An inaccurate new media narrative claims that while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered extensive questions about his role in a scandal plaguing his administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to face questions regarding the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In fact, Clinton has repeatedly addressed the Benghazi attacks, including answering 150 questions during a five hour congressional hearing on the attacks.
In an effort to control the political damage stemming from scandals plaguing his administration, Christie held a nearly two hour long press conference with state and national media to answer questions regarding his aides' involvement in the politically-motivated closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge
Following Christie's press conference, conservative media pivoted from Christie's scandal to attack Clinton, claiming that she had never addressed Benghazi in the same way.
On January 19, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi wrote, "If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must answer for four days of traffic jams on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge; surely Clinton has the same obligation to address a deadly assault that the bipartisan committee found 'preventable.' " In a January 22 piece, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin complained that Christie was receiving undue scrutiny while Clinton received very little attention in the "mainstream media" and had not had to endure a "two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conference," as Christie did:
No car company would dare manufacture a car with as vast a blind spot as that which plagues the pro-Hillary Clinton mainstream media.
There is no interest and never has been in investigating how she missed the infiltration of jihadis into Benghazi, Libya. No curiosity simmers about how she could have been unaware of the dire security situation that her ambassador faced. Accountability? Confession? No two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conferences are needed. Benghazi was not at her level. No responsibility, no culture of cover-up. None.
TAPPER: Christie, it's also the nature of Christie to go out there and give a two-hour plus press conference and answer all those questions, although he has laid low since then. But still, that was one of the longest press conferences in modern American politics. Hillary Clinton was on her way out, and you know, I can't tackle her. I haven't had a chance to interview her since Benghazi happened. I don't even know, has she done interviews? I think she did some interviews on her way out.
HEWITT: It's a pretty stark contrast, isn't it, between Christie's two hour longest day press conference and Hillary hiding?
TAPPER: So a big contrast between Christie's press conference and most politicians in scandals, but certainly, of course what you've said is right. I mean, most politicians don't then go out there and give two hour press conferences. John McCain did like a 90 minute one after Keating Five.
But Clinton has faced questions from both the media and members of Congress about her role as Secretary of State during the attacks in Benghazi. As Tapper alluded, in a February 2013 interview with the Associated Press, Clinton confronted those critical of her actions during the attacks. She also testified for five hours in front of hostile Senate and House committee members -- testimony that was covered extensively in the press. The Huffington Post pointed out that during her testimony Clinton faced almost 150 questions from Democrats and Republicans:
At the Jan. 23 hearings before two congressional panels, Clinton faced some 150 questions from 48 House and Senate members, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly half of those queries fit into a small handful of broad categories: What happened to memos or other warnings about the security situation before the attack? -- 25 questions, from 10 different lawmakers. Why had the administration put a mission in Benghazi in the first place? -- 20 questions, from 10 lawmakers. When exactly did the administration know that the Libya attack was terrorism and not part of a broader regional protest about the video? -- 22 questions, from eight lawmakers. (The repetition of questions did not produce notably different answers from Clinton.)
Nearly every question was asked more than once. Many were packed together in a tight bundle, as part of the legislator's opening remarks.
In a rational world, that would settle the dispute over Benghazi, which has further poisoned the poisonous political discourse in Washington and kept Republicans and Democrats from working cooperatively on myriad challenges, including how best to help Libyans stabilize their country and build a democracy. But Republicans long ago abandoned common sense and good judgment in pursuit of conspiracy-mongering and an obsessive effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.
This new narrative continues the right-wing media's campaign to distract from the ongoing scandals plaguing Christie's administration by pivoting to Benghazi -- for Fox News in particular, the Christie scandals have been all about Benghazi. But the repeated collapse of these narratives demonstrates why traditional media should not get fooled by another Benghazi Hoax.
Fox's Sunday morning political talk show cherry-picked information from recently-released House hearing transcripts and a Senate report on the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, to falsely suggest that the Obama administration's explanation of events was deliberately intended to mislead the American people.
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.
On January 15, 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan review of its findings in an investigation of the September 11, 2012, attacks on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Much of the report dispels myths perpetuated by Fox News over the last sixteen months.
Days after he wrote a column endorsing the assassination of President Obama, Fox hosted Michael Scheuer to accuse Hillary Clinton of effectively murdering the Americans who died during the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Scheuer, a former CIA officer with a long history of extreme rhetoric, has appeared on Fox News and Fox Business dozens of times over the years.
Scheuer endorsed the assassinations of both Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in his December 23 column, as The Daily Beast's David Frum noted. Concluding a piece criticizing their handling of "the Islamists' war on America," Scheuer wrote (emphasis added):
As they head further down the road of losing wars and wrecking Anglo-American liberties, Messrs Obama and Cameron and their supporters in all parties would do well to read the words of the great 17th century English republican Algernon Sidney, a man who was revered on both sides of the Atlantic, who greatly influenced America's founders, and who was executed by the British Crown for what it described as sedition. "There must therefore be a right," Sidney wrote,
"of proceeding judicially or extra-judicially against all persons who transgress the laws; or else those laws, and the societies that should subsist by them, cannot stand; and the ends for which governments are constituted, together with the governments themselves, must be overthrown. ... If he [a political leader] be justly accounted an enemy of all, who injures all; he above all must be the publick enemy of a nation, who by usurping power over them, does the greatest and most publick injury that a people can suffer. For which reason, by an established law among the most virtuous nations, every man might kill a tyrant; and no names are recorded in history with more honor, than of those who did it."
The former CIA official appeared on Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight only ten days after that column's publication. During his January 2 interview, Scheuer accused The New York Times of publishing a series on the Benghazi attacks in order to protect Hillary Clinton, who he claimed "has blood on her arms up to her elbows for not being willing to protect the people who are representing us in Libya" and thus "killed those Americans and [the Times editors] have to kill that story or it is going to become mainstream for 2016." Dobbs responded, "Strong words from Michael Scheuer."
In previous Fox interviews on the Benghazi attacks, Scheuer has said that "Democrats are very good at watching Americans die"; accused Clinton of having "blood on her hands"; and suggested that Obama forced CIA director David Petraeus to resign because he wouldn't take responsibility for the attack. In 2009, he claimed that "The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States because it's going to take a grassroots, bottom up pressure because these politicians prize their office, prize the praise of the media and the Europeans."
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
After the publication of Media Matters' ebook The Benghazi Hoax, which tells the story of how the right twisted a tragedy into a failed witch hunt against the Obama administration, CBS News came under fire from media critics and journalism experts for airing a botched 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that featured a supposed eyewitness to the attacks who had lied about his actions the night of the attack. The story resulted in an internal investigation into how 60 Minutes got it wrong and a leave of absence by correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan. Here's the story of how CBS got burned by the Benghazi hoax.
From the December 6 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Soon after reports broke confirming the murder of an American teacher in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News exploited reports on that crime to push the phony scandal the network has attempted to create surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on American diplomatic facilities in that city.
On December 5, American chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith, who worked at an international school in Benghazi, was gunned down while jogging. At the time of publication, motive for the attack remained unclear and no one had claimed responsibility.
Hours after the news broke, America's Newsroom host Martha MacCallum used a report on Smith's murder to pivot into a brief discussion of the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attacks that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. While presenting a timeline of the 2012 attacks, MacCallum claimed "The Obama administration initially insisted that the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration that had broken out over an anti-Muslim film" -- comments that echo the months-long Fox News misinformation campaign to smear the president with phony reports about his handling of the tragedy.
But it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis -- not political appointees within the Obama administration -- that originally linked the video to the attacks. The president labeled the attacks an "act of terror" in his September 12 address to the nation regarding the incident. The Associated Press reported on September 13 that the "The Obama administration ... is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike."
Fox's exploitation of the murder should come as no surprise. Following the 2012 attacks, Fox immediately exploited that tragedy to relentlessly spread falsehoods in an attempt to smear President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the administration's response. Most recently, the network has resorted to reporting months-old information as though it were a new development.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
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.
60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan will reportedly be taking a leave of absence from the program, per a memo from CBS News chairman (and 60 Minutes executive producer) Jeff Fager obtained by Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone.
Calderone wrote on November 26:
Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of '"60 Minutes," informed staff Tuesday that Lara Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, would be taking a leave of absence following an internal report on the newsmagazine's discredited Oct. 27 Benghazi report.
The memo lays out the findings of CBS News' internal investigation, led by CBS News executive producer Al Ortiz, into Logan's badly flawed October 27 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks. CBS News withdrew the report after the credibility of Logan's Benghazi "eyewitness," security contractor Dylan Davies, crumbled amid allegations that he had lied about being at the besieged diplomatic compound while the attacks were happening. Ortiz describes Logan's report as "deficient in several respects," and found that her "team did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night."
Ortiz also noted that Davies' book on his Benghazi experiences, The Embassy House, "was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation. 60 Minutes erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment." Simon & Schuster pulled the book from circulation after Davies' story fell apart. CBS News has not yet acknowledged that conflict of interest on-air.
Fager asked Logan and producer Max McClellan to go on leave from the program, and they both agreed to do so. "When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again," wrote Fager.
In a statement, Media Matters chairman David Brock said:
From the start of this controversy, Media Matters has demanded that CBS review the flawed 60 Minutes report and take appropriate action. Today, the network has done that. We hope this serves as a lesson learned to CBS about the danger of misinformation.
The full memo from Fager and the conclusions from the internal review by Ortiz are below:
Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein is raising questions about whether 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan's husband -- a former employee of a firm that planted "pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005" -- was involved in the show's now-retracted Benghazi report.
CBS has been the target of a firestorm of criticism since the October 27 airing of a 60 Minutes segment on the 2012 terror attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The network eventually retracted their story after it became clear that the supposed Benghazi "eyewitness" featured in the segment had lied about his actions the night of the attacks. (A subsequent review of the segment by McClatchy News identified several other glaring weaknesses in the CBS report.)
Under intense pressure from numerous media observers -- including Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock -- CBS eventually announced that it is conducting a "journalistic review" of the story.
Citing the fact that "nobody at 60 Minutes has been fired or even publicly disciplined for its odd, inflammatory and dead-wrong" Benghazi report, Newsweek's Jeff Stein points to Logan's husband, Joseph Burkett, as "the most interesting figure in this mystery."
Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin is, like most pundits sympathetic to the Republican cause, upset over the move by Democrats to change Senate rules so that judicial and executive branch nominees will no longer have to face down a filibuster in order to get a confirmation vote. "It's a bad way to run the country," Rubin writes. But at the same time she is wistful for what might have been had the filibuster been done away with long ago, and what the nation might have discovered about... Benghazi?
If only. . .
The president cared as much about Iran's nuclear option as he does the Senate's.
The nuclear option was in place for superbly qualified Republican-nominated judges like Miguel Estrada whom the Democrats filibustered.
The nuclear option had prevented Sen. Barack Obama from blocking the confirmation of John Bolton as United Nations Ambassador in 2005.
The nuclear option had removed fear of a filibuster and allowed Susan Rice to get nominated as secretary of state so then she could have been questioned about Benghazi.
This is a perplexing hypothetical. At the time Susan Rice's name was being thrown around as a potential nominee for Secretary of State, there were few people in the media who opposed the idea more than Jennifer Rubin. "From my perspective, it makes no sense to have a three-ring confirmation hearing and lose over a subpar nominee such as Rice," Rubin wrote on December 4, 2012. When Rice asked that her name be withdrawn from consideration for the position, Rubin wrote: "To be frank, she should never have been floated as a possible nominee."
Politico media reporter Dylan Byers reports that Al Ortiz, an executive producer at CBS News, will be "conducting the 'journalistic review' into the controversial '60 Minutes' report on Benghazi." As Byers notes, this presents a problem for Ortiz and a potential conflict of interest for CBS News, as the executive producer of 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, is also the chairman of CBS News and Ortiz's boss.
Fager is also the person who, initially, decided that no investigation would take place. Though CBS says the review has been underway since they first learned of "the issue," a spokesman told the New York Times last Sunday that Lara Logan's televised apology would be the network's last word on the matter. "[T]he CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, who is also the executive producer of "60 Minutes," has not ordered an investigation," the Times reported at the time.
Media Matters has previously addressed the problems with having a CBS News employee conduct the review. There were a number of problems with the report -- most notably the credibility of Benghazi "eyewitness" Dylan Davies -- all of which deserve intense scrutiny. Fager's dual role within the network invariably raises questions about the credibility and the independence of an internal review process.
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a segment anchored by correspondent Lara Logan and featuring the results of her year-long investigation into the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians promptly seized on the story, claiming it validated their extensive effort to turn the attacks into a political scandal for President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
12 days later, the network pulled the report and apologized to viewers, with the network acknowledging that it had committed its biggest failure since the 2004 controversy surrounding a 60 Minutes story on President Bush's Air National Guard service.
After facing withering criticism for issuing an apology on 60 Minutes that failed to detail what the network had done wrong or any investigation CBS would undertake to explain how its blunder had occurred, CBS announced on November 14 that it had begun an ongoing "journalistic review" of the segment. But the network declined to detail who is performing that review or whether its results will be made public.
Much of the criticism has revolved around the network's handling of its interview with the former British security contractor Dylan Davies, identified by CBS as a "witness" to the attacks. But numerous flaws in the report have been identified since the segment aired.
Here are all of those flaws.