THE BLOG
09/16/2014 09:04 am ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

From Tragedy to Farce: How Fox News and the GOP Tarnished Benghazi

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On September 6, Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland spoke at a Cobb County Republican breakfast in Georgia to an audience of 75 people, who each paid $10 to attend his "update on the Benghazi investigation."

Westmoreland is one of seven Republican members picked to serve on the House select committee, which holds its first public hearing tomorrow and could stretch its inquiries into the 2016 election year. The latest Republican-run body follows what has been a parade of costly and repetitive investigations into the Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans.

Despite a laundry list of nearly identical conclusions about the events, and the complete absence of a White House cover-up or wrongdoing, Republicans, spurred on by Fox News, press ahead in search of "answers" to supposedly elusive questions.

But in Cobb County that Saturday morning, Westmoreland insisted the committee's not "a partisan witch hunt." He stressed another point, according to a report in the Marietta Daily Journal [emphasis added]:

"I think our enemy stands on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.," Westmoreland said to loud applause.

And so it goes.

Last week, as Fox's Benghazi cover-up conspiracy sputtered across the two-year anniversary line, Roger Ailes' team was furiously promoting not one but two new books, claiming both tomes boasted revelations that deepened the alleged controversy. (They do not.)

Benghazi, of course, has been politicized in the most disturbing way possible, to the point where Fox News and conservatives have turned an American tragedy into something of a macabre Twitter punchline. It's become sort of a Groundhog Day of exploitation and fakery, with more than 1,000 on-air Fox segments -- during evening coverage alone -- devoted to the endless pursuit. And now the Republicans' select committee, virtually sponsored by Fox News, is set to add more chapters to the sprawling production, which conveniently doubles as a GOP fundraising tool.

According to press reports, the committee's first hearing will focus on the State Department's Accountability Review Board, which looked into the details surrounding the Benghazi attacks. In other words, Republican investigators have decided to investigate the Benghazi investigators. Again.

And at this point, does anyone even remember in 2012 when the family of slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens beseeched opportunists not to politicize his death? ("It would really be abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue.") Or when the mother of one of the other murdered Americans in Benghazi scolded Mitt Romney when he kept referencing her son on the presidential campaign trail? ("It's wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama.")

Those wishes were almost instantly trampled and are now long forgotten by most; distant echoes drowned out by the churning gears of phony outrage.

The professionally sustained hysteria over the minutia of Benghazi --the YouTube video, Susan Rice's talking points, the allegedly nefarious White House emails, and the imaginary stand-down order -- they were all constructed for partisan purposes and none of them were based on fact or common sense.

Increasingly, and somewhat belatedly, some mainstream press players have figured this out. Many reporters and pundits who were open and eager to follow every conceivable right-wing allegation about Benghazi (while playing down good news for the White House) have cooled to the chase in recent months and coverage was been slim. There's also been surprisingly little chatter in anticipation of the select committee's proceedings. After two years of dry holes, it's difficult to feign interest any more. And poor CBS. It took a newsroom scandal of historic proportions to drive home the painful lesson of chasing bogus, partisan Benghazi allegations.

But at Fox News, the ratings-grabbing obsession remains strong. And now, thanks to Media Matters' meticulous research, we know just how far and how all-consuming that obsession has stretched. It's hard to even wrap your heads around some of these numbers from Fox's coverage in the 20 months following the attack:

-1,098 total Fox News evening segments that included significant discussion of Benghazi -- an average of about 13 segments per week.

-144 interviews with GOP members of Congress versus only five interviews with Democratic members of Congress and Obama administration officials.

Note the relentless and out of control focus showered on the story by Special Report, which Fox executives often point to as its premiere and serious news program, not just a partisan talk show. Serious news program? It aired nearly 400 Benghazi reports in less than two years.

Please also pay attention to the fact that despite its flood-the-zone coverage, Fox has been unable to move the Benghazi cover-up story one foot in two years. Almost nothing Fox has reported over the last 24 months has added in any significant way to the understanding of what happened in Benghazi the night of the attack. And considering Fox has set aside more than one thousand segments to the topic, that fact simply confirms the team's collective impotence.

A Benghazi "stand down order" coming from Obama or Hillary Clinton? A cold, calculated move to leave wounded and dying Americans behind? Give me a break.

From the Associated Press, July 10:

The testimony of nine military officers undermines contentions by Republican lawmakers that a "stand-down order" held back military assets that could have saved the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans killed at a diplomatic outpost and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.

If, when Fox first made the fantastical claim of a White House-given "stand down" order the centerpiece of the channel's cover-up production, someone then had told you that nine U.S. military officers would eventually debunk and deny that claim under oath, you'd assume the issue would be dropped, right? (And if the accusers were admirable people they'd apologize, too.)

Still, Fox's breathless "stand down" segments live on, in perpetuity.

The truth is, in the absences of any evidence supporting an alleged cover-up, Benghazi as a partisan pursuit has failed, propagated by the thousand-plus Fox News reports and endless Congressional investigations. Now it's time for the sponsors to admit defeat and go home so that an American tragedy can be remembered with the dignity it deserves. Not as a tarnished, political sideshow.

Crossposted at Media Matters.