Wednesday morning, Benghazi whistleblower attorney Victoria Toensing appeared on Fox News' Fox & Friends as part of a long standing campaign among conservatives to discredit the findings of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the Benghazi attacks, authored by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.
Toensing delivered what has become the standard conservative myth -- the claim that the ARB report was a "corrupt cover-up to protect Hillary Clinton." She asserted:
Because they were not thorough. There are all kinds of people they didn't interview. They made false statements and they framed four State Department employees to take the blame away from the higher-ups. They did not interview Hillary. They did not interview her top deputy for security, Pat Kennedy.
That is a lie. Pat Kennedy was interviewed by the ARB, a fact Pickering, one of the authors, has made clear. On May 12, Pickering explicitly told CNN's Candy Crowley, "We interviewed Pat Kennedy." This was also pointed out during the May 8, 2013 House Oversight hearing on Benghazi. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) addressed the room, stating:
By the way, defend in statements that Undersecretary Kennedy was not interviewed by the ARB by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen. That is a misstatement of fact. He most certainly was. You can look it up. It is documented. He was interviewed, and he provided evidence. And that evidence was evaluated.
So it is not true that Undersecretary Kennedy was not part of that process. He most certainly was, and I would ask Mr. Chairman that the record so reflect.
In fact, Fox News Host Greta Van Susteren tweeted out this exchange:
So why tell such a blatant lie?
Because Toensing thinks she can get away with it and the right needs to discredit the ARB. Prepared in the aftermath of the attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, the report detailed more than two-dozen recommendations on improving security for our State Department personnel overseas. It did not cast blame on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama nor did it conform to the narrative conservatives and their allies on Capitol Hill -- namely Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) -- have been selling to the media about Benghazi.
Because both Pickering and Mullen are public servants with reputations beyond reproach, the right has had to work overtime trying to discredit their report.
The simplest way to attack the ARB is to claim their work was incomplete because they failed to interview specific witnesses.
And because the complete list of witnesses who spoke with the ARB remains classified, most often there is no way to respond to these accusations, unless a name was at sometime placed in the public record. Conservatives will continue to make claims about the ARB process, but without citations, the media should keep a watchful eye on which sources they trust.
From the August 20 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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For the second time in a week, Fox host Greta Van Susteren dedicated the full hour of her show, On The Record, to an interview with controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh. The hour long interview was little more than a platform for Limbaugh to ingratiate himself with the Fox audience while completely ignoring his recent controversies and the revelations of his current contractual problems with Cumulus radio.
On July 28, Politico reported that Cumulus Media, "the second-biggest broadcaster in the country," is on the verge of dropping Limbaugh from its 40 stations by the end of the year. The move comes after a year of advertisers fleeing his show following a multi-day attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke.
More recently Limbaugh was widely criticized for his remarks on race in the wake of the "not guilty" verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman.
On the July 16 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that he could say "Nigga' with an a" because "it's not racist." A week later Limbaugh declared "If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it's Caucasians." "It's time for all this white guilt to end," Limbaugh said.
Although Van Susteren asked Limbaugh for his thoughts on the trial, she failed to mention his recent inflammatory comments.
On the August 2 edition of her show, Van Susteren once again asked softball questions and offered Limbaugh a platform to attack President Obama, leftists, feminists, and the welfare state. The interview consisted of questions such as: "Why is there no enthusiasm to go after waste and fraud?", "Why do you do your job?", and "Twitter - what do you think of it?"
This was the fourth time a Limbaugh interview has aired on Fox News in the past month after only three interviews the previous three years.
From the July 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News' Greta Van Susteren sat down with Rush Limbaugh for the full hour of her program last night, telling her viewers that she had secured a "rare interview" with the conservative talk radio host. Van Susteren's interrogation of Rush was anything but harsh and never touched on any of Limbaugh's ongoing contractual and advertiser problems -- pretty much what you'd expect from a Fox News interview. Her characterization of the interview as "rare," however, wasn't quite accurate. In the past, Limbaugh has indeed been reticent to appear on cable news and even boasted that any platform other than his own was a waste of his time. Something has changed: Limbaugh's July 30 interview with Van Susteren marked the third time Rush has appeared on Fox News this month.
That's a dramatic shift from Limbaugh's longstanding disregard for TV appearances. In July 2010, a caller to Rush's radio show asked him why he doesn't spend more time on TV, and Rush said it was beneath him: "I don't want to go on television shows with one-tenth the audience the radio show has, and I don't like talking with people who don't know what they're talking about and get into contrived arguments and debates where nothing is solved."
He continued in that same vein:
LIMBAUGH: I'm not going to rely on some other show or another TV network or whatever informing you. That's my job. So it's a purely psychological thing. That's why I joke around: "If I haven't said it, it hasn't been said. If I don't talk about it, it's not worth you knowing it." Plain and simple. It's not meant as an insult to anybody. In fact, it's a little inside baseball. How do I approach. This how do I do it? And that's all I meant by it. I was not insulting anybody else who does this, but I was being honest. Why should I go on a show that has 400,000 viewers? I've got that many at the corner of 59th and Madison in New York every day. Why should I waste my time on any of these shows? Plus I don't want to.
And yet, Rush has logged three Fox News interviews over the last month: On The Record on July 30 (part two of the interview will air on August 2), The Five on July 10, and Fox & Friends on July 2. A quick search of Nexis transcripts and some furious Googling showed that Rush's previous three Fox News interviews (all with Van Susteren) were spread across the previous three years, on December 14, 2011, May 26, 2011, and September 27, 2010.
It's hard to see how this shift in media strategy isn't linked to Limbaugh's troubles with Cumulus Media and their reported plans to drop his show from their 40-plus radio stations at the end of the year. The Cumulus trouble arose from the ongoing advertiser boycott Limbaugh is dealing with after his sexist and gratuitous attacks on Sandra Fluke in early 2012. Rush insists that the Cumulus fracas is no big deal and his show is doing just fine. But he's out there doing media hits on a platform that isn't his own -- a public relations move that, until recently, he insisted was demeaning and unnecessary.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
Right-wing media figures argued that Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights at a congressional hearing by declaring her innocence before invoking those rights. By contrast, legal experts say Lerner's statement did not negate her constitutional protections.
From the May 15 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News' Greta Van Susteren pushed the right-wing talking point that regulation is "strangling" small businesses on Sunday, ignoring reports that have repeatedly debunked her theory.
On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren got into a debate with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman over the effect that government regulation has on small businesses and the American job market. Though Krugman pointed out that Van Susteren's assertion is not backed up by the data, Van Susteren refused to give his explanation credence.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're strangling small businesses. I mean, you know everyone -- no one's paying much attention to these small businesses. The regulations that are strangling them, some of them are laughable and silly, but they have a profound impact on the job creators, those who are making jobs. They can't afford to hire people.
KRUGMAN: There's been tons, there's been tons of work on this. And what's holding small business back is not regulations, it's just the fact that they don't have sales.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's not all, it's some of it, some of it.
KRUGMAN: It's not. There's no correlation, looking across, you know which parts of the economy do small businesses complain about regulations and which don't they. There's no correlation between that and actual job creation.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there one exception perhaps, on the health care, where, firms that are greater than 50 people, have to pay more and that don't you see some firms cutting off at 49?
KRUGMAN: You really -- there might be. but you can't see that in the numbers. The overwhelming fact of the matter--
VAN SUSTEREN: Well If you talk to them, instead of looking at just the numbers, why don't you sit down and talk to these people, lot of them are struggling with this. They don't understand a lot of those things that happen. They don't understand a lot of the things that are happening in Washington. They're very cautious because they see a real dismal economy out there. And that doesn't --
KRUGMAN: If you actually talk to them, that's not what they say.
Despite Van Susteren's claims, Krugman's position has a strong foundation in official economic data as well as less formal anecdotes and survey responses from business owners.
Investment data refutes Susteren's claim that high regulatory environments tend to suppress growth. An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of the past four economic recoveries found that the slowest growth actually occurred during the deregulatory Bush administration:
Here's the latest claim: The survivors of the deadly terror attack last September represent the key to the whole story, and only when Republican members of Congress are able to interview them, and possibly even subpoena them, will the truth come tumbling out.
Never mind that the survivors were interviewed by the FBI within days of the deadly assault and that the FBI's investigation remains ongoing. Never mind they were later interviewed by investigators working for retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, who led an independent review of the State Department's handling of the attack. Never mind that even the conservative press has reported on why, for legal reasons, it might not be permissible for the survivors, many of whom are likely intelligence officers, to testify at this time before Congress.
And never mind that when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January and answered Benghazi-related questions for hours, not a single senator pressed her about the survivors.
But that was then. Now, or at least this week, the Fox-fueled Benghazi talking point is all about the survivors and the increasingly loud demands that they come forward and tell their stories; that they be dragged into the right-wing production in hopes their presence will gin up interest in a story that was long ago politicized beyond recognition.
Alternately insisting the survivors are potential "whistleblowers" who've been put under a "gag" by President Obama, Benghazi conspiracy theorists seem determined to turn the victims into pawns. Fox's misguided Benghazi crusade has often been unfair, but the idea of the right-wing media turning their klieg lights on the Benghazi victims and demanding they become the story seems especially exploitative.
In what appears to be a coordinated campaign this week, Republicans have been working with Fox News to push the survivor angle, as Obama's critics now enter their sixth month touting wild conspiracy theories about the Benghazi attack. Thwarted at nearly ever turn in their attempt to manufacture a massive Watergate-style cover-up that would cripple the Obama administration, partisans now think parading victims of a terror attack in front of a Congressional hearing is the best way to keep the (nonexistent) cover-up story alive.
Fox News figures have tried to use an investigative panel's recent report on the Benghazi attack to congratulate their network on its coverage of the attack. But the report actually debunks several incorrect and misleading narratives Fox pushed about Benghazi.
On December 18, the independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up by the State Department to investigate the Benghazi attack, released their findings in a report that "sharply criticized the State Department" for oversights that led to insufficient security at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, as The New York Times reported.
During the December 19 broadcast of On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren asked Fox News contributor Sarah Palin for her thoughts on the report, and Palin answered, in part, "Kudos to Fox News for being the news outlet that stayed on top of this story. Americans deserve these answers." Van Susteren responded that she felt "some level of pride" for Fox's Benghazi coverage, because of "all the sort of heat we took from people, saying that it wasn't a story." She added, "[T]here's been a lot of resistance to my national security colleagues getting this information. So, I do take some pride with them."
Similarly, Fox contributor Kirsten Powers suggested on Special Report that the Benghazi report wasn't even necessary because of the program's coverage of the attack, saying, "Well, it's interesting that that report -- you could have known all that if you'd just watched this show. So, it's sort of funny that they had to do an investigation to figure all of that out."
In fact, the review board's report actually discredits Fox's coverage of the attack.
The Los Angeles Times is giving credence to claims that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has feigned injury as an attempt to avoid testifying on Benghazi, posing the question to its readers in an online poll: "Did she fake it?"
Following reports that Clinton suffered a concussion after fainting, right-wing media figures, led by Fox News contributor John Bolton, speculated that she was faking in order to escape giving testimony on the September 11 attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Fox News hosts and contributors mocked Clinton as "suffering from acute Benghazi allergy" and downplayed her condition, with Bill O'Reilly stating, "I think she can make a phone call."
In a December 19 article, reporter Paul Richter gave credence to Bolton's claims. The article did cite a State Department spokeswoman, who slammed the speculation and called these rumors "completely untrue" and coming from "people who don't know what they're talking about." But the Times leaves the matter as a matter of legitimate debate between the conspiracy-minded critics and the State Department.
Emphasizing the point that the Times considers the concussion attack legitimate, posted above the article's text the paper posted a "Your take" online poll, asking readers "Did she fake it?"
Three Fox hosts have allowed Congressman Allen West (R-FL) to repeat his unsubstantiated allegations that election official wrongdoing led to his failing bid to retain his seat. The Fox hosts not only failed to push back on West's legally unfounded position, but neglected to report that these complaints are about Florida election system problems that have been ignored or exacerbated by the state GOP.
In support of his refusal to concede the race to represent Florida's 18th Congressional District - despite the fact that the state has already certified Democrat Patrick Murphy's victory - West has been complaining that "irregularities" in county officials' performance during the ballot tabulation process, the change in voting tallies as the tabulation proceeded, the outcome of a partial recount, and the accounting of more ballots than voters, requires another partial recount of all votes cast during the early voting period. On the November 12 edition of Fox's Hannity, West made all of these accusations to host Sean Hannity, who responded that he thought a vote shift away from West to Murphy during the counting process was "unbelievable."
West repeated these claims to Fox host Greta Van Susteren on the November 13 edition of On The Record, and again on November 14 in a recorded interview with Fox host Martha MacCallum for America's Newsroom. Like Hannity, these Fox hosts did not press West on his insinuations of election malfeasance. The most obvious example was Van Susteren, who referenced West's second lawsuit filed in a Florida state court seeking an early vote recount in defiance of state law, but made no mention of his first failed lawsuit. That lawsuit, which also sought to "count paper ballots and to impound voting machines," had been denied on November 9 by a state judge. In addition to noting that West's motion had "woefully failed to establish a proper demand for injunction," the judge scolded West for contesting the election results in court when "the Supreme Court of Florida 30 years ago has said the courts should not get involved in the election process under facts and circumstances which we have here today."
More significantly, Hannity, Van Susteren, and MacCallum all failed to report that West's unsubstantiated complaints about the dysfunctional Florida election process is partly attributable to recent voter suppression efforts. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the incoming Republican House Speaker has already "conceded" that Florida's difficult election process and its "embarrass[ing]" irregularities may have been caused by early voting and registration changes pushed through by Republicans in the state legislature. In conjunction with budget cuts that targeted county election offices, recent GOP attempts to restrict opportunities for voting resulted in the predictable and widely reported chaos that West now complains about.
The swing in vote tallies, however, is an old problem and one that none of the Fox hosts addressed. Not only is West complaining about a losing margin more than three times that of Gore's for the entire state of Florida in the presidential election of 2000, West is also complaining about a swing in votes from himself to Murphy that is only about a quarter of the infamous Volusia County swing in votes away from Gore for Bush. Further, the optical-scan voting machines at the center of West's complaints are of the same make as those used in Volusia in 2000, as reported by election integrity expert and Salon contributor Brad Friedman, but that important context was absent from Fox's segments on the issue.
The make of the voting machines is also relevant to West's challenge of the partial recount of early votes in St. Lucie County. The election supervisor there has already explained the partial recount of some votes was necessary because of an electronic memory cartridge failure. Hannity, Van Susteren, and MacCullum not only failed to report this fact, they also failed to report such memory cartridge failure is an extremely common problem in Florida, as was extensively detailed by the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Finally, the discrepancy between voters and votes tallied that West references has already been explained by multiple outlets as a consequence of tabulation machines erroneously counting two-page individual ballots as multiple ballots. This too was unreported by Fox News as it continues to give Allen West a platform to advance his unproven reasons for refusing to concede, without challenging the problems with his claims and providing the necessary context of a Florida election system badly in need of reform.
From the October 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox host Greta Van Susteren claimed that recently released State Department emails prove that the Obama administration knew the attack in Benghazi, Libya, was an act of terrorism as it was happening and that it was "ridiculous" for the administration to link the attack to an anti-Islam video. Yet the emails show only that the State Department was aware that an Islamist militia had taken credit for the attack, and other reporting has indicated that the anti-Islam video did, in fact, play a role in the attack.