Fox News is distorting a memo used to prepare an Obama administration official for media appearances to falsely suggest that the administration was lying about the Benghazi attacks for political gain.
On September 16, 2012, five days after the September 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday political talk shows and suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests. At the time, there were riots at American facilities across the Muslim world, inspired by an anti-Islam video. Since then, conservatives led by Fox News have claimed that Rice's comments on the Sunday shows were part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks, to bolster President Obama's re-election campaign. This effort has often involved distorting the CIA-approved talking points that Rice used to prepare for the interviews.
On April 29, Fox renewed these claims, seizing on a newly released September 14, 2012 email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to other key national security aides -- which details goals for the Sunday interviews and a series of potential questions and answers -- that was released under public records law by the conservative group Judicial Watch. Over on-screen text which claimed "New Benghazi Documents Lead Directly To The White House," Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge highlighted that according to the email, one of the goals for Rice's appearances was "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy." She concluded that Fox had asked the White House "for comment on the Rhodes email, and what intelligence led to that conclusion that somehow an Internet video was responsible for the protests in Benghazi."
But contrary to Herridge's contention, the Rhodes email reveals nothing new. It is consistent with other intelligence briefings circulating at the time which have already been well-documented, and discusses a wide range of issues, not just Benghazi -- in fact, the specific comment Fox highlighted was an accurate depiction of the multiple riots occurring in the region at the time. When the email was sent, there were global anti-American protests in response to the video, often violent, many of which targeted U.S. diplomatic security posts, including in Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Yemen.
In his twenty paragraph email advising Rice on her upcoming TV appearances, Rhodes made only two direct references to Benghazi -- first highlighting support from the Libyan government for U.S. diplomatic efforts in the country, and later debunking the false claim that there was any "actionable intelligence" prior to the attack on the facility in Benghazi and stating that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex." That language is identical to the initial draft of the separate set of CIA talking points that were crafted by CIA analysts earlier that day, suggesting that Rhodes had seen that early document and was using it to ensure the administration's statements were consistent with the intelligence community's conclusions.
A bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January 2014 stated that "[s]ome intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video." Indeed, former CIA acting director Mike Morrell has testified that the CIA chief of station in Libya believed at the time that the video might have motivated the attackers. The Senate report also determined that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to 'cover-up' facts or make alterations for political purposes" -- a reality that Fox has refused to accept.
From the April 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News spun the testimony of a former CIA deputy director to claim that intelligence gathered by officers on the ground during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was "dismissed" by leadership -- a claim that ignored context provided by Morell as well as a Senate investigative report that debunked the narrative months ago.
On April 2, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell testified before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Fox News covered the hearing extensively throughout the day. On America's News HQ, correspondent Catherine Herridge claimed Morell revealed a "stunning statement," saying that top CIA officials "essentially dismissed" intelligence officers on the ground as a matter of course and concluding that Morell's testimony amounts to "a body blow for many intelligence officers who are putting their necks on the line."
HERRIDGE: One of the extraordinary headlines we had in the last few minutes was also from Morell and it's a pretty stunning statement. What he said is that the analysts -- and we've heard this consistently -- he relied on the findings of the analysts in Washington who were thousands of miles from the scene of the attack. And he also testified that those analysts did not have access to eyewitness accounts on the ground when they said they believed the attacks came out of a protest.
Herridge's report took Morell's testimony grossly out of context and ignored older findings that elaborate on the intelligence gathering process. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence explained in its report on the attacks published in January, a lack of clear eyewitness accounts on the ground in Benghazi made it necessary to rely on other sources:
A dearth of clear and definitive HUMINT or eyewitness reporting led IC analysts to rely on open press reports and limited SIGINT reporting that incorrectly attributed the origins of the Benghazi attacks to "protests," over first-hand accounts from U.S. officials on the ground. CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review found that "[a ]pproximately a dozen reports that included press accounts, public statements by AAS members, HUMINT reporting, DOD reporting, and signals intelligence all stated or strongly suggested that a protest occurred outside of the Mission facility just prior to the attacks."
In fact, Morell himself testified as to the reason the eyewitness accounts on the ground weren't given to analysts in an exchange with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), context that didn't make its way into Herridge's report:
BACHMANN: I thought I just heard you say, Mr. Morell, that the information taken from the eyewitnesses on the ground wasn't given to your analysts. That they looked at the press reports, the intelligence product, SIGINT, HUMINT. Is that true?
MORELL: Ma'am, what you have to understand, ma'am, is that the information didn't come all at one time. The information came in pieces over time. And when the analysts wrote their piece on the 12th, that was published on the 13th, the information that they had said there was a protest. The information, they had no information that said there was no protest. There may have been people, on the ground, who knew there was no protest, but they had not yet been interviewed, and those interviews had not yet been disseminated. In fact they were not disseminated for some time. In fact they were not disseminated until after the analysts changed their judgment about a protest. So there's a flow of information here that is really important to keep in mind as you think about how the analysts are trying to do their job here.
Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge was a no-show at a Benghazi discussion panel Thursday co-hosted by Breitbart News, despite having been listed as a participant.
Moderated by newly-minted Breitbart News columnist and Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney, the panel was held just blocks from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington. The discussion was part of "The Uninvited," a national security forum co-hosted by Breitbart News featuring many speakers that "were not invited to CPAC."
Titled, "Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up," the panel included Retired Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch, and Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a security officer who was killed during the Benghazi attacks.
Herridge did not respond to a request for comment on why she declined to join the panel, or why she had agreed to participate in the first place given the title of the discussion and the planned co-panelists. Boykin, for example, has a long history of making inflammatory comments about Islam; in 2003 President George W. Bush criticized him for saying Islamic extremists worship "an idol" and hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation."
Even with Herridge absent, she did receive support from the panel and Gaffney, who said her work on Benghazi made her a "truth-teller par excellence." He said she had informed the panel she could not make it due to unspecified work demands.
Gaffney and the other panelists offered few specifics on what Benghazi elements had been covered up. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee review released in January concluded there was no "cover-up" surrounding the attacks.
"This Benghazi thing is not just about four dead Americans, it's not just about a cover up, it's not just about the things that are circulating in the media, it is about our national security," Boykin claimed, calling on Boehner to hold a bipartisan investigation. "A major ethos in America has been violated."
Boykin and the others claimed that more support should have been given to U.S. forces in Benghazi, but again offered no details on how or why they were not.
"What I really care about is why there was no effort to go to these people and be there when they needed us," Boykin claimed. "That is egregious, that is unacceptable, that is not the America I served for and fought for."
Farrell of Judicial Watch went one step further, accusing Boehner of having "guilty knowledge" of the Benghazi attacks, but (of course) offering no specifics or proof.
"We can't let this one slide away as just another scandal," Farrell said. "We will not let it go. We will pursue this until we find answers."
From the February 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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From the February 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News continued to push the false narrative that the Obama administration politicized early intelligence assessments about the Benghazi attack by purporting to provide "new data points" which are contradicted by the findings of a bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released in January.
On February 13, Shannon Bream introduced a report from Fox national security correspondent Catherine Herridge by saying, "Tonight, two new data points in the Benghazi timeline [are] raising new questions about whether early intelligence was indeed politicized." Herridge began her report by claiming CIA leadership had been informed twice that the anti-Islam video "played no role" in the Benghazi attack, before former UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday news shows and provided information about the attack based on talking points that represented the best assessment of the intelligence community at the time.
But nowhere in the segment is there evidence that anyone was told that the anti-Islam video had no role in inspiring the Benghazi attack. Instead, Herridge presents evidence and quotes from Republican lawmakers that there was no demonstration that took place before the attack -- which is not the same thing.
The very Benghazi report Herridge cites in her appearance contradicts her claim that the video "played no role." The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's findings and recommendations in the report included the following:
Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar terrorist attacks with little advance warning.
That finding from the Senate committee report lines up with the talking points drafted in the aftermath of the attack, which said that the attack was "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo" -- protests that were a response to the anti-Islam video.
Considering that Fox's "new data points" do not actually provide any new information, the charges of intelligence politicization fall flat. The New York Times had a journalist who arrived at the Benghazi diplomatic facility as it was being attacked, and learned about the anger at the video from some of the attacks there.
The Benghazi report cited by Herridge also found that "there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to "cover-up" facts or make alterations for political purposes" -- a fact that she chose to left out.
Fox News continued its habit of inventing Benghazi news hooks by selectively quoting from a Senate report on Benghazi that came out more than two weeks ago to bolster its false claims that the Obama administration changed talking points after the attack for political reasons.
On the February 3 edition of Special Report, Fox's chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge aired an investigation that revolved around a single sentence in the January 15 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence review on the Benghazi attack. Introducing the segment by saying the report "sheds new light on the role of Michael Morell, the CIA's former deputy director, in the Benghazi talking points controversy." She continued:
HERRIDGE: The Senate report states that on September 15, one day before Susan Rice's controversial Sunday show appearances -- where she blamed a demonstration gone awry -- Morell and others at the CIA received a critical email that reported the attacks were, quote, "not/not an escalation of protests." It was from the CIA chief of station, who was on the ground in Libya.
Herridge went on to cite several intelligence experts to question why Morell didn't use that email to delete references to demonstrations from the talking points later used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice, when Morell made edits to the talking points that same day -- though Herridge admits that it's not known when Morell read the email from the Libya station chief. Later in the segment, Herridge used other news reports and interviews to tie Morell's edits to the talking points to a possible Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, speculating that they were politically motivated.
Morell's changes to the talking points aren't news. The Washington Post reported in May 2013 that Morell edited the talking points as part of a standard process of inter-agency coordination and a determination that certain information needed to be excluded to protect ongoing terror investigations.
And Herridge's insinuation that this email from the CIA station chief in Libya should have kept any mention of demonstrations out of the talking points is undermined by the next sentence from the Senate report, which explained that it's not standard practice to base analysis on "e-mails and other informal communications": (emphasis added)
The IC also had information that there were no protests outside the Temporary Mission Facility prior to the attacks, but did not incorporate that information into its widely circulated assessments in a timely manner. Contrary to many press reports at the time, eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicate that there were no protests at the start of the attacks. For example, on September 15, 2012,. the CIA's Chief of Station in Tripoli sent to the then-Deputy Director of the ClA and others at the CIA an email that reported the attacks were "not/not an escalation of protests." Yet, the CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review downplays the importance of this email, noting, "... as a standard practice, we do not base analysis on e-mails and other informal communications from the field because such accounts often change when formalized as disseminated intelligence reports."
A bipartisan Senate report released this week concludes that the intelligence community was behind the Obama administration's suggestion that the 2012 Benghazi attacks grew out of a protest against an anti-Islam video. The revelation is yet another devastating blow to Fox News' efforts to scandalize the administration's focus on the video. But instead of reporting on that conclusion, Fox News instead spent last night reporting that they "were told" that President Obama and his closest advisers held a meeting the night of the attack and issued "marching orders" for the "video explanation."
For more than a year, Fox News has been fixated on a set of administration talking points that linked the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, to the video. Those talking points were used by then-U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice in a series of highly-criticized September 15, 2012, interviews on the broadcast Sunday shows. Fox has suggested that the talking points were part of an elaborate plot to conceal the reality of the attacks as part of a scheme to protect President Obama's re-election effort. The network has continued to push this conspiracy long after the revelation that the initial draft of the talking points -- which was generated by the CIA -- promoted the video connection, and emails indicated that then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus was disappointed that the final draft didn't do enough to link the two.
On January 15, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the results of its investigation into the attacks. Notably, the committee's report indicated that the intelligence community (IC) received and disseminated an account in the immediate aftermath of the assault that there had been protests against the anti-Islam video at the diplomatic facility prior to the attack, based largely on press accounts that made that claim.
According to the report, it took days for eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicating that there had been no protests to make their way into CIA assessments. Closed circuit television feed from the facility showing that there had been no protest was not reviewed until September 18, 2012 -- three days after Rice's interviews -- and the FBI did not disseminate its interviews with eyewitnesses until two days later (recent reporting has indicated that while there was no protest, the attackers were fueled by anger at the video). According to the report:
As a result of evidence from closed circuit videos and other reports, the IC changed its assessment about a protest in classified intelligence reports on September 24, 2012, to state there were no demonstrations or protests at the Temporary Mission Facility prior to the attacks. This slow change in the official assessment affected the public statements of government officials, who continued to state in press interviews that there were protests outside the Mission compound.
While Fox News heavily covered the Senate report -- which the network claimed was a "bombshell" damaging to the Obama administration -- it did not mention the CIA revelations during its January 15 programs, according to a review of the Nexis database.
Instead, during On the Record with Greta van Susteren, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that the network has "had information" and "were told" that during a meeting at the White House between President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the "marching orders were laid out for the video explanation."
It's unclear who "told" Fox News of the contents of the meeting. In nearly-identical reports on Fox's Special Report and The Kelly File, Herridge claimed only that that the administration is "block[ing] access to witnesses and documents that should explain whether" the meeting "on the day of the assault" was about those purported "marching orders," and quoted Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R-GA) assertion that he had sought information about that meeting but was rebuffed.
At no point in the three segments did Fox point to any actual evidence from Chambliss or elsewhere that this meeting dealt with the so-called "marching orders." Instead of discussing the Senate report revelations that demolish their conspiracy, they are running with baseless speculation to keep the "scandal" going.
Fox News won't let the Benghazi story peter out, and they're going to recycle as much old news as they can to keep it going. Fox chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports on December 4 that "CIA personnel who testified Tuesday on the Benghazi attack provided new evidence that it was premeditated, telling lawmakers that the deadly mortar strike on the CIA annex began within minutes of a rescue team's arrival, Fox News has learned."
For anyone who's been following Benghazi reporting, the "new evidence" that the CIA annex came under mortar fire shortly after the rescue team arrived is really, really old information.
Here's CBS News' timeline of the attack, published in May:
5:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. ET): The U.S. Regional Security Office in Tripoli gets a phone call from an Arabic-speaking source who says a Westerner has been found in Benghazi and is perhaps at a hospital. It's believed to be Ambassador Stevens. Transfer to airport is arranged.
At around the same time, the additional security team finds transportation from the airport under the escort of the Libyan Shield, another local militia, but decides to head to the annex after learning that Stevens was almost certainly dead. Just after their arrival, the annex takes mortar fire, sustaining three direct hits. The precision of the attacks indicates a level of sophistication and coordination.
Here's the State Department Accountability Review Board's report on the attacks, released in December 2012:
The seven-person response team from Embassy Tripoli arrived in Benghazi to lend support. It arrived at the Annex about 0500 local. Less than fifteen minutes later, the Annex came under mortar and RPG attack, with five mortar rounds impacting close together in under 90 seconds. Three rounds hit the roof of an Annex building, killing security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The attack also severely injured one ARSO and one Annex security team member. Annex, Tripoli, and ARSO security team members at other locations moved rapidly to provide combat first aid to the injured.
And, just for good measure, here's Fox News' Jennifer Griffin, from this past July:
Doherty left Tripoli at about midnight local time, after chartering a local plane for the rescue. There were no U.S. air assets in Tripoli. He and the quick reaction force arrived at the CIA annex at 5:15 a.m. after being delayed for several hours at the Benghazi airport by the Libyans. The CIA annex, a fortress-like compound with several buildings, is where the Americans in Benghazi had retreated and the body of State Department official Sean Smith had been brought after the initial attack. At the time, Stevens was still missing.
Doherty joined Tyrone Woods, another highly trained former SEAL, on the roof of one of the buildings at the CIA annex. Within minutes, mortars were fired. Doherty and Woods were both killed.
Fox News is heavily promoting efforts to convene a House of Representatives select committee to investigate the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Though a discharge petition for the committee has "zero chance of passing" and numerous congressional committees have devoted months to investigating the attacks, Fox News treated an anti-Obama group's support for the effort as big news with numerous live reports and interviews.
Fox News cropped footage from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Benghazi testimony to claim she didn't address questions about the extent of monitoring by the state department during the September 11, 2012, attacks. In fact, unedited video of the hearing shows that Clinton not only addressed the issue, it backs up her statement that there was no real time video monitoring of the attack.
On Fox News' America Live, homeland security correspondent Catherine Herridge claimed that during the January 23 hearings on Benghazi, Clinton "made no mention" of reports that the State Department was monitoring the attack in real time. Herridge further claimed that Clinton did not address a statement by deputy assistant secretary of state Charlene Lamb, who reportedly stated she was in audio communication with officials on the ground in Benghazi. After making these claims, Fox aired a portion of the hearings:
Fox News hyped results from poll questions premised on falsehoods to reinforce its phony narrative about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. This fits with Fox News' history of pointing to public opinion polls to suggest that false talking points it has promoted are fact.
Fox News reported these poll results as it was announced that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was withdrawing as a candidate for secretary of state. Fox News led a relentless smear campaign against Rice alleging that her statements about Benghazi on Sunday morning news shows were somehow a scandal, despite copious evidence to the contrary.
While discussing the Benghazi attack, international correspondent Catherine Herridge and Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs each cited a Fox News poll question that asked, "On the night of the attack, do you think President Obama should have ordered U.S. troops to go to Benghazi and help the Americans at the consulate there?" Sixty-five percent said yes, but the question falsely suggests that the Obama administration didn't act to help Americans in Benghazi.
In reality, reinforcements from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli arrived in Benghazi the night of the attack. Furthermore, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that a military response to the attack was not possible.
Herridge and Dobbs also cited a poll question that asked, "Do you think the Obama administration has covered-up what happened" in Benghazi? Though 48 percent agreed, the question is premised on a Fox News conspiracy theory -- the Obama administration has continually said that it was sharing information as it developed, and multiple investigations of the attack are under way.
Conservative media have been facilitating a witch hunt against U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, claiming that her public statements regarding the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, were untruthful and misleading. In fact, Rice was using talking points that had been approved by the CIA, and she repeatedly emphasized that the information was preliminary.
Fox invented a contradiction between a reported August 16 cable from State Department officials stating concerns about security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the Obama administration's statements that an anti-Islam video was a catalyst for the attack on the consulate.
Fox is reporting that it has exclusively obtained a classified cable from State Department officials on the ground in Libya to the office of the Secretary of State warning that the "Al Qaeda had training camps in Benghazi, and the consulate could not defend against a 'coordinated attack.' "
In a segment on the cable, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson asserted: "The big question still remaining for so many people is, who came up with the narrative about the video tape? Because it was pretty obvious that a month before there were security concerns with regard to possible terror. So who came up with the idea that floating the videotape idea would be enough to carry through the discussion quite possibly until after the election?"
But Fox's narrative is self-debunking. In addition to saying that officials had security concerns, the cable also reportedly said that officials had no information that militants in Benghazi "were targeting Americans."
Thus, the reported cable does nothing to contradict the administration's narrative that an anti-Islam video was a catalyst for the attack. Indeed, the people responsible for the attack reportedly said that they attacked the consulate because of the video.
Also, the report that there were growing security concerns in Benghazi, but no specific threats against the consulate is not news. For instance, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said in a September 27 briefing that there had been no specific, actionable threat in advance of the Sept. 11 consulate attack:
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: There was a thread of intelligence reporting that groups in the environment in western -- correction -- eastern Libya were seeking to coalesce, but there wasn't anything specific and certainly not a specific threat to the consulate that I'm aware of.
Nevertheless, Fox hyped the reported cable a "smoking gun."