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“Issa’s Latest Benghazi Stunt Backfires”: The New Story Is The Same As The Old Story

There’s a usual pattern to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) media game: he’ll quietly leak misleading information to a news outlet; the outlet will run with the exclusive; then the story will be entirely discredited, leaving everyone involved looking rather foolish. It’s happened more than a few times.

Today, Issa tried to play a similar game, but it backfired much quicker than usual.

The California Republican appears to have sought out a reporter he hoped would be sympathetic – in this case, ABC News’ Jon Karl – with Issa’s new Benghazi scoop.

A still-classified State Department e-mail says that one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the “ramifications” of allowing the posting of an anti-Islamic video, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa, in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, issued a statement describing the White House’s message to YouTube as evidence of … something nefarious. It’s not entirely clear what.

But the trouble, as Karl, to his credit, was quick to note in his report, is that Issa’s revelation actually undermines Issa’s preferred narrative.

The memo suggests that even as the attack was still underway – and before the CIA began the process of compiling talking points on its analysis of what happened – the White House believed it was in retaliation for a controversial video. […]

Asked about the document, a senior White House official told ABC News it demonstrates that the White House genuinely believed the video sparked the attack all along, a belief that turned out to be incorrect.

“We actually think this proves what we’ve said. We were concerned about the video, given all the protests in region,” the official said. And the intelligence community “was also concerned about the video.”

In other words, Issa has uncovered a document, intended to discredit the White House’s argument, which actually bolsters the White House’s argument.

So, here’s the larger question to consider: did Issa just not understand his own story, or, as Eddie Vale suggested, did he release this to undercut the select committee Issa is so opposed to?

Either way, when coming to terms with House Speaker John Boehner’s 180-degree turn on creating the new committee, keep today’s story in mind – GOP leaders long ago lost confidence in Issa’s ability to deal with the investigation competently.

Update: Hannah Groch-Begley discovered that today’s “new” story from Issa to ABC is practically identical to news we already learned – from, among others, ABC – in 2012.


By: Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“ABC News’ Rightward Lurch”: Scraping The Bottom Of The Right-Wing Pundit Barrel

ABC News recently hired Laura Ingraham to be a regular contributor to their prestigious Sunday morning political talk show, “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” Why on earth would anyone hire Ingraham, a second-rate right-wing bomb-thrower whose shtick is well past its sell-by date? You could ask ABC News, but they’d presumably answer with boilerplate press release-ese about how they seek out a “diversity of viewpoints” and welcome her “provocative” take on world events. Read Digby for a good rundown of exactly how provocative Ingraham’s hot takes have been — Ingraham’s greatest hits includes writing a book in which a central, reoccurring joke was that Michelle Obama constantly ate or craved ribs — but Ingraham’s not the only sorry character ABC has picked up recently.

Last October, “This Week” hired Bill Kristol, the bumbling neoconservative scion, who is famous for his disastrous predictions and his even more disastrous lobbying for war.

In addition to being morally culpable for the meaningless violent deaths of hundreds of thousands, Kristol is also a terrible pundit. He is not just terrible at predictions, he is also dull. He was too lazy a writer and thinker for the New York Times — a paper that still pays Thomas Friedman handsomely — leading them to decline to renew his contract after one year as a columnist. (He moved, naturally, to the Washington Post.) Only a Sunday show producer (or Washington Post opinion page editor) could imagine that Bill Kristol’s take on the issues of the day would be useful or enlightening or even entertaining to anyone.

More recently, ABC picked up Ray Kelly (as a “consultant,” not a mere contributor). Kelly is the former police commissioner of New York City, best known for his racist policing tactics and his blatantly dishonest defenses of same. In November 2013, New York City voters overwhelmingly voted to elect as mayor a man who made the removal of Kelly, and the complete rejection of Kelly’s entire philosophy of policing, a cornerstone of his campaign. Kelly, whose police department routinely lied to journalists (and beat and arrested a few too), is considered a law enforcement genius, because violent crime in New York, having already plummeted from a historic high years prior to the election of Michael Bloomberg, remained relatively low during Kelly’s tenure as commissioner, probably due to environmental and historical trends. He is also considered a great and important man because he knows how to schmooze with the smart set.

Kelly worked for a Democratic mayor and a centrist independent one. He considered running for office as a Republican, but he is probably more of an authoritarian “centrist” than a movement conservative. Still that’s three hires in six months that ought to disgust any decent person. (Even conservatives, who ought to be embarrassed to be “represented” by Ingraham and Kristol). Whatever does it mean?

Perhaps ABC News is repositioning itself as more conservative. NBC’s “Meet the Press” is struggling. It’s easy to imagine a television professional thinking that NBC’s problem is that viewers think it is too liberal, and that therefore the best way to beat it is to become more conservative. Perhaps they are over-correcting for the fact that “This Week’s” Stephanopoulos is a former Clinton White House operative, although at this point that was a lifetime ago, and George has been studiously centrist ever since.

As has been well-documented, none of the big network Sunday shows are remotely liberal, “This Week” included. According to Media Matters’ research, in 2013, “This Week’s” guests and panel lineups were not appreciably more left-wing than its major competitors. (Fox’s Sunday show was significantly more conservative, but that show isn’t aimed at the same “insider” Acela corridor “centrist” audience that the other three fight for.) All the networks skew white, male and right-wing. If ABC is aiming to win over a more conservative audience, it seems to be scraping the bottom of the right-wing pundit barrel.

But maybe there was no strategic thinking behind these three hires at all. Maybe each one just made sense to whomever was responsible at the time. Maybe three completely odious people who do not in any way deserve such large and well-compensated platforms for their discredited opinions all just got hired by the same network because the news media elite, like the finance and political elite, refuse or are unable to recognize the obvious and total moral bankruptcy of members of their own clan.

Or maybe Bill Kristol just has an amazing agent.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 15, 2014

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Media, Pundits | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Irresponsible Knee-Jerkery”: Very Bad News From ABC, NBC And CBS

Despite completely misreporting on administration emails related to the pretend Benghazi “scandal,” after they were misquoted (and/or fabricated) to him by a reportedly Republican source, ABC News and their White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl still refuse to properly correct and apologize for having lied about“obtaining” those emails.

Had Karl’s error — compounded by his “cover-up” even more than his original “crime” — contained news that falsely appeared good for Democrats instead of for Republicans, he would have been hammered and forever discredited by the right until finally fired by ABC News. But, alas, his completely false report on Benghazi benefited Republicans rather than Democrats, so no biggie, it seems. He gets to keep his career!

ABC’s Karl, however, wasn’t the only top-tier network newsman who blew it big time, further tarnishing the profession over the past week. Not by a long shot.

Here’s how NBC’s Brian Williams opened — opened! — NBC Nightly News last Tuesday, the same day that the Treasury Department’s Inspector General report was released, offering zero evidence of White House involvement in the so-called IRS “scandal”

BRIAN WILLIAMS: “As a lot of American adults not so fondly remember, the last time the government was found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes, it was the Nixon era, and while times have changed and circumstances are different, that subject came up at the Obama White House today as the administration now scrambles on several fronts.” (NBC Nightly News, May 14, 2013)

Odd. The “last time” we ”not so fondly remember…the government…found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes”, was during the George W. Bush era, not the Nixon era. Did Williams sleep through that decade? Seemingly so. Or, it’s safer to allude to the discredited Nixon than the off-scot-free Dubya. Or, Williams simply felt like lying to his audience. Either way, why has Williams also failed to correct or apologize for his grotesquely absurd, remarkably misleading and demonstrably inaccurate opening? And why has he seemingly faced little or no pressure to do so (unlike Karl) from others in the media?

Finally, the network Sunday news shows this week — what we were able to catch of them, anyway — proved to be the usual misinformative lockstep knee-jerkery that keeps us from even bothering to check in on them much anymore. From ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos (which, astonishingly failed to even mention Karl’s extraordinary journalistic lapse, but managed to end its broadcast nonetheless with the straight-faced voice-over: “ABC News: Accurate. Credible. Unmatched.”) to NBC’s Meet the Press to Fox “News” Sunday, they all pretended that last week’s week of “scandals” was on par with Watergate, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome and other actual presidential scandals. That must be what they train for.

But the award for irresponsible knee-jerkery under the guise of seasoned journalistic commentary must certainly go to CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who, as seen on his Twitter account, appears quite proud of his breathless “dumb and dumber” finger-wagging on this week’s Face The Nation, despite its lack of tether to reality or verifiable facts…

So, ya didn’t even bother to read the IG’s report before describing the IRS scandal as “dumb and dumber”, did ya, Bob? We’ve sent that question to CBS and will update if we receive a response. But based on his commentary, it seems he clearly has not. Else, he could not have described the IRS as trying to “get away with” having “gone after the Tea Party” — not based on the currently existing evidence, anyway. Nor could he have made his completely irresponsible comparison to Watergate in the bargain.

So that’s a major fail, by the very highest echelons of each and every broadcast news outlet in a single week. And yet some dare to criticize us — a mere “blog” after all — for getting the story right, time and time again?! Seriously?!


By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, May 20, 2013

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ethics For Thee, But Not For Me”: Should Jonathan Karl Reveal His Benghazi Email Source?

The controversy surrounding the editing of the administration’s Benghazi talking points took an interesting turn on Monday when CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes written during the editing of those talking points “differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations.”

Tapper was referring, in part, to a May 10 report from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who in that report claimed to be citing both administration “emails” and “summaries” of those emails, provided what appeared to be direct quotes from those emails, and said on air that he had “obtained” them. Karl reported the emails suggested the White House had been deeply involved in crafting a political response to the terror attack that occurred at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi September 11, where four Americans were killed. The ABC exclusive, accusing the administration of having “scrubbed” vital information from the talking points, ignited a controversy about the White House’s handling of the attack.

Referring to the emails quoted in the ABC piece, Tapper stressed that, “Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”

(Both the Rhodes email and those of the State Department bolster testimony from then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators.)

As Media Matters noted, Karl responded by explaining that he had not actually reviewed the emails himself, but had been “quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes.” He added that the source “was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails,” indicating that Karl’s original piece was based entirely on his source’s summaries.

Karl insisted that the summaries represent an accurate take on the emails.

But the email obtained by CNN makes it clear that in at least one key instance Karl’s source, who he quoted “verbatim,” got the emails’ contents wrong, leading to a misleading picture of the process by which the talking points were edited.

Was that error accidental? It’s hard to imagine how simply writing down the contents of an email could lead to such a glaring discrepancy. And the administration’s release yesterday of roughly 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between administration aides around the creation of those talking points does even more to put out the fire that Karl helped to ignite. This raises the question of whether misinformation was passed along to Karl deliberately in order to create a political firestorm.

The revelation that the source passed along inaccurate summaries of the emails raises troubling questions for Karl and ABC News: Do Karl’s bosses know who the source is who misled the reporter? And do other reporters at ABC News regularly use, and trust, the same source?

Another key question is whether Karl should reveal the source who misled him. While journalists take seriously the vow to not reveal the identity of confidential sources in exchange for the information that those sources provide, it’s not unheard of for journalists to reveal source identities if it’s proven that that person badly misled a reporter or passed along bogus information. Some observers think that’s what happened in the case of the Benghazi talking points.

“The answer here is that Karl pretty clearly got burned by his source,” wrote Talking Points Memo editor, Josh Marshall.

Reporters enter into an agreement and give anonymity to sources in exchange for information, and specifically, in exchange for reliable information. But when sources pass along provably false misinformation, and particularly when they do it in a plainly partisan fashion, the nature of that agreement changes and under some newsroom interpretations, reporters are no longer bound to keep secret the name of the unreliable source. In fact, it’s sometimes argued reporters are obligated to ‘burn’ their source in the name of disclosing attempts at misinformation.

“Some journalists adhere to a code where the pledge of anonymity is broken if the source lies,” noted the New York Times’ then-managing editor, Jill Abramson, in 2009.

This newsroom ethics issue was raised prominently during the Valerie Plame leak investigation under the Bush administration.  While the White House was sparring with anti-war critics, such as Valerie Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, who accused the administration of manipulating intelligence, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote a column pushing back against Wilson. Citing “two senior administration officials,” Novak named Wilson’s wife and identified her as a CIA “operative on weapons of mass destruction.” Outing an undercover CIA employee is against the law and Novak’s column sparked a criminal investigation to determine who had provided him with that information.

At the time, the New York Times’ public editor, Geneva Overholser, noted that journalists ought to speak out against ethical lapses by their sources. She advised the following [emphasis added]:

In this case, then, journalists should call upon Mr. Novak to acknowledge his abuse of confidentiality and reveal his sources himself — thereby keeping the control of confidentiality in journalistic hands rather than in those of the legal system.

Should Karl follow the same advice?


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, May 16, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Half As Clever As They Think They Are”: Does Anybody In Washington Know How To Run A Conspiracy?

In case you’ve forgotten, what took Benghazi from “a thing Republicans keep whining about” to “Scandal!!!” was when some emails bouncing around between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department were passed to Jonathan Karl of ABC last Friday. The strange thing about it was that the emails didn’t contain anything particularly shocking—no crimes admitted, no malfeasance revealed. It showed 12 different versions of talking points as everybody edited them, but why this made it a “scandal” no one bothered to say. My best explanation is that just the fact of obtaining previously hidden information, regardless of its content, is so exciting to reporters that they just ran with it. They’re forever trying to get a glimpse behind the curtain, and when they do, they almost inevitably shout “Aha!” no matter what.

But then the problem comes. The White House decided to release a whole batch of emails related to the subject, and when they were examined, it turns out that what was given to Karl had been altered. Altered by whom, you ask? Altered by Karl’s source: Republican staffers on the House Oversight Committee, which had been given the emails by the White House (CBS’s Major Garrett confirmed this yesterday).

Let me just explain quickly in case you haven’t been following this, and then we’ll discuss what it means. Two changes to the emails were made, one in an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and one from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Rhodes actually wrote, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” That was changed to, “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.” In the Nuland email, she actually wrote, “the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency [CIA] warnings so why do we want to feed that either?,” which was changed to, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”

So the changes have the effect of making it look like 1) the CIA was tying the attack to al Qaeda, but the State Department wanted to play that down publicly, and 2) the White House was taking special pains to protect the State Department. Neither of these things appear to be true, but there’s a logic to the Republican staffers wanting to paint that picture. Their argument, after all, is that the wrongdoing here consists of the White House (Obama!) and State Department (Clinton!) trying to fool everyone in America into thinking Benghazi wasn’t a terrorist attack, because Obama’s re-election hinged on the false belief that he had defeated al Qaeda forever, and if there’s any al Qaeda left then Mitt Romney would have won. And yes, that’s ridiculous, but it’s what many conservatives seem to believe.

Kevin Drum offers a good explanation for how this probably happened:

Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week’s Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.

And then the White House called their bluff, because why not? It isn’t like there was anything incriminating in the real emails. But in their zeal to expose an imaginary White House/State Department conspiracy to mislead the public, the Republicans made their own little conspiracy to mislead the public. Or maybe it wasn’t a conspiracy, but just one person. We don’t know yet, because Karl hasn’t said who his source is. That’s his call to make; I’d argue that while in ordinary circumstances, the confidential relationship between reporter and source is sacrosanct, the reporter has every right to expose the source  if the source lies to the reporter and makes him a party to a deception.

This is one of those times when you have to ask, “What the hell were they thinking?” Did the Republican staffers think they could get away with this? That once the White House noticed the alterations, they wouldn’t release the originals and use it to discredit their whole investigation? It’s another reminder that as a general rule, in politics nobody is half as clever as they think they are. Every once in a while you get a real honest-to-goodness conspiratorial scheme like Iran-Contra, but most of the time people are just bumbling about, making one poorly thought-out decision after another. The reason there aren’t more conspiracies is that people aren’t smart enough to put them together.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 17, 2013

May 18, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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