Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
CBS anchor Bob Schieffer allowed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to push the discredited claim that health care website contractors were pressured to change an aspect of HealthCare.gov by the White House days after those contractors explicitly denied any pressure from administration officials.
On the October 27 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer asked Issa about the purpose of congressional subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs. Issa responded by claiming contractors had admitted that White House officials pressured them to drop a tool that allowed exchange customers to get a price estimate before registering on the website. Issa's accusation was the shorter version of one he made earlier in the week, in which he claimed in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, "We are concerned that the administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare's effect on increasing health insurance premiums."
Schieffer never pushed back on Issa's accusation, even though officials from the contractor, CGI Federal, denied any White House pressure to remove the tool from the website. A press release from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out that in congressional testimony, CGI senior vice president Cheryl Campbell refuted Issa's claims, testifying that she was not aware of any orders from the White House to remove the price estimate tool:
No act in modern media culture can create as instantly polarizing a figure as the leaking of classified information. Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden -- the complexity of their human psyche was instantly reduced to binary choices by opposing extremes tugging to set a narrative.
They must be canonized or villainized.
Creating a media narrative focused on battles over the moral character of imperfect individuals inevitably draws the public away from necessary debates about our fundamental rights.
Bob Schieffer's commentary Sunday night on CBS was jarring, because after acknowledging, "I don't know yet if the government has overreached since 9/11 to reinforce our defenses, and we need to find out," the veteran newsman then turned his fire: "I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us."
Schieffer's statement followed former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw belittling Snowden as a "military washout" and Richard Cohen of The Washington Post describing him as a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood."
Whether or not Edward Snowden is a narcissist is inconsequential. Was the information he leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post accurate? What are the boundaries between the surveillance abilities our 21st century telecommunications infrastructure provides agencies like the NSA, and a free and open society?
Who Edward Snowden is as a person is insignificant to the question of whether or not we as a society should be having a debate - facts in hand - about the level of surveillance we are willing to tolerate.
There are legitimate grounds of inquiry into how individuals obtain clearances, the use of private contractors by the intelligence community, and if the disclosure of this information constitutes a criminal act. But the majority of attacks on Snowden don't seek answers to these questions. They attempt to distract us with a chorus of voices more interested in a conversation better suited to the naming of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's baby than the most significant discussion about our right to privacy of the past decade.
Snowden has been called a "hero," "traitor," "dropout," "narcissist," and "washout." He has been attacked by elites from all ends of the ideological spectrum in government and the media. And yes, he has put himself forward for these attacks. But just as the conversation the Pentagon Papers promoted was ultimately far more significant than the personality of Daniel Ellsberg, the conversation Edward Snowden has begun is far more important than any defects - or heroic qualities - he may possess.
Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
Fox News reporter Kelly Wright used a partial quote from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to paper over Ryan's acknowledgment that debt levels are stable for the near term, misrepresenting the debt conflict between President Obama and House Republicans.
On the March 17 edition of CBS News' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked Ryan about an interview Obama had previously given to ABC News, in which he observed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt." Ryan conceded to Schieffer that "we don't have a debt crisis right now," going on to explain that Republicans differ with the president on how to handle the prospective crisis. From the March 17 edition of Face the Nation:
RYAN: To borrow a phrase from my friend Erskine Bowles and the fiscal commission, we're the healthiest looking horse in the glue factory. That means America is still a step ahead of the European nations who are confronting a debt crisis of Japan that's in its second lost decade. It's partly because of our resilient economy, our world currency status. So we do not have a debt crisis right now, but we see it coming, we know it's irrefutably happening. And the point we're trying to make in our budget is let's get ahead of this problem. Look we know that in a debt crisis you pull the rug out from under people living on the safety net, you cut seniors in retirement. This is what we're trying to avoid. The purpose of having a reasonable balanced budget like we're proposing is let's prevent a debt crisis from happening in the first place. If we keep kicking the can down the road, if we follow the president's lead or if we pass the Senate budget, then we will have a debt crisis. Then everybody gets hurt. You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.
In the lead segment of the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, however, Wright excised Ryan's agreement with the president. After stating that despite Obama's "charm offensive," Republicans "remain skeptical about the president's sincerity," Wright offered a misleading paraphrase of Ryan's comments that implied that Obama's 'no immediate crisis' observation was a stumbling block in negotiations, rather than a point of common ground.
WRIGHT: But some Republicans remain skeptical about the president's sincerity. Congressman Paul Ryan, who we just heard from, expressed doubts after the president's recent comment that America is not in an immediate debt crisis. Ryan contends that America is teetering on the edge of a crisis, and that it will have serious repercussions.
[RYAN CLIP:] You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.
This heavy truncation of Ryan's quote suggests disagreement where there is none: Both Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with the president's assessment that any crisis is not immediate. That's because debt levels are stable in the near term, a fact straight from the Congressional Budget Office. The White House and the congressional GOP dispute the proper policy response to these non-immediate, middle-distance fiscal issues, but the president's "immediate crisis" comments are not controversial.
President Obama and congressional Republicans agree about the importance of debt reduction, but dispute the timeline and architecture of that reduction. Ryan's belief that America is merely "the healthiest horse in the glue factory" may be misguided, but it is much more informative for fiscal debate watchers than Fox's focus on a ginned-up disagreement that Ryan and Boehner have already rejected.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer slurred undocumented immigrants as "illegals," a term that has been condemned by several prominent journalistic organizations.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appeared on Face the Nation and he said that he intended to "pass an immigration reform bill." Schieffer responded by asking "Would that mean finding some path to citizenship for the illegals that are in this country?"
The Associated Press Stylebook instructs journalists not to "use the terms illegal alien, an an illegal or illegals."
Numerous organizations and commentators have also called on the media not to use the loaded term "illegals." For instance, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has called on news media to stop using the word "illegals" as a noun. The NAHJ stated that it was "particularly troubled with the growing trend of the news media to use the word 'illegals' as a noun, shorthand for 'illegal aliens.'" The statement added that "using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed." The Asian American Journalists Association's handbook implores journalists to "avoid" the word "illegals," calling it "a slur."
At tonight's presidential debate, moderator Bob Schieffer asked Mitt Romney about his statement that he would declare China a currency manipulator his first day in office: "If you declare them a currency manipulator on day one, some people are saying you're just going to start a trade war with China on day one. Is that -- isn't there a risk that that could happen?" It's curious that Schieffer characterized this criticism as coming from "some people" when it was made directly to Schieffer himself yesterday morning by none other than Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of Romney's chief surrogates.
Appearing on CBS' Face The Nation Sunday, Rubio told Schieffer regarding labeling China a currency manipulator: "A trade war is not the right way to approach it and I think that if you label them a currency manipulator, that's what it may result in, it would hurt American businesses."
Again, Rubio is a top Romney campaign surrogate and an important Republican voice on Capitol Hill. Seems like Schieffer should have mentioned the source of that China criticism.
Will CBS' Bob Schieffer ask the presidential candidates about climate change in the final debate tonight? If not -- and assuming neither President Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney raise the issue independently -- it will be the first time in over a decade that every presidential debate ignored the changes we are forcing on our atmosphere.
While tonight's debate focuses on foreign policy, Andrew Revkin, a former environmental reporter for The New York Times who runs the blog Dot Earth, argued that this debate would actually be an appropriate forum to discuss climate change, as global warming has global consequences and requires global solutions. A recent report by the National Defense Industrial Association identified climate change as one of the top five national security threats we face in the next decade, and many experts agree.
The debate's location, Florida, is also an apt setting to challenge the candidates about their plans to address this issue. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has projected 9" to 24" of sea-level rise by 2060 in Southeast Florida, as over 130 local sea-level rise experts noted when calling for the candidates to address climate change during tonight's debate. The following graphic, excerpted from their letter, showed what a lower-level estimate could mean for Florida flooding when a Category 1 hurricane hits:
Schieffer previously asked about climate change in a 2008 presidential debate between then-Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain. However, instead of asking the candidates what they would do to address the issue, Schieffer focused only on their plans to wean our reliance on "foreign oil," overlooking the fact that our dependence on oil -- whether domestic or foreign -- exacerbates climate change and hurts our energy security.
In 2008, both Obama and McCain acknowledged the threat of climate change and promoted policy solutions to address it. Since then, the evidence of manmade climate change has only gotten stronger, but the Republican party has shifted from acceptance to denial, dragging Romney along with it.
In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting in Aurora, CO, some in the media are distorting public opinion and election results to predict that the events will not have an impact on the debate over gun violence prevention. In fact, polls indicate public support for a broad range of stronger gun restrictions, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which may have prevented the legal purchase of one of the alleged shooter's guns.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza kicked off the debate with a piece published the morning after the shooting headlined "Why the Aurora shootings won't likely change the gun control debate":
If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.
In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the "laws covering the sales of firearms" should be made "more strict" while just 10 percent said they should be made "less strict" or "kept as they are now". By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.
By Sunday the claim that Americans don't support tougher gun laws was a regular feature on the morning political talk shows. But if Congress is not moved by this tragedy to pass new gun violence prevention laws, it won't be because the American people oppose such measures.
In fact, other polls indicate that contrary to the result of the Gallup poll Cillizza cited, Americans support the passage of an array of new, stronger firearm sale laws.
Note that this appetite among the public for stronger gun laws includes the support of more than three in five for reinstating the nationwide ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. One of the weapons used by the alleged shooter was an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which reportedly may have been banned under that law. Members of the House and Senate have called for bringing back the ban in response to the shooting. They enjoy the support of 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, according to a June 2011 Time magazine poll.
On CBS Sunday morning, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer gave a free pass to Mitt Romney's on his changed position on whether an individual mandate should be part of federal health insurance reform.
Schieffer's interview was the first Sunday morning interview Romney has done this campaign cycle with a show other than Fox News Sunday.
Schieffer asked Romney to respond to the assertion that the federal Affordable Care Act enacted by Obama is essentially the same as the plan that Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Romney responded that he believed an individual mandate at the federal level is "unconstitutional."
However, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed, Romney advocated for a federal individual mandate, expressly stating that the federal government follow his Massachusetts law as a model, a fact Schieffer did not bring up.
As TPM explained:
In July 2009, Mitt Romney called on President Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of his health care plan, using "tax penalties" as a backstop -- in other words, the individual mandate that Republicans virulently oppose.
In a USA Today op-ed titled "Mr. President, what's the rush?," which is also available on MittRomneyCentral.com, Romney urged Obama to "learn a thing or two about health care reform" from his Massachusetts plan that contained the same policy, and touted it as effective.
"First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance," Romney wrote. "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."
The revelation could damage the GOP presidential frontrunner, who has been attacked by conservatives for enacting a similar law as "Obamacare," but has defended himself by saying such an approach is acceptable on a state level, not a federal level.
Watch the interview from CBS's Face the Nation:
Yesterday's Face The Nation certainly did not reflect CBS's best efforts in terms of showcasing serious people discussing American politics, or in terms of holding guests accountable for their outlandish attacks on the president.
As Media Matters noted, CBS on Sunday aired an interview with Donald Trump who claimed, yet again, that he was kind of/maybe thinking about running for president as an independent. (Or he might just endorse one of the current GOP candidates; he's not sure.) Why Trump's self-promotion would still pass as news in 2012 remains a mystery.
Worse, Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer never asked Trump about the thoroughly debunked, Obama birther conspiracy theory that the businessman proudly hyped last year only to watch it collapse in spectacular fashion.
What else transpired on Face The Nation yesterday? Discussing this week's Florida Republican primary, the program hosted Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who is widely known for using slanderous, AM radio-style hate rants against Democrats.
In fact, here' what West told a partisan crowd the day before he appeared on Face the Nation:
We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, (audience boos) and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain't on the table," West said. "Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.
On Face The Nation though, host Schieffer never asked West why he had demanded that Obama, Reid and Pelosi "get the hell out" of the country.
It's possible Schieffer didn't know about West's comments, even though they were reported the night before Sunday's Face The Nation aired. Either way, CBS ought to know better than to treat reckless name-callers (and freshman Congressmen) like West as a important voices in American politics.
Not so long ago, periphery players like Trump and West would have been shunned by the Beltway press and treated as the not-serious people they are. Today, the Obama-bashing duo have been mainstreamed thanks to outlets like Face the Nation that refuse to hold guests accountable for their radical attacks on the president.
This morning, CBS' Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer interviewed Donald Trump about the businessman and reality television star's consideration of a possible independent run for president (consideration that, coincidentally, comes shortly before the season premiere of The Apprentice and publication of Trump's new book). Viewers learned that Trump doesn't want to run for president because he would "rather do what I'm doing now," but if he doesn't see a Republican nominated who he thinks can beat President Obama, he "would certainly think about doing it after the show ends."
CBS viewers heard nothing, however, about Trump's history of pushing debunked birther conspiracy theories. Somehow, in an interview almost entirely concerned with Trump's presidential aspirations, Schieffer did not ask a single question about the central facets of the pseudocampaign for the Republican nomination Trump ran in the spring of 2011: Trump's repeated suggestion that President Obama may not have been born in the United States (and thus could not hold the presidency under the Constitution) and his demands that Obama "show his birth certificate."
On this week's Face The Nation, host Bob Schieffer welcomed a "cross-section of Republicans" for a round table about the state of the GOP campaign season. However, the unbalanced format also allowed Republicans to launch attacks on liberals and President Obama without having anyone on the show present to rebut the allegations.
For instance, addressing the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie told Schieffer "conservatives believe that liberals" have "a special disdain for black conservatives." He also insisted, "People are fed up with what's going on in Washington and they're frustrated with the Obama economy."
Republican Ken Blackwell attacked the president's "inability to create jobs." And conservative strategist Liz Cheney claimed Americans are "afraid that this president wants higher taxes and more spending and bigger government." (She also insisted Obama had "inherited a victory in Iraq" from president Bush.)
For the record, following the GOP panel discussion, Schieffer then interviewed Republican candidate Jon Huntsman's three daughters, which meant Face the Nation welcomed eight guests to its program this week, seven of which had direct ties to the Republican Party or its campaigns.
The only non-Republican Face the Nation guest? Non-partisan journalist John Dickerson who was addressed just once during the program.
On today's edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked an odd question of guest and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons: "Do you think, looking back on it, the president would have been better off if he had simply concentrated first on jobs and then moved to some of these other issues like health care?"
Schieffer seems to have forgotten that within a month of taking office, President Obama had pushed through a stimulus package to "stop the downward spiral" and save or create millions of jobs, with the support of only three Republicans. Schieffer repeatedly described the legislative package as "enormous" back in February 2009. In July 2009, eight months before Obama signed the health care reform bill, Schieffer said that Obama had "embarked on all these different programs to improve the economy."
Many private analysts agree that the stimulus significantly raised employment over what it would be otherwise, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in August that as of the second quarter of 2010, the stimulus has "[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million."
Even Rush Limbaugh agrees that fixing the economy was a higher priority at the start of the Obama administration than health care; the Washington Examiner's Byron York quoted Limbaugh on July 24, 2009, as saying that "we better thank our lucky stars that they did the stimulus first. Because if they had done [health care] first, it would be signed into law already. He would have gotten it." York added, "there's no doubt that the president spent much of his early political capital on the stimulus, and now he needs it back -- badly."
The health care reform debate was certainly more drawn-out and visible than that over the stimulus. Indeed, the quick passage of the stimulus resulted in part because it was such a high priority and Obama's team began drawing it up before he took office. But it's misleading to suggest that just because Obama passed health care reform this year, the economy and jobs weren't his first priority. This type of media coverage might help explain why so few Americans realize that the stimulus package cut their taxes.