As a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, Hillary Clinton is a legitimate target for close scrutiny. Clinton has a long history ripe for criticism as First Lady, senator, and Secretary of State. What is so striking therefore in the attacks from the right wing is the paucity of substance in conservative opposition research. Of Clinton's long career as a public official, all we hear from the right is Benghazi and email. Yet these two areas of complaint reveal more about the intellectual and political bankruptcy of conservative thought than they do about Clinton herself.
On September 11, 2012, the U.S. embassy in Libya was attacked, killing four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Clearly the loss of lives is terribly sad. Understanding what happened, and why, is important to reduce the possibility of more deaths in the future. But the outrage from the right, and the insistent drumbeat to investigate Clinton's supposed incompetence as Secretary of State, is nothing but the very worst of selective outrage. Others before me have cataloged all the deadly attacks on diplomatic targets during the Bush Administration; these below are taken verbatim from Politifact.com, which in turn compiled these from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database. I have included only those attacks that resulted in American deaths at embassies or consulates.
May 12, 2003: In a series of attacks, suicide bombers blew themselves up in a truck loaded with explosives in a complex that housed staff working for U.S. defense firm Vinnell in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (The contractors worked out of the U.S. embassy.) At least eight Americans were killed in the incident. Al-Qaida was suspected responsible for the incident. This was one of three attacks, involving at least nine suicide bombers and suspected to have involved 19 perpetrators overall.
Oct. 24, 2004: Edward Seitz, the assistant regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, died in a mortar or possible rocket attack at Camp Victory near the Baghdad airport. An American soldier was also injured. He was believed to be the first U.S. diplomat killed following the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Nov 25, 2004: Jim Mollen, the U.S. Embassy's senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministers of Education and Higher Education, was killed just outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Jan. 29, 2005: Unknown attackers fired either a rocket or a mortar round at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad. The strike killed two U.S. citizens and left four others injured.
Sept. 7, 2005: Four American contractors employed with a private security firm supporting the regional U.S. embassy office in Basra, Iraq, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy. Three of the contractors died instantly, and the fourth died in a military hospital after the bombing.
Sept. 17, 2008: Suspected al-Qaida militants disguised as security forces detonated vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, fired rocket propelled grenades, rockets and firearms on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. A suicide bomber also blew himself up at the embassy. Six Yemeni police, four civilians (including an American civilian), and six attackers were killed while six others were wounded in the attack.
Where was the outrage then? Where was Fox News? And these only touch the surface because I exclude all but American deaths. In all, as we all know by now, during George Bush's presidency, the U.S. suffered 13 attacks on embassies and consulates in which 60 people died (some put the total at 87). What is important here: neither Fox News, nor any conservative media, mentioned not at all or only in passing any of these attacks and deaths. Compared to the never-ending coverage of the deaths of four Americans in Libya, I can find not one single Fox News or conservative media reports on the 8 Americans killed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; not one story of Jim Mollen's murder, and none on the murder of Edward Seitz.
Benghazi brings to us a new virulent form of selective outrage never before seen. The deaths in Benghazi were covered in saturation nearly non-stop for almost two full years after the attacks. According to MediaMatters, Fox News ran 1,098 segments on the Libya attacks, at least 20 per month, with a peak of 174 in October 2012. Of these, 281 segments alleged a "cover up" by the Obama administration, without offering any evidence for the claim, and pushing the story long-past when the claim was proven false. There is and was no cover up. The House Armed Services Committee report concluded that the Obama administration was "not guilty of any deliberate, negligent wrongdoing." The GOP panel confirmed that "no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order" was given to the military. This is a Republican majority report. The bi-partisan Senate report on Benghazi came to the same conclusion that there was no cover up.
Equally corrupt, Fox aired 100 segments pushing the blatant lie that the Obama administration issued a "stand-down order" before there was any evidence for the claim and even after the accusation was known to be false. So Fox aired hundreds and hundreds of segments on an alleged cover up and stand-down order that they knew to be wrong. Compare this onslaught of false accusations concerning four American deaths to the complete lack of coverage or investigation into the deaths suffered during 13 attacks under Bush.
I have no issue with Benghazi being investigated; all the better to prevent future attacks. It is also understandable to be outraged at the deaths in Benghazi. But not if you felt no such outrage when embassy staff were killed under Bush. This differential, selective outrage is the worst manifestation of political hypocrisy; and it is a disease largely of the right. There is no left-wing equivalent of what Fox News has done with Benghazi; nothing even close. The Benghazi "scandal" is a fabricated creation of right wing media, untethered to reality or truth, fueling an outrage borne of ignorance and ad ugly selective memory. This is our political world at its nadir.
Unlike with Benghazi, a story about tragic American death, the email episode has no underlying substance. Experts on both sides of the aisle have said that Clinton violated no federal laws. The entire controversy comes down to the question of whether Clinton did or did not send or receive classified information over her private email account. There was no other issue at stake here. That was the controversy; of course Clinton's slow weasel-like response to the controversy generated more.
Two years after leaving office the State Department requested a record of her emails; she turned over 30,490 messages. The problem, and what fuels the fire, is that Clinton also had erased 31,830 messages from the server, deeming those communications as private.
That Fox News will push this plot line is not shocking, but what may be is that the story has legs in the absence of any real story. That is due in large part to Clinton's lawyerly mishandling of the issue in the media; and because the accusations reflect an uneasy sense that many of her supporters have that Clinton is too secretive and insular in her management style. Her explanation for why she used personal email is weak, saying it was a matter of convenience. It sounds very "Clintonesque" and squirrely, as she is prone to be. Clearly, Clinton has shown bad judgement here even if there is no real substance to the scandal.
But we are focusing here on differential and selective outrage; and the email commotion is an example every bit as egregious as Benghazi. There are two problems, which are explored below: her predecessors used personal email, and the Bush administration erased millions of emails (not just Clinton's thousands); yet there was no outcry in either case. Differential outrage.
Colin Powell used personal email when he was Secretary of State. There is not a single Fox News story or conservative media story I can find on Powell's use of personal email in his official capacity. Chuck Hagel used a personal email account when he was Secretary of Defense. No news coverage. Karl Rove, when White House Deputy Chief of Staff, used his personal (RNC) email 95 percent of the time. Little news coverage.
We have with just this example another case of shameful selective outrage. But this is only the beginning. Conservatives not only conjure up a scandal where there is none, they ignore completely a real scandal and cover up. The right discounts completely the fact that the Bush/Cheney White House deleted millions of emails in a blatant obstruction of justice. The emails were erased during a controversy in which eight U.S. attorneys were dismissed by the Bush White House. During a congressional investigation, the White House was forced to reveal that "not all" White House emails were "available" because they were transmitted via an email server not controlled by the federal government. In other words, they were using personal email accounts. Yet this topic of millions of missing emails never came up on any of the major news shows when first coming to light or after; while Clinton's email account was mentioned more than 100 times on the first Sunday the story broke. Indeed, Bush's missing emails were dismissed by the media as nothing more than "sloppy guidance" on email protocol.
Have you hear Fox News or any right wing newspaper giving Clinton a pass with the excuse of "sloppy guidance"? Yes we have a right to be incensed at Clinton's use of private emails; but not if we were not unhappy about Powell, Hagel or Rove. Yes, we can be outraged that Clinton erased thousands of emails; but not if we were not outraged when Bush and Cheney erased millions.
Selective outrage now seems to be the currency of right wing ideology. We see only two examples here, but multiple dozens are seen in response to Obama's policies and programs; fodder for another blog. Politics always involves an element of hypocrisy on both left and right. But the differential and selective outrage we see today takes us in an entirely new direction and to a new extreme. The conservative play on Benghazi and Clinton's emails is nothing short of despicable. Perhaps we are witnessing the consequences of a right wing reeling from Obama's successful presidency; perhaps this is a manifestation of conservative desperation. No matter the cause, conservatives have once again diminished our political lives.