‘Real Attacks, Fake News’

August 26th, 2014 · No Comments · Congress, journalism, Washington

By Denise Tessier

My colleague Arthur Alpert is quite good at pointing out instances in which the Albuquerque Journal fails to carry a column that is at cross-purposes with the conservative newspaper’s ideological bent.

Here’s yet another glaring example: The Journal (so far) has failed to run a Dana Milbank column that warned news consumers about fake news sites created by Republicans.

It’s always dicey writing about something the Journal hasn’t run, because the paper still could run it. But this Milbank column, headlined “Republicans embrace their phoniness” in the Washington Post, has been available nearly two weeks, so it’s likely by now been spiked by the state’s largest daily.

This isn’t just a column criticizing the Republican Party. This is a “buyer beware” / “scam alert” type story about which the Journal missed a chance to inform its readers.

Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who is regularly found on the Journal’s editorial pages, used his column to confirm a National Journal story headlined, “NRCC Launches Fake News Sites to Attack Democratic Candidates,” which said the National Republican Congressional Committee has been setting up faux news sites designed to look like local news sources around the country. From Milbank’s column:

These two dozen sites, with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” look like political fact-checking sites; the NRCC’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, called it “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”

An NRCC official told me the sites are legal because, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find, “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” in small print. “They’re not fake Web sites,” the official said. “These are real attack Web sites.”

As the National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reported, and Milbank repeated, the NRCC “came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry. . .”

“Real attacks, but fake news,” Milbank wrote.

Actually, it’s possible the Journal might have run this Milbank column had it just stuck to warning about the fake news site deception. But the rest of the column finds Milbank debunking a whole series of the Journal’s own favorite subjects for repeated public attack and editorial fodder.

Submitting that “Real attacks, but fake news” is also “a fairly accurate summary of what the GOP’s scandalmongers have been purveying during the Obama years,” Milbank then offered these examples as evidence:

There was the assertion that the White House was covering up high-level involvement in Operation “Fast and Furious,” a gun program under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives that went awry. No evidence was found.

There was the accusation that the Obama White House pushed through money for Solyndra to pay the president’s political cronies even though officials knew the solar-energy firm was going bankrupt. Didn’t happen that way.

Accusation: Obamacare would bring about the collapse of the American health-care system and replace it with socialized medicine and death panels. No such thing has occurred.

The IRS scandal, it was alleged, could be traced back to the White House, which targeted Obama’s enemies for political reasons. Nope.

As Milbank pointed out:

The actual truth of the allegations doesn’t matter. Each one sullied President Obama’s name, and investigators’ failure to deliver the goods did little to remove the taint.

That’s why fake news works: Falsehoods can drive a president’s approval rating into the cellar while the truth is still getting out of bed.

But then, as the ultimate example, Milbank debunked a real Journal favorite – Benghazi.

The problem for the Journal is that this is actually the “Benghazi exoneration”. As Milbank noted:

For nearly two years, Republicans have been alleging all manner of scandal involving the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in the Libyan city. That somebody — Hillary Clinton? — issued a stand-down order to prevent help from getting to American officials under fire; that Clinton rejected pleas for more diplomatic security in Libya; and that the Obama White House pushed false talking points to play down the terrorist attacks before the election.

For nearly two years, the Journal has routinely and often reported those GOP allegations of “all manner of scandal.”

Milbank continued:

The accusations have been roundly debunked, most recently in military officers’ testimony released by the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee.

Now there’s a bipartisan report, adopted unanimously by the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee on July 31, awaiting declassification by the administration. It throws yet another bucket of cold water on the conspiracy theories.

As I pointed out on this blog Aug. 4, after all those dozens of stories on Benghazi, the Journal chose not to run that one – the one about the debunking. And it’s likely one more reason the Journal did not run this Milbank column.

Just to make sure I didn’t miss it, I went through the Journal’s online archives for this month and that story still has not been run, although on Friday (Aug. 22) the Journal did publish s a short story saying four State Department officials involved in Benghazi had been reassigned. The story mentioned that they had been “cleared of security failures” that led to the consulate attack.

Without referring to the House Intelligence Committee’s bi-partisan report referenced by Milbank, the story merely quoted State spokeswoman Marie Harf as saying “an internal State review concluded ‘there was no breach of duty’ by any of the four, who have been on paid administrative leave for months.”

Significantly, the Associated Press story carried by the Journal also noted that, “The State Department is not investigating any other employees.”

Sounds like a debunking.

But the AP story the Journal chose to run did not leave it at that. Rather, it rehashed the original allegations, as if to excuse the Journal for running Benghazi committee hearing stories nearly every day for months on end. Here’s the rest of the AP story the Journal ran:

But the Benghazi attack has been under intense scrutiny by some House Republicans who have suggested the Obama administration is trying to cover up the circumstances and aftermath of the attack that left Stevens and three other Americans dead.

A review in December by the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board described a security vacuum in Libya after rebel forces toppled the decades-long regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi. It singled out the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs for lacking cooperation and being confused over protection at the diplomatic post in Benghazi.

After naming three of the four exonerated/reassigned officials, this incomplete news account concluded with a response from the GOP person most interested in trying to blame the attacks on the nation’s president and the current administration:

Tuesday’s announcement drew a sharp rebuke from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has been leading a congressional probe of the government’s response to the attack.

The Journal gave Darrell Issa the last word.

If it had run Milbank’s column, the Journal would have carried this about the exonerating report:

In a statement, the top Democrat on the panel, Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), said the report finds that:

“[T]here was no intelligence failure surrounding the Benghazi attacks.”
“[T]here was no ‘stand down order’ given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, and no American was left behind.”
“[T]he talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis.”
“[T]here was no illegal activity or illegal arms sales occurring at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi.”
“And there was absolutely no evidence, in documents or testimony, that the intelligence community’s assessments were politically motivated in any way.”

In fairness, Milbank’s column continued that:

The report is not yet public, and Republican sources indicate that there is more disagreement in the report than Ruppersberger’s statement indicates and that the report is not as exculpatory as he implies. But there has been no challenge from the Republican side to the accuracy of the findings Ruppersberger detailed in his statement.

That provided an apt conclusion for the column’s opening revelations about the “Real attacks, fake news” approach embraced by the GOP. Milbank’s ending:

Now that the truth is catching up to them, House Republicans will need to stay one step ahead. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the select committee on Benghazi, told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh last week that, despite what the Intelligence Committee found, “there is more work to be done and more to be investigated.”

Excellent. Maybe he can post his phony accusations on some fake news Web sites.

I’m not yet aware of any GOP fake news Web sites in New Mexico. But Gowdy and his ilk might not need it because, based on past history, the Albuquerque Journal will likely provide sympathetic space for such claims.


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