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“Lapdog Role”: Benghazi, Emails, Planned Parenthood; How D.C. Press Keeps Enabling The GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions

Within the span of just twelve hours this week, multiple Republican-sponsored political pursuits partially unraveled in plain sight.

The long-running investigations were the Benghazi select committee and the related probe into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and Republicans’ crusade targeting Planned Parenthood. Journalists would be wise to take note of the pattern of plain deception and ask themselves if they want to keep sponsoring these planned distractions.

The first to crumble was the right-wing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was launched this summer and sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party. Creating a whirlwind of controversy and endless media attention, the undercover sting operation by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress was even elevated by some to be pressing enough to shut down the federal government.

Tuesday’s Congressional hearing about defunding Planned Parenthood was to be the centerpiece of the right wing’s orchestrated attack campaign. The problem was that in recent weeks we’ve learned the gotcha videos at the center of the campaign were deceptively edited. And so far six statewide investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. That meant the Congressional production was likely destined for failure.

“The entire hearing was premised on a series of mischaracterizations,” reported The New Yorker. Republicans were left with little but bouts of bullying in an effort to intimidate Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards as she testified.

It didn’t work. So after ten weeks, the sustained attack against Planned Parenthood produced no tangible evidence of wrongdoing and no serious damage to the organization. (Of course, despite their failures so far, Republicans are now reportedly considering creating “a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood.”)

Then just hours after the hearing completed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who’s now in line to become the next Republican Speaker of the House, brazenly bragged on Sean Hannity’s Fox program about how the Benghazi select committee was responsible for damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. To which Hannity responded, “That’s something good, I give you credit for that.”

With one brief Fox appearance, McCarthy laid bare the facts about both the never-ending Benghazi investigation and the related, still-churning email witch hunt: They’re both built on politics, plain and simple. The Republicans created a Benghazi select committee in order to try to take out the Democratic frontrunner for president. Period. That’s the story.

Sadly, the busted Planned Parenthood, Benghazi and email diversions simply represent the latest creations from the GOP distraction model. Conservatives have been using it, on and off, for two decades — and the model works best when the Beltway press plays along. It works best if the Beltway press pretends virtually every other Republican-produced scandal pursuit hasn’t been a  bust.

Many of the same Republicans who have spearheaded the dishonest Planned Parenthood probe are the same ones leading the charge on Benghazi and the email story. And the press continues to breathlessly quote them as they try to hype these supposed scandals.

So yes, much of the press has been culpable in the latest Republican distractions since day one. In fact, the press has been playing the same lapdog role for well over twenty years when it comes to endlessly hyping and even marketing orchestrated Republican distractions. These self-contained circus productions that suggest all kinds of Democratic wrongdoing are long on conspiracy theories but short on facts, and leave pundits and reporters breathlessly chronicling the possible downside for Democrats.

One reason these Groundhog Day scenes keeping play out, again and again and again, is due to the fact too many journalists are absolutely wed to the very simple definition of what constitutes news: What are conservatives angry about?

Given that kind of carte blanche to create news cycles, Republicans and conservatives in the media have taken full advantage and have settled into a predictable pattern: Manufacture distractions designed to make life miserable for Democratic leaders; force Democrats to use up energy and resources to swat down endless unproven allegations, and spawn waves of media “gotcha” hysteria fueled by disingenuous leaks.

But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy. But this is how the right wing plays politics in America and the D.C. press has shown an unbridled enthusiasm to want to play along; to want to abandon common sense in order to chase GOP-designated shiny objects for weeks, months or sometimes years on end. And then do it all over again when the current distraction disintegrates.

The pattern began in earnest during the 1990s when Republicans became obsessed with personally pursuing the Clintons. Remember the dubious Clinton pardon distraction, the parting gifts distraction, and of course Ken Starr’s $80 million Inspector Javert routine.

Charles Pierce at Esquire recently detailed that decade’s signature string of orchestrated GOP obfuscations:

To use a more relevant, example, TravelGate was a distraction. FileGate was a distraction. The disgusting use of Vince Foster’s suicide was a distraction. Castle Grande was a distraction. The cattle futures were a distraction. The billing records were a distraction. Webster Hubbell’s billing practices were a distraction. Hell, the entire Whitewater part of the Whitewater affair was basically a distraction, as was the pursuit of Bill Clinton’s extracurricular love life. Kathleen Willey was a distraction. The monkeywrenching of a settlement in the Paula Jones case was to make sure that the distraction that was that case survived. All of these were distractions created to make it difficult for a Democratic president to govern, and the reason I know that is because the people creating distractions were not shy about admitting what they were all about to each other.

Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. Yet aided by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage to the Clinton administration. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP’s Clinton distraction model was to create the infrastructure to hound the Democrats.

With President Obama’s inauguration, the old model was unpacked, but this time with Fox News playing a much more aggressive role. The results have been an endless parade of diversions and hoaxes designed, in various shapes and sizes, to hamstring a Democratic administration and, more recently, to damage the leading Democratic candidate for 2016.

Here’s just a handful of manufactured distractions:

*ACORN

*Benghazi stand down order

*”Climategate

*Clinton Cash

*Department of Education official Kevin Jennings

*Economist Jonathan Gruber’s Obamacare comment

*Food stamps

*Gibson Guitar raid

*New Black Panthers

*Shirley Sherrod

*Voter fraud

As Media Matters can attest, virtually none of the often-hysterical allegations attached to those distractions were ever proven to be true. Instead, the pursuits imploded under their own weight. Yet too often, these supposed scandals broke out of the Fox News bubble and became mainstream “news.”

So when’s the press going to get the message and stop enabling these charades?

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, October 1, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“First Rule Of GOP Politics”: Never, Never, EVER Tell The Truth

Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just committed a “gaffe” in Michael Kinsley’s sense of the term: in an unguarded moment, he allowed himself to tell the truth. The truth is, as most of us have always known, that Benghazi!, like its predecessor Whitewater!, was an entirely bad-faith exercise in partisan character assassination from the get-go. But don’t listen to me, listen to what the Speaker-to-Be told Sean Hannity:

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would’ve known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.

Naturally, the rest of the House Republicans are outraged: not, of course, at Trey Gowdy for ghoulishly making a political meal out of the bodies of four dead Americans, but at McCarthy for blabbing.

The political press corps is caught in the middle. Lots of those reporters and editors, especially at the New York Times, have been more than willing to peddle Gowdy’s “partial-transcript” leaks as if they had news value, and to let Gowdy and his staff hide behind anonymity to defame a political rival. In other words, they’ve been playing according to the Clinton Rules, which hold that anything a Clinton does is guilty even after it’s been proven innocent.

So far, most of that crowd has reacted to McCarthy’s stunning admission, which makes them look like fools or scoundrels or both, by ignoring it. But I’m hoping that the second round of stories, with other Republicans commenting on McCarthy’s blunder, will start to crack that Wall of Silence. And I’m starting to look forward to Clinton’s appearance before Trey Gowdy’s inquisition. He might well come out of that experience as no more than a Deuce.

 

By: Mark Kleiman, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, October 1, 2015

October 3, 2015 Posted by | House Select Committee on Benghazi, Kevin McCarthy, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making A Fetish Of John McCain”: Using The Veil Of Patriotism To Shroud What Is Plainly Partisan Politics

Its futility makes me so weary it’s hard to type the question, but I’ll type it anyway: Why do the elite Washington media, especially the influential Sunday morning shows, continue to pay deference to, and take seriously, the opinions of John McCain?

Put another way: What would it take for the elite Washington media to reconsider their fealty to McCain? What would the Arizona senator have to do to disqualify himself as the authoritative voice on national security issues, military affairs, and patriotism?

I don’t mean to suggest that McCain would have to do something disreputable, like commit a crime. But if I were a producer for one of the broadcast TV shows, like Meet the Press, I’d ask myself: Does the man whose reputation rests on his dedication to duty, honor, and sacrifice deserve such a reputation in light of recent moves to privilege the Republican Party over the United States?

Before I go on, please note this complaint of mine is just one of many — many! — complaints among media watchers. Paul Waldman, over at The American Prospect, has kvetched for years about McCain’s “mavericky maverickness.” He wrote an entire book about it. So don’t take my complaint as new or even influential. My aim is to note merely how this latest episode is a clear example of McCain’s long con on the media. It illuminates his using the veil of patriotism to shroud what is plainly partisan politics.

What episode? You already know. McCain was one of 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to sign a letter to the Iranian government, saying any deal over its nuclear program with the current President of the United States could be — and, by implication, would be — nullified by the election of a Republican president. In other words, the man who represents the United States to the world is not really the man who represents the United States to the world, because he belongs to the wrong party.

This was further complicated when McCain publicly called into question the credibility of Secretary of State John Kerry after news broke of an agreement between the nations over the framework of a nuclear deal. And there’s more! McCain said he trusted the judgment of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over Kerry’s. Clearly, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

This is in keeping with the regular habit of his fellow Republicans to elevate the interests of party over the interests of country, as Slate‘s William Saletan minutely detailed in an article titled “Why Do Republicans Keep Siding With America’s Enemies?”

I’d add only a representative remark by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He recently advised any young person desiring to serve her country in the armed forces to wait until 2017. Why? Because Barack Obama is not a Republican.

“Wait a couple of years until we get a new commander in chief that will once again believe ‘One Nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country,” he said.

You might say: Well, McCain signed the letter only because his party wanted him to. That’s not the real John McCain. The real John McCain is an independent voice, a bipartisan figure who often challenges his party. In other words, a maverick.

McCain did memorably use the term “wacko birds” in 2013 to describe Senate Republicans like Rand Paul who were carping about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. (Paul didn’t like that Obama’s drone policy was Brennan’s brainchild.) And indeed, McCain might place Huckabee in the same “wacko bird” category.

But if McCain’s voting record is any indication — truly, it is the only indicator of a U.S. senator’s character that matters — McCain sides with the Republican Party’s “wacko birds” almost uniformly. And if he sides with the wacko birds almost uniformly, then there’s no significant difference between McCain and the wacko birds.

You might also say: Come on. The real John McCain isn’t a wacko bird. OK, I say, then the real one is feckless. According to Politico‘s Burgess Everett, McCain signed the letter without much thought. “It was kind of a very rapid process,” he said. “Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

In other words, he only did what his party asked of him.

In other words, John McCain is a Republican partisan.

How, then, do we understand the Washington media’s universal portrayal of John McCain as a “maverick”? Waldman says it comes from mastering the art of flattery. McCain, he says, “spent a couple of decades massaging their egos and convincing them that he was their best buddy, an investment that paid off splendidly.”

I don’t doubt it, but I’d add another perspective.

John McCain, I suspect, might be better understood as a metaphor, as a mental projection of what the elite Washington media believes a man dedicated to duty, honor, and sacrifice would look like. And John McCain, knowing that few journalists personally know anyone who served in the military, much less saw mortal combat or, like him, experienced life as a prisoner of war, exploited that mental projection to the hilt. These same journalists, I would guess, are as awed by his biography as they are by anyone who can pull the levers of power in Washington. Put it together, and you have not so much a human being as a fetish: a there that isn’t there.

Given the state of the Washington media, I suppose a fetish is as good a reason for John McCain’s ubiquity as any other. As I said, nothing is going to change. Just asking why anyone takes him seriously is exhausting. And for that reason, I’ll stop asking.

 

By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Media, Partisanship | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Elephant In The Room With Leon Panetta”: A Political Actor Working For Someone Else’s Electoral Gain?

In his widely read blog of Beltway goings-on, Chris Cillizza made the following fairly obvious point about former defense Ssecretary Leon Panetta’s Obama-bashing media tour:

What’s fascinating about this gripe with Obama is how much it plays into a) the argument that Hillary Clinton made against him in the 2008 presidential primary and b) the argument Hillary Clinton will likely make when (sorry, if) she runs for president in 2016. That argument, in short: I have been there and done that. I know what it takes to move the levers of power in Washington—and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make them move.

In addition, Panetta’s criticisms mainly involve Obama’s reluctance to use military force—also a fault line between Clinton and Obama, particularly on the matter of arming the Syrian rebels.

But the Beltway press shouldn’t be afraid to explicitly ask if Panetta is serving as an agent of Clinton’s official-but-not-yet-official presidential campaign. It’s not just that his criticisms dovetail with Clinton’s and are no doubt politically convenient for her as she attempts to draw a difference with the Obama administration—there are explicit ties to the shadow Clinton campaign that should make this question fair game.

Panetta has taken up residence at Beacon Global Strategies, where he is a senior counselor. He has deep ties to the group’s leaders; Jeremy Bash, Beacon’s founder and managing director, was Panetta’s chief of staff at both the CIA and the Pentagon. Another founder and managing director is Philippe Reines—one of Hillary’s closest allies and someone widely understood to still be managing her public profile.

Reines helped found Beacon after years spent with Hillary. He joined her Senate office in 2002 and later moved to the State Department when she became secretary. He is Clinton’s “chief personal defender,” in the words of New York magazine, who reported in a profile earlier this year that in addition to running Beacon, Reines’s “second full-time job” is working for Hillary. When she decides to run, Reines will be part of the campaign. In many ways, he already is.

So Panetta’s very close ties to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign should naturally raise the question if he, too, is an explicit part of it.

Note that Panetta first made a splash with his tough criticisms of Obama during a September 21 interview with 60 Minutes, in which he blasted the president for not arming the Syrian opposition sooner. “I think that would’ve helped,” he said. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.” The “paying the price” line made headlines around the country the next day.

That very same Sunday, Bill Clinton appeared on CNN—and made the exact same point, and made it clear that Panetta and his wife were on the same page. “I supported two years ago the proposal that Hillary and Secretary Panetta and then–CIA director General Petraeus made to give more robust armed support to the Syrians,” he told Fareed Zakaria.

With Reines managing Hillary’s public image, and Panetta and Bill Clinton making the same point on the same day, the question of coordination is unavoidable.

That’s not to say Panetta’s criticisms shouldn’t be considered on their merits, nor that there’s anything wrong with this coordination. But it’s crucial context in which to understand his position—that perhaps he’s not just a reluctant critic trying to call out policy failures, but also a political actor working for someone else’s electoral gain.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 9, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great Benghazi Scandal Gets Sillier”: Potato, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto; Well, You Know The Rest

You say potato and I say potahto,
You say tomato and I say tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto:
Let’s call the whole thing off.

–George and Ira Gershwin

Here’s how unreal the Great Benghazi Scandal had already grown as of last year. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler devoted an entire May 2013 column to the scholastic question of whether President Obama’s calling the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya an “act of terror” was the same as calling it an “act of terrorism,” as he’d recently claimed.

Kessler pondered the deep semantic differences between the two phrases before awarding Obama a full four “Pinocchios,” signifying a “whopper.” Seriously. That’s the big cover-up House Republicans pretend they’re outraged about.

Obama’s exact words, from the White House Rose Garden on the day after the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his security team:

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.

So who was Obama trying to deceive? People who hadn’t seen the smoking ruins on TV? And about what? Kessler doesn’t say. Only that the two phrases don’t signify precisely the same thing — a distinction without a difference in any realistic political context.

It will be recalled that GOP nominee Mitt Romney executed one of the clumsiest pratfalls in presidential debate history for mistakenly challenging Obama on this exact point. Had the president, or had he not, described the Benghazi disaster as an “act of terror?”

Obama cooly urged his rival to consult the transcript. In fact, he’d used the phrase several times. Had the Washington political press not had so much invested in a “cliffhanger” election narrative, Romney’s blunder would have been compared to President Gerald Ford’s denying Soviet influence in Poland during a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter.

But then this is the great mystery confronting non-initiates in the great GOP Benghazi cult. What on earth are these people going on about? That if Obama had said “act of terrorism” instead of “act of terror,” Americans would have punished his failure to eliminate jihadists from the face of the earth by turning to Mitt “47 percent” Romney?

That everything would be different if UN Ambassador Susan Rice had cast aside White House “talking points” about inflammatory videos on the Sunday political chat shows and candidly confessed that “[w]hether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself…is one of the things we’ll have to determine?”

Because those were Rice’s exact words, block copied from the transcript of CBS’s Sept. 16, 2012 Face the Nation broadcast in response to a direct question from Bob Schieffer about al Qaeda involvement.

Everybody now pretends she named no terrorist groups, for the sake of keeping the make-believe scandal alive.

It follows that contrary to everything you hear from partisan mischief makers and their helpers among the Washington press, the Obama White House has never sought to deny the obvious: that the kinds of religious zealots who bring rocket-propelled grenade launchers to street demonstrations didn’t simply find them lying around in the bazaar.

The original CIA talking points released 11 months ago said pretty much what Ambassador Rice said: that outrage at a crude, American-made video mocking Islam sparked violent protests across much of the Middle East, and that militants took advantage of the resulting chaos for their own bloody purposes. The exact identity of those responsible isn’t yet known.

See, out there in the real world, it doesn’t always have to be either/or. Most often it’s both/and: armed terrorist groups and a provocative video. A Senate Intelligence Committee report released last January sharply criticized the State Department, but also concluded “that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic.”

David D. Kirkpatrick’s masterful reporting in The New York Times established that the anti-western Libyan militia Ansar Al-Sharia had long had the consulate under surveillance, although “[a]nger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters….A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him.”

However, a 2012 White House email has recently emerged, re-stating CIA talking points in somewhat different language. So big deal.

They’ll be singing all summer: Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.

Well, you know the rest.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 7, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP, Terrorism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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