Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple has been working doggedly to correct one of Sean Hannity's favorite false claims about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: that State Department officials watched "real-time" video of the assault from an office in Washington, DC. Wemple's efforts got an assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23: "There was no monitor, there was no real time." As Wemple's debunking of the falsehood makes clear, Hannity has been the primary driver of this claim by repeating on a near-daily basis. But the "real-time" video falsehood did not start with the Fox News host. In fact, one of the first mentions -- perhaps the first -- of the spurious Benghazi video was on Jennifer Rubin's Washington Post blog.
The whole story starts with an October 10, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At that hearing, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, had this exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), describing how she followed via telephone the developments in the Benghazi attack as they were happening:
LANKFORD: Mrs. Lamb, can you clarify for me, where -- where were you working September 11? Were you in the Washington area -- were -- in the main facility there?
LAMB: Yes sir. I was in the D.S. Command center on the evening of the event.
LANKFORD: You -- you -- you note that in your testimony that you were in the Diplomatic Security Command Center and then you make this statement, "I could follow what was happening almost in real time."
LAMB: That's correct.
LANKFORD: So once they hit the button in Benghazi, you're alerted, it says you could have. Did you follow what was happening in real time at that point?
LAMB: Sir, what was happening is they were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back.
LANKFORD: But you're -- but you're tracking it back and forth what's going on.
LAMB: Yes absolutely. [Transcript via Nexis, emphasis added]
That night on Fox News' Hannity, Liz Cheney seized on Lamb's testimony, but characterized it correctly:
CHENEY: Today, we learned from Charlene Lamb under oath that she followed, you know, the diplomatic security official, that she followed what was going on, minute by minute. She was following it in real time. So the administration knew in real time, there wasn't a mob, they knew in real time that this was a well-coordinated attack. They knew in real time that it involved heavy weaponry, this was clearly a terrorist attack and the American people have clearly, as you've said, been lied to.
The following morning, October 11, Jennifer Rubin posted a video of Cheney's Hannity appearance in a post headlined "Real-time Libya: Who knew what, when?" In that post, Rubin claimed (citing no other sources) that Lamb had watched a "real-time video" of the attack -- something neither Lamb nor Cheney had said:
Seriously, something doesn't make sense. Do we think no one else ever got the benefit of that information that mid-level bureaucrat Charlene Lamb had? This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone (the White House, the public, the media) wanted to know what happened in Benghazi. So why not look at the real-time video? Why not ask Lamb what she saw and heard?
That next day, October 12, CNBC host Lawrence Kudlow wrote in his syndicated column that "State Department officials saw the Benghazi attack in real time." [emphasis in original] Later that night on Fox News, Hannity made his first reference to "real time video" of the attack: "The president knew within 24 hours what the truth was, and what I am told, they actually saw this in real-time. There is a video, real-time, of everything that went down in Benghazi."
From that point forward, Hannity flogged away at the State Department for "watching" the attack unfold "real time," repeating it almost every day as it spread to other corners of the conservative media. Wemple debunked the allegation in November, citing a State Department official's denial that anyone at State "had the ability to watch either of the attacks in real time." According to an administration official quoted in Wemple's report, the Benghazi compound had closed-circuit video surveillance that could not be monitored from outside the facility.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin jumps on the "picking fights" bandwagon and writes that the nomination of Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary shows that Obama is "going to seek confrontation" in his second term. This is a problematic line of reasoning, given that the Republican Senate minority is doing everything it can to ensure confrontation, but Rubin teases out a broader criticism of Obama's nominations thus far, writing in her January 10 post:
It is not merely that President Obama has put up confrontational nominees. He is also replacing senior people with standing and reputations derived independent of his administration (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Tim Geithner) with confidants who are like-minded, disinclined to question the president or rebut his (often erroneous) thinking.
This is utter hogwash. Let's run down Obama's second term high-level nominees thus far: Sen. John Kerry for State; former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense; John Brennan for CIA director; and Jack Lew for Treasury.
Both Kerry and Hagel have standing and reputations derived from a combined 40 years spent in the Senate. Kerry and Obama obviously see eye-to-eye on most issues, but Hagel is a Republican and on more than a few topics he and the president are not "like-minded." Before his name was put forth as a potential Obama nominee Republican senators were singing Hagel's praises as someone who "understands the world better than almost anyone," and John McCain said Hagel would make a "great Secretary of State" in 2006, as McCain was preparing for his own presidential run.
As for Brennan and Lew, both have spent the last four years in the administration, but Brennan's "standing" and "reputation" come from a career spent in the CIA. He was also the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Jack Lew is the only nominee for whom Rubin's criticism is even close to accurate, but it's still a stretch. Lew was Bill Clinton's director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1998 -2001, a job he held again under Obama.
There are still at least two nominations to go, now that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has tendered her resignation and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson has said she will step down. Given the trajectory of the commentary it seems likely that (for conservative bloggers at least) their replacements will be controversial and confrontational figures who owe their careers and reputations to Obama's largesse, no matter who they may be.
Media figures have smeared President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), by misrepresenting Hagel's support for sanctions against Iran and his support for Israel. The media have also cast doubt on the bipartisan support for Hagel's nomination.
Right-wing media have inconsistently responded to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) failed attempt to pass his proposed "Plan B" to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" standoff, including praising conservative Republicans who opposed the measure, expressing regret that the measure didn't pass, questioning the viability of Boehner's speakership, and blaming President Obama for the plan's failure, despite Obama's concessions to the GOP.
Until a few weeks ago, Mitt Romney was on TV every day telling us how, as president, he'd cut all our tax rates and balance the budget and pay for it all by taking away unspecified tax deductions. Then we all voted and Romney lost. But just because a man loses an election doesn't mean his ideas should be rejected too, right? That's the thinking of Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who championed Romney's plan during the campaign and isn't quite ready to give up on Romney's tax vision.
"A better way to sell tax reform," reads the headline to Rubin's November 26 blog post arguing that Republicans should be arguing for "broadening the tax base" as part of a "pro-growth" tax reform plan. How do they do that? Take a page from the book of Mitt -- cut rates, scrap deductions, and (amusingly enough) enlist Paul Ryan to argue the case:
One way to sweeten the pot for middle-class families, as Pethokoukis points out, is to scrap nearly all deductions, lower rates and replace "the child credit, the child-care credit, and the adoption credit with one new $4,000 credit per child that can be used to offset both income and payroll taxes."
The amount of additional revenue raised from tax reform, which in large part derives from spurring growth and making the tax code more efficient, should matter less to Republicans than how it is achieved. A tax deal that reduces government distortion of the economy and spurs a recovery, while also raising a great deal of revenue, should be preferable over a deal that raises less revenue (largely because of tax avoidance schemes) by raising rates for the "rich" and preserving the rest of the current, complicated tax code.
The argument does not sell itself, however. Able GOP leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) should step forward to lay out the party's tax views, making clear this is not about sparing the "rich" but about reform, simplification and economic growth.
Of course, Paul Ryan already championed this vision of tax reform while on the campaign trail with Romney. During a September 30 interview on Fox News Sunday, in which he famously begged off explaining the details of Romney's tax plan because "it would take me too long to go through all of the math," Ryan laid it out:
RYAN: You can lower tax rates 20 percent across the board by closing loopholes and still have preferences for the middle class for things like charitable deductions, home purchases, for health care. What we're saying is people are going to get lower tax rates and therefore they will not send as much money to Washington.
The big difference here seems to be a newfound willingness to get specific as to which deductions will disappear, now that there is no immediate concern over turning off the voting blocs who benefit from those deductions. But the principle remains the same -- cut rates, eliminate deductions, insist on revenue neutrality, and assume it will all work out.
It's the Romney plan, sans-Romney. And if you go by the theory that Romney lost not because of his policies but because he was a personally flawed candidate, then rehashing the tax argument in the post-Romney era at least makes some political sense, even if the math still doesn't work.
Conservative hand-wringing in the wake of President Obama's victory continues unabated, with both voters and strategists venting their frustration about the GOP's loss, while condemning the conservative media for leading followers to believe a GOP victory was imminent. (A landslide!)
Instead of being honest down the homestretch, conservative pundits on Fox News and at places like the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post fed Republicans a steady diet of falsehoods and Pollyannaish analysis that ran counter to the clear polling data about the state of the race.
Some Republican leaders are now promoting wholesale changes. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal urged Republicans to "stop being the party of stupid" and to reject the anti-intellectualism that has often defined the political movement. "We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism," he told Politico.
But "dumbed-down conservatism" is what drives the GOP Noise Machine. It's what Fox, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media have been pushing for years and posting healthy profits in the process. If there's going to be widespread change within the conservative movement it's going to have to include the right-wing media. And for that to happen, accountability has to be finally introduced into the equation.
Currently it's a foreign notion among many commentators who boast dubious track records of being chronically incorrect. Early indications are that most conservative pundits won't face recriminations from within the GOP Noise Machine for getting everything wrong about the campaign. But will consumers finally revolt?
Note that last week CNBC's Larry Kudlow welcomed Romney loyalist Jennifer Rubin from the Washington Post onto his program two nights after Romney lost decisively. On the show there was no discussion about how all of Rubin's horse race insights had been monumentally wrong.
Kudlow politely declined to ask Rubin about her suggestion that Romney might win nearly all the battleground states. (He won just one, North Carolina.) And he also didn't discuss the revelation that Rubin had misled readers in real time about the status of the campaign. The conservative CNBC host, among those who erroneously predicted a Romney blowout, politely demurred and accountability was ignored.
For weeks, if not months, Rubin's readers were led to believe the Obama campaign was crumbling and the incumbent was making one foolish move after another. After Obama won an electoral landslide, Rubin wasn't asked about her dreadfully erroneous spin. Neither was Kudlow's other guest, James Pethokoukis, a blogger from the American Enterprise Institute who forecast Romney would win 301 electoral votes. (Romney won 206.)
Between the three of them, Kudlow, Rubin and Pethokoukis could not have been more wrong about the election; an election they allegedly studied intently all year long. And none of the three bothered to acknowledge their failings on CNBC that night.
Jennifer Rubin has endured no shortage of criticism for using her Washington Post blog to blatantly and counterfactually shill for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. And in the aftermath of Romney's electoral defeat, she's tacitly acknowledging as much. Today Rubin offers her post-mortem of the Romney campaign, casting it as ineffectual and unequal to the task of removing an incumbent from the White House -- an assessment that flatly contradicts her aggressively pro-Romney pre-election writing.
Here's Rubin's November 7 take on the Romney-Ryan campaign:
Until October it was the Perils of Pauline campaign. It moved in fits and starts on foreign policy. The message was rarely consistent from day to day. Gobs of ads were aired to no apparent effect. The convention speech was a huge missed opportunity. Romney made a lunge now and then in the direction of immigration reform and an alternative health-care plan without giving those topics the attention they deserved. The communications team was the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen -- slow and plodding, never able to capitalize on openings. It was hostile, indifferent and unhelpful to media, conservative and mainstream alike.
Matters did improve once Ed Gillespie moved forward to take charge of the message. A message at least became discernible. The ads certainly were simpler, more direct and more attuned to making a case for Romney's agenda. But if not for a stunning series of performances in the debates and unexpected eloquence on the stump in the last month, Romney almost surely would have done worse than he did. A presidential race needs more than a good month to be successful.
Let's take what she's written here, in the cold reality of a Romney loss, and compare it to what she wrote when the Romney campaign was still in full swing.
From the November 3 edition of MSNBC Live:
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Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin falsely claimed that Republican candidate Mitt Romney's health care plan always included a provision insuring that those with pre-existing conditions are not denied insurance coverage. In fact, this is the exact opposite of what the Romney campaign has said.
In a recent study, the Government Accountability Office found that "between 36 and 122 million adults reported medical conditions that could result in a health insurer restricting coverage."
This is why one of the major features of the Affordable Care Act is its requirement that insurance companies not deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The ACA prohibits insurers in the private individual market from denying coverage, charging higher-than-average premiums, or restricting coverage to individuals based on the individual's health status.
During the first presidential debate, Romney claimed that his health care plan includes protections for pre-existing conditions. But as CNN reported following the debate, top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom clarified that this protection only applied to people who already had health insurance, not those seeking health insurance for the first time. Fehrnstrom added:
"We will give the state initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own. But, of course, we'd like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage."
PolitiFact evaluated Romney's claim following the debate that his plan insured coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and found it "mostly false."
But on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, Rubin stated that Romney's "plan always covered pre-existing issues."
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is fast approaching some higher plane of hackdom far enough removed from the gravitational centers of logic and sense that the fundamental laws of punditry no longer apply. This morning she joins the chorus of conservatives defending Mitt Romney's false claim at last night's debate that President Obama went on an "apology tour," arguing that Obama, in the very act of criticizing the foreign policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, was indeed "apologizing for this nation."
I will focus on two major apologies that have been deliberately and forcefully delivered by the president and/or top aides.
The first is our handling of the war on terror. Liberals don't even see that Obama's excoriating his predecessor is apologizing for this nation, but of course it is. George W. Bush wasn't acting as a private citizen, and whatever he actions he took were done in the name of the United States.
So it most certainly was an apology (often repeated) when Obama decried: "Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. ... I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent. In other words, we went off course." That version was delivered on national TV, albeit from U.S. soil but it was a confession to be sure.
Here's a fun question: if criticizing the commander-in-chief for actions taken in the name of the United States constitutes "apologizing for this nation," then aren't people like Mitt Romney and Jennifer Rubin, who have spent the last four years doing little beyond that, serial America apologists?
And doesn't that render the title of Romney's book, No Apology, which is sharply critical of the president's foreign policy, a lie?
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin joined the transcript truther crowd on CNN's Reliable Sources this morning, claiming that President Obama was not referring to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi when he used the term "acts of terror" in his September 12 Rose Garden statement on the attack.
Specifically, Rubin claimed Obama's use of "acts of terror" was "not in the same paragraph with Benghazi." That is flatly untrue. The president's very next sentences were: "Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done."
Current TV host David Shuster, appearing with Rubin, tried to correct her, noting that just two sentences prior to saying "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," the president said: "[L]ast night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi." Rubin denied this was true even though, as the transcript shows, Shuster was right:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
Keep in mind that we're several days out from the debate at which this quibbling over "acts of terror" became an issue. Rubin has had more than enough to time to read over the transcript of Obama's remarks, and she's clearly quite familiar with what it says. That raises the question as to why she's so blatantly lying and mischaracterizing the president's words.
The answer can be gleaned from a comment she made towards the end of the video above about the "acts of terror" flap: "I don't think this hurt Mitt Romney whatsoever. His campaign doesn't think it hurt Mitt Romney whatsoever." That lock-step synchronicity with the Romney campaign crystallizes the broadly held opinion of Rubin's increasingly embarrassing work for the Washington Post.
The right-wing media has claimed President Obama has no plan for the economy if re-elected. In fact, Obama has proposed numerous economic policies, including legislation that economists agree would lower unemployment and grow the economy.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility for the security of diplomats in the wake of the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya, members of the right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks, calling her a "doormat" and a "battered woman."
Stressing style over substance, lots of Beltway pundits teamed up with Republican partisans to push the theater criticism point that Vice President Joe Biden may have blown last night's debate with his body language. Specifically, critics are complaining he smiled and chuckled too much while Rep. Paul Ryan was speaking.
Even after CBS News' snap poll showed that Biden had scored a big win with undecided voters, pundits and Republicans suggested Biden's facial expressions, not the substance of his comments, were newsworthy.
From the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin:
And BuzzFeed's Ben Smith:
The media effort is reminiscent of when pundits and Republicans teamed up on Al Gore after his first presidential debate with George W. Bush in 2000. Back then, they pushed the line that Gore had sighed too often in response to Bush's answers. History shows that right after the debate viewers crowned Gore the winner of the face-off. But after the media's sigh initiative, Bush was perceived to have won the debate. Today, Gore's sighs are routinely referenced as debate blunders. ("Utterly insufferable," Esquire recently wrote.)
It's unlikely the press can turn Biden's strong showing into a stinging defeat, in part because the 2000 sigh episode was part of a much larger anti-Gore press push. But it's telling how seamlessly the mainstream press joined with Republican operatives to launch post-debate (style) spin targeting Biden last night and trying to tie him to Gore's performance.
From former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer:
And the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:
In its piece, "Is Joe Biden The New Al Gore?" Politico reported that "at least among some pundits and Republican strategists: it reminded them of Al Gore's infamous sighs in the 2000 presidential debates against George W. Bush, which were enough to seriously hurt Gore's candidacy." [Emphasis added.]
Politico stressed that Gore's sighs were "universally panned by pundit" are now "remembered as one of the standout aspects of the debates that year." What's lost in that rewriting is that Gore actually won the first debate. The Associated Press reported on October 4, 2000 that Gore had won three out of four snap polls conducted that night.
Blogger Bob Somerby meticulously documented Gore's press treatment during the 2000 campaign. He recently revisited the infamous sighs:
Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore's troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course).
Debates matter. But so can the media's lazy style spin.
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post's resident Romney surrogate, is currently trumpeting an "Exclusive" alleging that Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling has been "caught doing advocacy polling on race." Rubin objects to a question in a recent PPP poll -- following last week's Daily Caller/Drudge/Hannity promotion of the 2007 Obama video -- about whether conservative media figures "want to make white people think Barack Obama hates them, or not?"
According to Rubin and "every independent or Republican pollster" she asked about the poll, the question was "shock[ing]" and over the line. By Rubin's telling: "But of course the question is one that imparts the information to the voter in the most slanted way possible. There are no questions about liberal media or bias. To ask the question is to assume that conservative media are up to make white people fear Obama."
What would lead PPP to "assume that conservative media are up to make white people fear Obama?"
Maybe it was when Glenn Beck flatly stated on Fox News that President Obama was a "racist" with "deep-seated hatred for white people or white culture."
Or perhaps it was earlier this year when Rush Limbaugh said that Obama's entire "plan" is "payback" against the "white Europeans" who "illegitimately founded" the country.
Or last year's Limbaugh rant about how Obama was "not even halfway done killing the economy" and that his economic "role model" is Robert Mugabe, who "took the white people's farms."
Before Obama was elected, Bill Sammon -- then a Fox News contributor before becoming Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor -- told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he thought Obama would lose the election because of his "own views on the white race which are, I think, fairly controversial."
In the same interview, Sammon explained, "This guy is applying for a job to run a country that is predominately white, OK? And if you are on record as expressing resentment and suspicions and antipathy towards the white race in general, that's a political problem."
One could even point to the preposterous flap over the New Black Panther Party, in which the entire conservative media -- Jennifer Rubin included -- accused the Obama Justice Department of anti-white discrimination. Rubin herself wrote in a ridiculous January 2011 blog post that the "heart of the matter" regarding the New Black Panther case was DOJ's alleged directive "not to bring cases against black defendants for the benefit of white victims."
Rubin's anger towards PPP's question would be better directed at the conservative media figures who have made it worth asking -- herself included.