during a panel discussing Baier's interview later on the program, conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Lane explained that the delay was probably to ensure the safety of the remaining CIA security personnel and was, in fact, not controversial at all:
LANE: The person I want to hear from is Bob, the CIA guy who told them to wait. Because when we hear from Bob we'll hear why he told them to wait. What we heard from your interview was they assumed he was waiting for more support from the local militia. Which, by the way, might not be a bad reason to wait. In other words, you want to go - you don't want to rush in with just three guys into what was obviously a very, very dangerous situation. You'd want to wait to see if you could round up some more support. In other words, there's a difference between waiting and waiting for no good reason and, even worse, waiting because you were told 'we don't care what happens to the Ambassador.' I want to hear from Bob, I want to hear the CIA make him available and tell us exactly what was going on. What I'm not hearing in this is that anybody in Washington said, 'we don't care what happens to the Ambassador, write it off, stay away.'
Even panelist Steve Hayes pointed out that the House Intelligence Committee's Benghazi report "says that there was no stand down order." And Baier himself conceded that the Senate Intelligence Committee January 2014 review of the attacks "said that in fact it was working to get this February 17 militia to respond first."
The evidence that CIA operatives were not delayed by "orders from above" is overwhelming and has existed for quite some time -- but if Fox's upcoming Benghazi documentary is any indication, the network will continue its attempts to make a scandal out of the "stand down order" myth.
WND reporter Aaron Klein is releasing The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know, which claims to "expose" the "truth" about the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya. Klein is utterly devoid of credibility -- he's a conspiracy theorist who claims President Obama has an "eligibility problem," says Obama may be a Muslim who "might be with" Al-Qaeda given his "Islamic background," and previously authored books about Obama being a "Manchurian President" deserving of impeachment.
A new book that seeks to damage Hillary Clinton over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi reportedly relies on long-debunked conservative myths.
On September 9, WND Books will publish Aaron Klein's The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know. The book's release is the latest salvo from a conservative cottage industry that aims to make money and political hay out of both Benghazi and Clinton smears.
Klein, a senior reporter for the birther site WND, is not a credible author -- one of his recent books portrayed President Obama as a "Manchurian Candidate" whose autobiography was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers.
The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard, who reviewed an advance copy of Klein's Benghazi book, reported that Klein argues "Clinton was unwilling to provide additional security to the diplomatic outpost and even played a role in sending Stevens to his 'doomed mission.'"
Klein's contention that Clinton "was unwilling to provide additional security to the diplomatic outpost" seems to reference the long-debunked conservative claim that the then-Secretary of State personally signed off on cables rejecting requests for additional security. When congressional Republicans first made that claim in April 2013, diplomatic reporters noted that every cable sent to the State Department from overseas facilities is addressed to the secretary, and every cable sent from the State Department is signed by the secretary, even though the secretary rarely reviews them.
In her 2014 memoir, Clinton wrote that she had never seen the cables in question, stating, "That's not how it works. It shouldn't. And it didn't."
Klein's claim that Clinton "played a role in sending Stevens" to his death in Benghazi has also been debunked. The State Department's Accountability Review Board reported that Stevens "made the decision to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington, per standard practice," with the trip's timing "driven in part by commitments in Tripoli." Gregory Hicks, who was Stevens' deputy, also testified before Congress that the ambassador "chose to go" to Benghazi.
A central question of Fox News' latest documentary on Benghazi has already been answered by official congressional and State Department investigations into the terrorist attacks.
On August 27, Fox announced "13 Hours at Benghazi," a new documentary hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier that will reportedly include "exclusive" interviews with three American security personnel who were present for the September 2012 attacks. The production, scheduled to air September 5, is based on a forthcoming book written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and the CIA contractors.
According to Fox's announcement, the production will specifically explore "Whether or not military assistance was requested by the security team and whether orders from above hindered their response to the violence that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans."
The problem with this premise is that both of those questions have already been answered by official intelligence investigations.
As the Daily Beast's Eli Lake has explained, on the night of the attacks there was a 23-minute delay between the initial distress call from the diplomatic mission and when the CIA contractors departed the nearby Annex to respond. Despite suggestions from some in the intelligence community that this delay hindered their rescue effort, investigations found no evidence that the CIA operatives were delayed by "orders from above," as Fox's announcement suggests.
Instead, the Senate Intelligence Committee's January 2014 review of the attacks found that during that delay, the CIA's Chief of Base "attempted to secure assistance and heavy weapons" from US allies in the region, and that (emphasis added):
Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.
The State Department's independent Accountability Review Board also found the CIA team was not obstructed by officials:
The departure of the Annex team was not delayed by orders from superiors; the team leader decided on his own to depart the Annex compound once it was apparent, despite a brief delay to permit their continuing efforts, that rapid support from local security elements was not forthcoming.
Finally, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republicans, also found no evidence that any response effort was blocked by official orders. According to Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the "bipartisan, factual, definitive report" on the Intelligence Community's actions the night of the attacks "shows there was no 'stand down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening."
Fox's Bret Baier, the host of the upcoming special, reported on the House Intelligence Committee's findings on August 5.
Baier has hosted previous Fox specials on Benghazi and has repeatedly used his Fox News program to promote myths about the attacks and their aftermath. The false claim that CIA contractors received "orders to wait" was also pushed by 60 Minutes' infamous since-retracted Benghazi report, which featured a discredited "eyewitness" account from a British security contractor.
From the August 19 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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A new report by the House Intelligence Committee reportedly concluded that there was no intentional wrongdoing in how the Obama administration responded to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. After two years and countless independent investigations, when will Fox News finally end its nonstop scandal-mongering?