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Benghazi, Emails, Planned Parenthood: How D.C. Press Keeps Enabling The GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions

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Benghazi, Emails, Planned Parenthood: How D.C. Press Keeps Enabling The GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions


This piece originally appeared on Media Matters.

Within the span of just 12 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 10 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 20 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 the fact that 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 monkey wrenching 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 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:

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?

Screengrab: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) with Sean Hannity, September 29, 2015.

This piece originally appeared in Media Matters on October 1, 2015.



  1. Dominick Vila October 3, 2015

    The reason our media does not challenge, and sometimes implicitly promotes, the bizarre statements and lies used by the Republican party in the absence of solutions to problems and a vision of the future, is because they depend on sensationalism to exist and profit. Add to that the fact that much of our media is owned by the same financial moguls that fund the campaigns of charlatans whose behavior and attitude is more consistent with what we would expect from a comedian, or a mentally disturbed person, than from someone seeking a position of responsibility, and it is not too hard to understand why what passes for journalism in the USA is nothing more than an instrument used by the special interests that control our political process, our finances, and our future.

    1. bcarreiro October 3, 2015

      It’s about the ratings and not the accuracy. We fight in battlefields so they can have a Lamborghini.

    2. Independent1 October 4, 2015

      Dominick, this comment would go better in the blog following Boehner quitting, but I can’t located that item in the NM at the moment.

      I thought you might find it of interest that in today’s Rasmussen polling, that their latest poll shows that 46% of Republicans feel that even McConnell should step down; while only 22% believe he should stay.

      See this from Rasmussenreports.com:

      It looks like Republican voters are ready to clean house when it comes to the party’s top two congressional leaders.

      Following John Boehner’s sudden decision to step down as speaker of the
      House of Representatives, 46% of Likely Republican Voters think Senate
      Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also should resign. A new Rasmussen
      Reports national telephone survey finds that just 22% of GOP voters
      don’t think the longtime Kentucky senator should step down as majority
      leader, but a sizable 32% are undecided. (To see survey question
      wording, click here.)

      1. Dominick Vila October 4, 2015

        Some members of my family, and my best friends, are Republicans and the reason they are happy to see Boehner go, and would love McConnell to resign is because they think they have been to soft on President Obama!

        1. Independent1 October 4, 2015

          My guess is that your Republican friends have those opinions because like so many right-wingers, they have a total misconception of how our government really works. They really don’t understand how little personal leverage any congressional politician really has in Washington, especially with regards to the president. So aside from them badmouthing the president, as Boehner and McConnell did virtually 24/7..there’s virtually nothing anyone could have done to ‘make it tougher on Obama’. It’s kind of sad we have so many Americans (it seems especially Republicans) who are so clueless about how America’s political system really works. And maybe that’s because Republicans these days seem to be so quick and willing to voice their outright ignorance.

          1. Max_ October 4, 2015

            Yeah isn’t it sad that most people don’t understand we no longer have a representative Government, that it has been taken over by a vast global criminal cabal, and all or a great majority of our so called representatives on both sides and in-between are either paid off, blackmailed or both into serving this vast global criminal cabal… It’s ALL just political theater as the global criminal cabal moves their agenda forward step by step while the Red team and the Blue team fight over who is smarter..

            You’re such a fcking idiot….

          2. Dominick Vila October 5, 2015

            Or because their mistrust of government, since the Reagan days, and their hatred of Barack Obama, are so intense that nothing short of impeachment, removal from office, and total destruction of his record and legacy will satisfy them. What I see goes beyond ignorance or not having a clear understanding of how our government works or even the critical services it provides. We have to go no further than consider the popularity of a man who exudes arrogance, narcissism, and ignorance of relevant matters to understand that for a segment of our population, the choices range from an institution that represents their interests over everyone else, or anarchy with a heavy dose of violence.

  2. i2grok October 3, 2015

    They write to keep receiving a paycheck, no matter how specious the story.

  3. greenlantern1 October 3, 2015

    Ever hear of Pastor [?] Terry Jones?
    Why wasn’t his e-mail asked for?
    Rose Mary Woods, not Clinton, erased the Watergate Tapes!

    1. Dominick Vila October 3, 2015

      Does anybody remember the investigations that followed the eleven terrorist attacks against U.S. Embassies and Consulates when the Decider was in office? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. There were none.

      1. ThisNameInUse October 3, 2015

        Yeah, and remember how right after the towers came down on 9/11, the Democrats instead of patriotically circling the wagons around the Commander in Chief, regardless of party, dragged the bodies of our dead around in the streets for three years straight trying to get some political gain from the tragedy?

        Me neither.

        1. Dominick Vila October 4, 2015

          I don’t know what planet you inhabit, but what happened on planet Earth after 9/11 was the opposite you say. Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, rallied behind President Bush, participated in a 9/11 investigation focused on prevention rather than finger pointing, and supported W’s decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. That, by the way, is one of the reason many Democrats are not crazy about Hillary.

          1. Independent1 October 4, 2015

            I kind of felt that way about the Dems who voted for war against Iraq for a while too, but after going through the Lie by Lie of the brainwashing that the Bush Administration did on virtually all Americans and including a large percentage of our congressional people, I’ve had to cut those Dems some slack.

            The lies the Bush Administration told were so without parallel in deceit with respect to what this world has ever seen; and unfortunately some were very convincing; that if the lies did not completely convince our congressional people of voting for war, then they at least put them on enough potential guilt trips if Bush was right and they were wrong in their disbelief – that I feel that is why many of them voted to give Bush the approval for war. They may not have believed what they were hearing, but they didn’t have enough other information that countered the lies to downplay the possible guilt they would feel if Bush was actually right.

            If you haven’t gone through those lies and have a little bit of time, here’s the link to a lie by lie timeline of how we got into the Iraq war:


  4. Louis Allen October 3, 2015

    Yes. It has become more and more obvious how our mainstream press, ever the Conservatives, have totally gone against Obama, Hillary, and Bernie.
    Witness how NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and even The San Francisco Examiner have unjustly and continually criticized Obama, Hillary and Uncle Bernie and have defended the likes of Trump, Fiorina and that “token/court minstrel” of the Republicans (according to that ever-so-honest journalist, Cynthia Tucker Haynes).
    It is soooo obvious how our press, journalists and columnists (no distinction intended among them) have defended, and continue to defend, crazy conservatives against decent, smart and politically correct liberals.

  5. The lucky one October 3, 2015

    Why do you have pictures of Hannity and O’Reilly on a piece about journalists? They are entertainers, nothing remotely journalistic about either of them.

    1. johninPCFL October 3, 2015

      Absolutely correct. Anytime O’Reilly is asked about his journalistic credentials, he replies “I’m not a reporter, I’m an entertainer.”

      1. Insinnergy October 4, 2015

        And he’s barely entertaining.

    2. 1standlastword October 3, 2015

      It’s because the above said entertainers are the medium between the average conservative voter and their party.

      No independent or critical thinking required! And the volume is always up really high to keep their attention

    3. FT66 October 4, 2015

      Hannity and O’Reilly don’t deserve to be called entertainers either, nothing they always say make a person at least giggle a little bit.

      1. The lucky one October 4, 2015

        I didn’t say they were talented entertainers but I would bet that the knuckle draggers their programs are aimed at do find hem amusing.

  6. Bored October 3, 2015

    It’s ALWAYS been that way. The press gets accused of being liberally-biased by the same press that is supposedly liberally-biased. That tells me the mainstream press is actually the opposite of liberal. It’s done that way to discredit any negative reporting about conservatives before it even hits the airwaves.

  7. Daniel Jones October 3, 2015

    The media model of the Beltway as devised by the conservatives is less honest than the script-writing for professional wrestling, but just as spectacular and showy.

    I doubt it’ll help, but try to keep some Shakespeare in mind when considering them–the line about life being a play written by an idiot.

  8. elw October 3, 2015

    “But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy.” I would say at the very least it all those things and it has done an excellent job of confusing and scaring anyone who takes the press seriously, undermines trust in elected officials and makes a whole lot of people mad and 30 years of it has helped destroy respect for Journalism. The worst thing is the simple fact that it distracts people from real issues – like poverty, income inequality, the injustice in justice system and many more problems that actually affect most Americans and helps hide information that will help them choose which candidate they should actually be giving their vote to. When Congress allowed the very rich to buy up all those newspapers, cable channels and other print media they basically gave our Country away to a very few, very rich people.

  9. Whatmeworry October 3, 2015

    For more than 3 years Barak as stoned walled every attempt to see any documents under the freedom of information act The fact that now independent organizations are forcing the release has nothing to do wth Republians controlling the airwaves

    1. ThisNameInUse October 3, 2015

      Name one.

      And who’s “Barak” anyway?

      1. Whatmeworry October 4, 2015

        I’m not your typical moron

        1. Insinnergy October 4, 2015

          True… you’re a very very moronic republican. Repetitive too.
          And probably a paid troll.
          I can’t imagine someone sitting there and typing the tripe you come up with unless they were being paid to do it.

          Edit: Damn… just responded to the Whatmeworry mockery account…. Touche, sir! 😉
          Please continue your fine work.

          1. Whatmeworry October 4, 2015

            Fat dan ketter pays me to do NUTTING

    2. Whatmeworry October 4, 2015

      For more than 30 years Barak never stoned walled every attempt to see any
      documents under the freedom of information act The rumour that now
      independent organizations are forcing the release has everything to do wth
      Republians controlling the airwaves

    3. Daniel Max Ketter October 4, 2015

      Planned parenthood SHOULD remain funded by taxpayers, as a woman has a right to choose whether to abort a fetus, just like I have a right to remove a cancerous cyst off my fat keyster. I have always believed that for 68 years, and always will. God bless our trade unions, as well as the UAW at Ford Motors for their service to our country.

    4. Whatmeworry October 6, 2015

      Linda Rae Ketter is soooo ugly…the local peeping-tom knocked on her door, and asked her to shut her blinds

    5. whatmeworryisfatDan Ketter October 24, 2015


  10. 1standlastword October 3, 2015

    Remember what happened to the boy who cried wolf too many times?

    I think the fable reveals the fate of the GOP.

    The media simply does its part to make money and provide a historical record of how pathetic American conservative politics have become in the 21st c.

    Already, the conservative constituent is fed up with the endless going nowhere, getting nothing done war games the GOP has been playing for 7-years, non-stop.

    That’s how they got Donald Trump!

    Donald Trump is a living testament of the truth in form and practice of this new form of modern pernicious conservatism by making it clear to all the world how corrupt and vicious the republican party has become

  11. ThisNameInUse October 3, 2015

    For me, this started with the Swift Boat Liars. Utterly false BS repeated ad nauseum in ads bankrolled by wealthy billionaires who didn’t want their taxes to go up under a Democrat, and the media swallowed it as uncritically as they did Bush’s Iraq lies. They kept “reporting” on what the ads said, without mentioning that the men who were in Vietnam with Kerry absolutely refuted what they claimed. The most disgusting failure of election season journalism in our history.

    1. Dominick Vila October 4, 2015

      Second only to the Third World pregnant chads and recount delays episode that resulted in the SELECTION of George W. Bush as President.

      1. 1standlastword October 4, 2015

        Americans should recount these events to notice that republicans can’t win without lining up big money and cheating!

        The first thing apologist claim is both sides do it….True both use big money as it is legal but importantly, the distinction is Democrats exhibit a fairer approach to attaining political victory and also their objectives are clearly more beneficial for the American people.

        Lastly, you mentioned 11 embassy attacks during the “deciders” administration. Can you share your sources?

        1. Dominick Vila October 4, 2015

          There is a lot of information about all the U.S. Embassies and consulates attacked by terrorists when W was in office. Here is one. Notice that our consulate in Karachi was attacked twice! I don’t recall claims of ineptitude, inaccurate conclusions, or anything else.


          1. 1standlastword October 4, 2015

            Wow!!! Thanks Dom–

          1. Independent1 October 5, 2015

            Dominick, as you point out there are numerous sources on the attacks during the Bush years. I’ve gone through several of them and have found that none of them appear to be complete.

            The sodahead.com reference is missing especially several earl-on attacks. And the Politifact link I’m going to post with 20 of them is missing non-deadly attacks but includes attacks on the Embassy and Consulate compounds in Iraq and Afghanistan which I haven’t in my updated list which now shows 17 attacks with 84 people being killed and scores being injured (I didn’t try to add up the injured because they seem to vary from the sources).

            But for the record, here’s an updated list using at least four different reasonably reliable sources:

            2001 – US
            Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, 1 killed 2002 – US Consulate in Calcutta, India attacked, 5 Killed 2002 – US Consulate in Karachi Pakistan attacked, 12
            killed; 51 injured. 2002 – US Embassy in Lima Peru,
            9 killed, 32 injured 2002
            – US Diplomatic office in Denpasar Indonesia bombed, no one
            killed 2002- US
            Embassy in Kathmandu Nepal, 1 dead 2003
            – International Compound in Saudi
            Arabia, 17 killed including 8 Americans .
            2003 – US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan,
            2 killed.

            2004 – US Embassy bombed in Uzbekistan, 2 killed 9 injured.
            2004 – US Consulate in Saudi Arabia, 8 killed
            10 wounded. 2006 – US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, 4
            killed including US diplomat.

            2006 – US Embassy in Syria, 5 killed and 13 wounded. 2007 – Grenade launched into the US Embassy
            in Athens no one killed.
            2008 – US Embassy in Serbia, attacked by
            thousands, no one killed.
            2008 – US Consulate in Istanbul Turkey, 3
            killed. 2008 –
            US Embassy in Sanna Yemen – mortar attack killed 2 & injured 19 others in nearby girl’s school

            2008 – US Embassy in Sanaa Yemen bombed, 13 killed including 1 American & 16 injured

          2. Dominick Vila October 5, 2015

            Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody blamed W, nobody even bothered to ask him why that happened and what was he planning to do, there were no investigations, and other than an article on the back pages of local papers and 30-second coverage on some TV stations, nobody cared…and then came Benghazi!
            I don’t blame Republicans for their cynicism, I don’t blame Americans for our short memory span; I blame the media for allowing the far right to get away with their double standards, lies, and political manipulations. So much for our “liberal” press…

          3. paulyz October 5, 2015

            STILL blaming Bush but ignoring Obama’s failures & scandals I see. I imagine the difference is that other Embassy attacks weren’t denied as being a “terrorist” attack, blamed on a youtube video, & a proven lapse in security admitted by Hillary.

    2. 1standlastword October 4, 2015

      The main problem with American political campaign law is there is NO legal accountability for lying about the opponent.

      The law makers haven’t made it illegal so the media is inclined to indulge in an opportunity to profit.

      All gawd fearing faux Christian conservatives teach their young’uns not to lie: Then those young’uns grow up to become the BIGGEST gang of professional liars the free world has ever seen!

      Until political misrepresentation is made illegal politicians will always sponsor lying ads and the media will be happy to endorse them.

  12. BiteMeLiberals October 4, 2015

    Can’t wait to see Hillary do jail time for another lie.

    1. John Murchison October 5, 2015

      looks like you’ll be waiting awhile.

  13. John Murchison October 5, 2015

    The GOP firmly believes in these tactic because they work in damaging the Dems. But these tactics do have certain side effects. 1st it becomes obvious, as the scandals dissolve over time, that the GOP creates them and lies as they do so, thus destroying their own crediabilty and positive pol numbers as they do the Dems. 2nd it coarsens the debate and makes governing more and more difficult regardless of who is in the majority. 3rd, it rots media credibility to the point that we, the electorate, do not trust any news items we read to the point of making us dangerously ignorant.

  14. gmccpa October 5, 2015

    “But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy”

    Unfortunately, this statement is only half true. Yes. Its exhausting and disheartening. And disgusting that the media plays along without headlining the facts, as they come out. But for the Republicans, its no waste of time. Their base is so extremely ignorant that many of them actually believe HRC will go to jail over this. How lame is our so called ‘liberal’ media, that someone can be led to this conclusion?

  15. tdm3624 October 5, 2015

    The news media does this because, for whatever reason, people seem to respond to emotional news articles rather than real news. The more “shocking” a story is, the more likely to get clicks. I guarantee a headline saying something like, “Obama finds constitutional loophole!” would get more clicks than, “The return of the wolf, a success story.” The press is simply pandering to the emotional American base.

  16. kimothyanne October 5, 2015

    Here’s an idea, and it is relatively simple. How about the so called “mainstream media” NOT repeat anything that has been aired on Fox “news”, or Breitbart, or is the result of a Tea Party inspired Press Conference? Add the GOP to that and we should all be relatively safe from falsified scandals and then, just maybe…the MSM can spend their time reporting on policy matters and actual news both domestic and international.


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