How Fox News Dresses Up Extreme Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories as News
The Benghazi blueprint matches up right down to the fact that there's no there there, in terms of a criminal White House cover up. It "doesn't add up to much of a scandal," wrote Michael Hirsh at Politico this week, reviewing the facts of Benghazi to date. "But it's already too late for the truth. Benghazi has taken on a cultural life of its own on the right." He added, "Benghazi has become to the 2010s what Vince Foster" was in the 1990s.
Foster was the then-deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, not far from Washington, D.C. His suicide, which sparked controversy when the so-called Clinton Crazies accused the president and his wife of being part of a plot to murder their friend (he knew too much!), quickly become shorthand for the type of despicable claims that were so casually lobbed in the 1990s.
Looking ahead to Hillary Clinton's possible 2016 presidential run, Hirsh wrote that the "Benghazi-Industrial Complex is going to be as toxic as anything Hillary has faced since ... Vince Foster."
The analogy is a strong and a factual one. But in trying to understand what's happening today with the ceaseless, two-year Benghazi propaganda campaign, a blitz that's utterly lacking in factual support, it's important to understand how the media game has changed between the Vince Foster era and today. Specifically, it's important to understand what's different and more dangerous about the elaborate and irresponsible gotcha games that Republicans now play in concert with the right-wing media. (Hint: The games today get way more coverage.)
Here's what's key: Twenty years ago the far-right Foster tale was told mostly from the fringes. Word was spread via emerging online bulletin boards, snail mail pamphlets, faxed newsletters, self-published exposes, and VCR tapes, like " The Clinton Chronicles," which portrayed the president as a one-man crime syndicate involved in drug-running, prostitution, murder, adultery, money laundering, and obstruction of justice, just to name a few.
At the top of the Foster-feeding pyramid stood the New York Post, Rush Limbaugh's radio show ("Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton"), and Robert Bartley's team of writers at theWall Street Journal editorial page, who spent eight years lost in a dense , Clinton-thick fog.
Notice the hole in that ‘90s media menu? Television. Specifically, 24-hour television.
Now, fast-forward to the never-ending Benghazi feast of outrage. Today, that far-right tale is amplified via every single conservative media outlet in existence, and is powered by the most-watched 24-hour cable news channel in America. A news channel that long ago threw away any semblance of accountability.
So yes, Fox News is what's changed between 1994 and 2014, and Fox News is what has elevated Benghazi from a fringe-type "scandal" into the pressing issue adopted by the Republican Party today. ("Benghazi" has been mentioned approximately 1,000 times on Fox since May 1, according to TVeyes.com)
Remember, Rupert Murdoch's all-news channel didn't debut in America until October 1996 when it launched with just 17 million subscribers. (Today it boasts 90 millions subs.) And for the first few years it generally delivered a conservative slant on the news. It didn't function as a hothouse of fabrications the way it does today.
Now, Fox acts as a crucial bridge between the radical and the everyday. Fox gives a voice and a national platform to the same type of deranged, hard-core haters who hounded the new, young Democratic president in the early 1990s. Fox embraces and helps legitimize the kind of conspiratorial talk that flourished back then but mostly on the sidelines. The Murdoch channel has moved derangement into the mainstream of Republican politics.