FLASHBACK: Media Hit GOP Over Anti-Hillary Benghazi ‘Witch Hunt’

October 21st, 2023 8:54 AM

A presidential election year is looming. Donald Trump is dominating a crowded Republican primary field, and the almost-certain Democratic nominee is enmeshed in a serious scandal that liberal journalists lamely claim is nothing but a conservative conspiracy theory.

Sound familiar? Well, that’s not just the state of politics in 2023, as Trump soars above his GOP rivals and the media elite reject the investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. It was also the case eight years ago, when Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton was finally summoned before a House investigative committee to answer detailed questions about her failed leadership of the State Department during the Benghazi attack that took the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans.

As they say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Then as now, the media busied themselves in disparaging the GOP investigation while helping a powerful Democrat sidestep scrutiny.

Leading up to the October 22, 2015 hearing, the liberal media didn’t seem especially interested in how Hillary’s State Department failed to provide adequate security prior to the attacks, the lack of a rescue mission while the attacks were underway, or why spokesman used fraudulent talking points in the days after the September 11, 2012 attack.

Instead, their narrative was about the partisanship of the Republicans who refused to let the controversy go away.

“The amazing thing is that she does not even have to talk about a vast right-wing conspiracy and have people make fun of her for it, because they’re doing it on their own,” U.S. News & World Report’s Susan Milligan mocked on the October 15 Hardball. “I mean, for a party whose members don’t believe in assisted suicide, they’re doing a pretty good impression of it.”

“Isn’t it great?” host Chris Matthews chortled.

The next morning on NBC’s Today, Bloomberg’s John Heilemann claimed the Benghazi Committee was “now kind of de-legitimized” because of Democrats’ claims that it was a partisan investigation. “Clinton is hoping that once she testifies next week she can turn the page on the questions about Benghazi, and maybe even her e-mails.”

Over on CNN’s Reliable Sources that Sunday (October 18), instead of pushing reporters to get to the bottom of the Obama administration’s failures (as you might expect from a show about the media), longtime Washington reporter Carl Bernstein instead spun enthusiastically for Hillary: “We have the committee, the Benghazi committee this week. Well, she’s going to murder them because it has been a witch hunt. It has been partisan. It’s a great opportunity for her.”

Two days later (October 20), MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell gave longtime Democratic operative James Carville a forum to trash the Benghazi investigation. “This committee was nothing but a creation of Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers,” Carville ranted. “This is a taxpayer-funded — understand — a taxpayer funded partisan operation that they’re running there....All they’re interested in is driving her poll numbers down.”

The evening before she testified, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman promoted Hillary’s “composure and command” at previous congressional hearings. “Her testimony has historically been marked by steady nerves even amid withering attacks,” he raved. “When Hillary Clinton walks into that room, she will have more experience with congressional hearings than most of the people there, and that can make even a hot seat if not comfortable at least cooler.”

The next morning, NBC Today co-host Savannah Guthrie offered a not-very-objective preview of the main event: “Hillary Clinton has done a fairly good job of trying to disqualify this panel. Some would argue they disqualified themselves.”

Hours later, even as the hearing continued, Nightly News anchor Lester Holt concluded that Hillary had “stood her ground in the face of withering Republican questioning.” Correspondent Andrea Mitchell agreed: “Hillary Clinton was poised, practiced, pushing back with putdowns....Her face said it all laughing off unwelcome suggestions, showing impatience, irritation or scorn, reflecting days of preparation at home, sent off to battle this morning by her husband Bill.”

“I thought we got a great look at who President Hillary Clinton would be, for the first time really, a kind of competence, the kind of command over the whole scene that she was being asked to testify under. She knew the issues. There was nuance about her positions. It was very impressive, given what she was up against,” Carl Bernstein gushed on CNN.

“The other thing is, I think you have to go back to Joe McCarthy, to the House Un-American Committee, to find a process as abusive in a congressional hearing as this one was,” he added during his appearance on AC360. “This was a reckless and outrageous hearing.”

An hour later, Bernstein reappeared on CNN Tonight to hammer the same talking points: “She did great, because she was up against a group of demagogues. You have to go back to Joe McCarthy to see this kind of demagoguery in a congressional hearing and what they did is they gave her a platform to show her what kind of President of the United States she would be.”

During live coverage that night, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin singled out Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) for special condemnation for his grilling of Hillary: “He was clearly the worst, the most unprofessional, the most misleading, the most really demeaning to the Congress in terms of his questioning.”

David Gergen, a veteran of the Clinton White House, deplored the entire spectacle: “I’m sure there are conservatives who will be cheered by the hearings....But I think a great number of other Americans, and I’m in this group, will find that these hearings were very, very disturbing....I hope we never see one like this again.”

On NBC’s Today the next morning, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace eagerly chirped that Hillary had exceeded expectations: “She has proven herself an incredibly disciplined, an incredibly tranquil, and a formidable presidential candidate.”

Writing at Commentary the next day, Noah Rothman correctly observed that “the gushing over the beatified Clinton’s poise under pressure has reached levels of hagiography the left once reserved exclusively for Beyoncé Knowles.” Yet, he pointed out, all of the media praise obscured damning facts uncovered at the hearing:

What we discovered is this: The White House and Clinton apparently knew that the Benghazi attack was the premeditated work of Islamic terrorists before the bodies were cold. She and the administration nevertheless proceeded to propagate a falsehood that advanced the president’s preferred political narrative just six weeks before a tightly-contested national election. That’s a scandal on par with the so-called “October Surprise,” in which Ronald Reagan was alleged to have some role in convincing Iran to surrender the American hostages in its custody in 1980 (a conspiracy theory House Democrats were still investigating 12 years later).

If that had been the tone of the media’s lead the next morning, though, it might have threatened the Democrats’ coronation of her as the first female presidential nominee. So most in the press led with their partisanship instead. Once again, a powerful Democrat evaded needed scrutiny, and the last vestiges of the media’s independence took yet another blow.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.