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Fox News, Benghazi and President Reagan

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Fox News misled it voters during the presidential election campaign, creating shock when Mitt Romney actually lost, and continues to milslead them on the issue of Benghazi attack. A comparison of the events surrounding Benghazi with the three attacks that occurred in Beirut, over an 18-month span during President Reagan's watch, provides useful historical perspective.

Approximately five years ago I began following Nate Silver’s independent “FiveThirtyEight” blog. Not being a statistician capable of running thousands of computer simulations, I decided to trust a fact-based aggregator of polls whose very reputation rested on making accurate political predictions, rather than rely on a specific poll or the biased estimates of liberal or conservative pundits. Thus, I confidently told a worried African-American friend that, notwithstanding news reports of a tightening race between John McCain and Barack Obama, Mr. Silver was predicting a near landslide victory for Obama. Indeed, Senator Obama trounced Senator McCain in a near landslide.
 
As a consequence, Mr. Silver and his blog were hired by the New York Times, where he eventually directed his poll-aggregating model at predicting the outcome of the race between President Obama and mendacious Mitt Romney. Approximately two weeks ago I referred a modestly educated family member — who seemed to favor pollster Dick Morris at Fox News – to Nate Silver’s blog. Presumably, he failed to take my advice, because, like so many other fact-free Republicans, his head nearly exploded with the news of President Obama’s reelection.
 
Thanks to Silver’s projections, I was confident that President Obama would win reelection, which enabled me to spend more of my limited, but mind-numbing, TV time watching the right-wing bloviators on Fox News — Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren. Their self-important buffoonery was immensely enjoyable.
 
“Buffoonery?” Yes, consider that on the most important news event of 2012, the election of the President of the United States, all the “experts” at Fox News got it wrong. Yes, all of the good folks at Fox News (more appropriately called “Bullshit Mountain News” by comedian Jon Stewart) got it wrong. Bill O’Reilly got it wrong. Sean Hannity got it wrong. Karl Rove got it wrong. Ann Coulter got it wrong.
 
Dick Morris predicted a Romney landslide, 325 Electoral College votes for Romney and but 213 for President Obama. If that difference constitutes a landslide, then it was Obama who actually won in a landslide. In the fact-based world, Obama actually won by a landslide, 332 to 206.
 
Newt Gingrich got it wrong. So did Steve Forbes, who told Greta that Romney was going to win by more than 5 points and 320 electoral votes. And, all along, the pitiful true believers who live in the conservative media bubble swallowed their bullshit – which explains their shock and dismay when the real world smacked them across the face.
 
People outside the conservative bubble know about the studies, which repeatedly demonstrate that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all consumers of news. For example, a University of Maryland study, conducted in 2010, found that “daily Fox News viewers, regardless of political party, were ‘significantly’ more likely than non-viewers to erroneously believe: (1) most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses, (2) most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit, (3) the economy is getting worse, (4) most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring, (5) the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts, (6) their own income taxes have gone up, (7) the auto bailout occurred only under Obama, (8) when TARP came up for a vote most Republican opposed it and (9) it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States.
 
The renowned British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, was on to something in 1866, when he wrote: “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” Mill’s observation suggests that stupidity drove conservatives to Fox in the first place and Fox rewarded them by making them dumber still.
 
Do you want an indicator that speaks volumes about Fox News? Simply compare the people who host the 9:00 PM shows for MSNBC and Fox. Rachel Maddow earned a degree from Stanford, won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford and earned a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in politics from that university. Sean Hannity is a college dropout.
 
Perhaps that absence of a formal education, rather than dishonesty, explains why, on April 3, 2009, Hannity truncated a quote from President Obama, in order to allege that Obama was blaming America first. In fact, as a reading of his entire statement clearly demonstrates, Obama did no such thing. Hannity misled his viewers and the only question is whether it was due to the incompetence of a college drop-out or due to dishonesty. You decide.
 
Bill O’Reilly is another purveyor of misinformation at Fox. Do you remember his infamous cheerleading for an invasion of Iraq? Do you remember O’Reilly’s bold promise about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Mr. O’Reilly said: “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right?”
 
Eventually, he did issue a weak apology. But, O’Reilly soon justified the illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq by claiming it was a good thing for the world that the U.S. got rid of Saddam Hussein. Really, wouldn’t we all violate international law, torture Iraqi prisoners, send thousands of American soldiers to their death, kill more than 100,000 innocent Iraqi men, women and children and court the hatred of much of the world in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein? 
 
When the war turned ugly, “Fair and Balanced” Fox reduced its coverage. In 2007, weasel O’Reilly attempted to defend Fox’s reduced coverage, prompting CNN’s Chief, Jonathan Klein, to observe: “FOX News were obviously cheerleaders for the war. When the war went badly, they had to dial back coverage because it didn’t fit their preconceived story lines.”
 
Just a few days ago, O’Reilly delivered another comforting message to his predominantly old, white audience: “It’s a changing country,” O’Reilly said during Fox News’ coverage. “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it. And he ran on it.”
 
Who, outside the conservative bubble, didn’t know O’Reilly was pandering to white folks wallowing in white victimology. Who, outside the conservative bubble, doesn’t know that a large segment of his audience – namely white folks living in the South — remain net beneficiaries of welfare provided to them by other states in the Union? They get “stuff” from the federal government.
 
According to a paper by Professor Dean Lacy (“Why Do Red States Vote Republican While Blue States Pay the Bills?”), in 2000 Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland paid less in federal taxes than they received in tax benefits from the federal government. In 2005, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama (all Southern states) benefited most from the unequal exchange.
 
The dumbing down, amnesia, and animosity fostered by Fox News is especially evident when it comes to the four Americans killed during a terrorist assault on the U. S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. I’ve written elsewhere about the despicable politicization of the attack by mendacious Mitt Romney and his partisans. But the reporting from Fox has been even worse.
 
Do you remember how the clowns at Fox stewed after President Obama and then Candy Crowley put Mitt Romney in his place after Romney falsely accused Obama of waiting twelve days before calling Benghazi a terrorist attack? Do you remember Fox’s much ado about nothing – given the fog of war — concerning Ambassador Rice’s early emphasis on the role played by an anti-Muslim video? Have you seen the commentators at Fox who claim that “Benghazi-gate” is worse that Watergate? Have you heard their assertions that the mainstream media has failed to adequately cover Benghazi?
 
Did your read how Sean Hannity turned a Fox News report by Jennifer Griffin — about the video broadcast capability of surveillance drones over Benghazi — into an allegation that the “State Department watched [the attack] in real-time?” On October 31st, Hannity told Newt Gingrich, “We know that according to Charlene Lamb, our State Department was watching this in real time.”
 
The implication, of course, was: “How could anyone watch this assault in real time and do nothing to stop it!” Of course, as usual, Hannity was spewing bullshit. “There was never any real-time video of this early portion of the Benghazi hostilities. No one in Washington – State Department, White House, whatever – was watching live feeds of the gate-crashing.” [Erik Wemple, Washington Post Nov. 9] In fact, Charlene Lamb told Congress that she was getting updates “almost in real time.” By telephone, not video.
 
In direct rebuttal to Fox’s mantra that the Obama administration failed to respond adequately to the attack, the Los Angeles Times reported: “‘At every level in the chain of command, from senior officials in Libya to the most senior officials in Washington, everyone was fully engaged in trying to provide whatever help they could,’ a senior intelligence official said in a statement.”
 
That statement directly contradicts Fox’s false assertion that Obama made ‘no decision to do anything to rescue’ Americans in Benghazi, ‘which allowed’ them to be killed. So does Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s claim that the U.S. military “did everything they were in position to do.”
 
Proving that Fox News misinforms and lies is like shooting fish in a barrel. Unashamed, it no doubt will move on to “investigate,” in its own unique way, the Petraeus scandal, especially the statement about Benghazi that his mistress, Paula Broadwell, made at the University of Denver.
 
However, criticizing Fox’s mendacity does not mean that Congress should not investigate what happened at Benghazi. It should. But, we also need historical context, which neither Fox nor Congress is likely to provide.
 
For example, an Associated Press article, dated September 25, 1984, makes the supposed negligence of the Obama administration appear to be a mere trifle when compared to the gross negligence of the Reagan administration.
 
On September 25, 1984, the Associated Press reported that, “House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., said Monday the nation has had enough of President Reagan’s ‘phony alibis and lame excuses’ for the deaths of Americans in Lebanon and several congressional committees will try to get some ‘truthful answers.’”
 
“Going beyond harsh criticism that began last week after a suicide truck bombing outside the U.S. Embassy annex in an east Beirut suburb, O’Neill, D-Mass., said: ‘I have been in contact with the (House) Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary to get to the bottom of how this tragedy could happen in the same manner in the same city, three times in 18 months.”
 
Yes, that’s right. For perspective on Benghazi, reporters at (and viewers of) Fox News would do well to recall that the bombing that occurred on September 20, 1984, “in which two Americans were among at least nine people killed, was similar to a blast that demolished the U.S. Embassy in west Beirut on April 18, 1983, killing more than 60 people, and a bombing that leveled a U.S. Marine headquarters building last Oct. 23, killing 241 American serviceman.”
 
More than 300 people lost their lives, due to terrorist attacks in Beirut during Reagan’s watch. Was the Reagan administration negligent? Was President Reagan directly responsible for those deaths? Was he “soft” on terrorism?
 
But if we are discussing gross negligence, then Reagan’s gross negligence appears to be a trifle, when compared with the gross negligence of the Bush/Cheney regime. After all, they ignored intelligence reports that should have prompted urgent efforts to prevent the al Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11.
 
The reporters and commentators at Fox News, as well as their poorly educated white viewers, should keep this historical context in mind. For, as Cicero wrote: “To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain always a child.”
 
Educated Americans are watching and you are not acquitting yourselves well.