Eugene Robinson's Friday Washington Post column that throws buckets of cold water on the Benghazi "cover-up" is well worth a read, but it touches only briefly on one aspect of the Benghazi story that emerged this week that merits further exploration: the degree to which "whistleblower" Gregory Hicks was "muzzled."
Since testifying at the House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8, a media narrative has emerged that Hicks, after speaking to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in Libya following the attacks, faced intimidation at the hands of the State Department, beginning with a phone call from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Depending on which conservative media figure is talking, Mills is said to have "excoriated," "reprimanded," "punished," and even "demoted" Hicks right then and there. Going by Hicks' own testimony, none of that is true.
To recap: following the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Rep. Chaffetz traveled to Libya to interview witnesses and survivors. Hicks, who had become chief of mission following the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, was one of the people Chaffetz sought to interview. Right-wingers like Guy Benson, writing at Townhall.com, have alleged "US Ambassador Chris Stevens' second in command, Gregory Hicks, was instructed not to speak with a Congressional investigator by Sec. Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills."
This is not true. Hicks testified that the State Department had instructed him not to speak to Chaffetz without a State attorney present -- a condition Hicks says was unusual, but which the State Department says is standard procedure. In any event, Hicks ended up speaking to Chaffetz without the attorney present because, according to his testimony, the lawyer lacked the proper security clearance. Also, Hicks testified that he spoke with Mills only after speaking with Chaffetz.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto and his guest hyped Mitt Romney's claim that he "paid [a] 20 percent effective tax rate" based on the release of some of his tax information last week. But the rate released by Romney is a misleading calculation which tax experts have noted can "distort the rate you've paid."
On Your World, host Neil Cavuto and Townhall.com political editor Guy Benson promoted the summary released by the Romney campaign claiming that Romney has paid an average effective tax rate of 20.2 percent over the past 20 years. Benson claimed Romney's tax summary "totally blows up a bunch of Obama ads that said, 'Look, Mitt Romney pays lower tax rates than you do.' Actually, the effective tax rate he's been paying over the last 20 years is almost double that."
But Benson and Cavuto failed to note that the rate released by Romney is a simple average -- or the average of all the tax rates he has paid over that 20-year period -- and not a weighted average, which calculates the rate based on the total amount he paid and his total income over that time.
The distinction is significant, as the simple average released by Romney can be misleading. Following the release, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed out that the way the Romney campaign calculated the tax rate "obscures the fact that income may have fluctuated quite markedly from year to year." Sargent quoted Tax Policy Center senior fellow Roberton Williams, who explained why the simple average is misleading:
"Let's say you have 10 years in which you paid 13 percent in taxes, and 10 years in which you paid 27 percent," Williams told me. "If you average those rates, you'll get an overall rate of 20 percent. But if the 13 percent years were high income years, and the 27 percent years were low income years, then his total taxes paid as a share of total income over the 20 years would be less, perhaps significantly less, than 20 percent.
"You can be a person like Romney and have a highly fluctuating income year to year," Williams said. "Some years Romney's income could be much lower than in other years. When you average just the rates, you can distort the rate you've paid relative to your income over the whole period."
During a live analysis of Romney's release, The Wall Street Journal's Liam Denning pointed out that a "weighted average would give a more accurate picture," but "that is a step Mr. Romney has said he won't take":
We checked with the Romney campaign and the 20-year tax-rate average is a simple one (i.e., the average of the percentage in each year) rather than a weighted one (i.e., where you add up all the tax paid across the 20 years and divide it by all the income).
It's a potentially important difference because the simple average treats each year equally -- whether Romney earned, say, $5 million in that year or $30 million. It is especially important if Romney paid a low tax rate in a year in which he earned a lot but paid a high tax rate in years when he earned less. The weighted average would give a more accurate picture.
Of course, releasing the actual underlying year-by-year data would clear up any confusion -- but that is a step Mr. Romney has said he won't take.
Fox News figures have routinely invoked Ronald Reagan while discussing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan. Most recently, Fox compared Ryan to the former president by splicing together their quotes and saying that Ryan and Reagan are physically and ideologically similar.
Fox News likes to promote the idea that President Obama is trying to buy votes through welfare benefits. Fox is now taking it a step further by explicitly pushing the claim that people who receive government benefits are the base of the Democratic Party.
On Your World, Townhall's Guy Benson discussed an effort in Massachusetts to send voter registration forms to people who receive government benefits, which the state is required to do as part of a legal settlement. Benson said, "If I were a lefty or a liberal, I'd want the same thing. Get the natural base of the Democrat Party, people who are reliant on government, get them out to the polls."
On Hannity, The Washington Times' Kerry Picket echoed Benson, claiming that the Massachusetts program was being used "to actually get the Democratic base vote out."
On The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly echoed a similar theme. Discussing a Fox News poll showing Obama favored by 49 percent of respondents, O'Reilly said that "included in that 49 percent have to be everybody getting welfare payments, because Romney's saying he's going to do away with all that."
But wasn't Ann Coulter saying just the other day that the Democratic base was "stupid single women"?
From the October 22 edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money with Eric Bolling:
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