Source: International Business Times
Author: Christopher Zara
“The declining influence of Rush Limbaugh has been a topic of discussion for some time now — for so long, in fact, that there’s little left to discuss. Throughout the presidential election last year, if he was talked about at all, it was mostly in the context of how poisonous his divisive shtick has become to the Republican Party. That’s a far cry from the early 1990s, when the radio host changed the face of modern discourse with his ability to break down the country’s salient liberal-conservative divide into the most puerile of terms.
Now, Limbaugh is feuding with Cumulus Media Inc. (NASDAQ:CMLS), the company that broadcasts his radio program on 40 stations in 36 markets, over who is to blame for an ongoing decline in advertising revenue. Lew Dickey, Cumulus Media’s chief officer, has been pointing the finger at Limbaugh and in particular a grassroots advertising boycott that erupted in early 2012, following the infamous Sandra Fluke controversy. Limbaugh, in case you’d forgotten, called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” after the Georgetown University student spoke out in support of insurance mandates for contraceptives. He later apologized – profusely so – but the damage was done. People were fed up, and they took to the Internet and social media to send a message to Limbaugh’s advertisers that they won’t support any business that supports Limbaugh’s brand of radio rabble-rousing. Jittery over the response, advertisers began to bolt. Some never came back, including Geico, Sears, John Deere, Netflix, Capitol One and hundreds of others.
The International Business Times reached out to some of those advertisers for comment. Only the Home Depot responded. In an email, spokesman Stephen Holmes said the company does not advertise on Limbaugh’s program or any opinion show. “It’s been our policy not to sponsor opinion shows, which would include Rush or any others, for that matter,” Holmes said. “An ad might run occasionally during a news break, but those are programming errors that occur at local stations from time to time.”
Meanwhile, StopRush.net keeps a running list of companies that advertise on Limbaugh’s program, including phone numbers, emails and Twitter handles of the companies’ contacts. (Several recent instances of Home Depot ads have been reported.) There’s even a Web browser extension — launched by ThinkContext.org — that helps users avoid businesses that advertise with Limbaugh. Of course, all of this comes with the usual online petitions from Change.org, SignOn.org and, yes, even WhiteHouse.gov.
And what has been the result of this yearlong scourge of the companies responsible for Limbaugh’s livelihood? It has been working. That free-market system that conservatives are so fond of touting is operating with machinelike precision — or at least that’s one way to look at Cumulus Media’s first-quarter results released on Tuesday. Adjusted Ebitda fell 22.1 percent from the same period last year, while net revenue fell 1.3 percent to $232.9 million due in part to “general lower advertising spending in some of our markets,” according to the company’s statement.
During a conference call with analysts, Dickey was asked if the decline can be attributed directly to the StopRush campaign. According to Daily Kos, his only response was to say that it was a “tough go of it in the last year and that the facts are indisputable.” He had a similar take in August when he reported that the company’s top three radio stations had lost $5.5 million in advertising revenue, which he attributed in part to the boycott.
One of the basic tenets of the free-market system is that the market participants choose what gets produced, and, from the looks of things, they’re not choosing Limbaugh. Not that Limbaugh himself sees it that way. On his radio show, he has made it clear that he believes “media buyers at advertising agencies are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism.” And according to the New York Daily News, he’s absolutely fed up with taking the blame for Cumulus’ advertising woes. On Sunday, Politico’s Dylan Byers reported that Limbaugh is even considering severing ties with Cumulus when his contract expires at the end of this year.
That would put Limbaugh’s show in potential limbo for Cumulus’ network of radio stations. The show could get picked up by competitors or Limbaugh could go the Howard Stern/satellite radio route, as Mediabistro’s Alex Weprin theorized on Monday. But even if that were the case, it wouldn’t bode well for the host’s declining influence. When Stern made the transition to satellite, he was left with a fraction of his former audience. And while he has publicly stated that he’s happier without the FCC-imposed restraints of terrestrial radio, his recent judging gig on “America’s Got Talent” is proof enough that he missed the spotlight.
Could a similar path be in the cards for Limbaugh? Imagine him sharing a panel with Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey on “American Idol.” It would certainly get people talking.
Source:Think Progress via AlterNet
“The College Republican National Committee released a report on Monday outlining the major challenges facing the GOP as it seeks to rebrand and redefine itself in the aftermath of the 2012 election. The survey criticizes the party’s singular focus on “big government” and “tax cuts” and calls on Republicans to become more tolerant and open on issues like same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive health.
But a close reading of the 90-page report finds that young people have strong disagreements with Republican policies — including large parts of former candidate’s Mitt Romney’s platform — and are far more likely to support progressive positions. Here are 11 examples:
1. GOP economic polices are to blame for the recession. “Although ‘Republican economic policies’ is the factor least likely to be viewed as playing a major role in causing the crisis, this is mostly due to young Republicans in the sample hesitating to pin blame directly on their own party, and an outright majority of young people still think those Republican policies are to blame – hardly an encouraging finding.”
2. Lower taxes will not create jobs.” In the August 2012 XG survey, there was not a strong consensus around the virtues of lowering taxes and regulations on business. Only 34% of respondents in that survey thought they’d be better off if the corporate tax rate were lowered, and only 36% thought such a move would make it easier for young people to get jobs.”
3. Increase taxes on the wealthy. “Perhaps most troubling for Republicans is the finding from the March 2013 CRNC survey that showed 54% of young voters saying ‘taxes should go up on the wealthy,’ versus 31% who say “taxes should be cut for everyone.”
4. End the attacks on women’s reproductive health. “[T]he issue of protecting life has been conflated with issues around the definition of rape, funding for Planned Parenthood, and even contraception. In the words of one female participant in our Hispanic voter focus group in Orlando, “I think Romney wanted to cut Planned Parenthood. And he supports policies where it would make it harder for a woman to get an abortion should she choose, even if it were medically necessary. That goes head in hand with redefining rape.”
5. Expand universal health care coverage. “Many of the young people in our focus groups noted that they thought everyone in America should have access to health coverage. In the Spring 2012 Harvard Institute of Politics survey of young voters, 44% said that “basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it.” … As one participant in our focus group of young men in Columbus put it, “at least Obama was making strides to start the process of reforming health care.”
6. Provide comprehensive immigration reform. “The position taken most frequently by young voters was that “illegal immigrants should have a path to earn citizenship,” chosen by 35% of respondents… Some 19% chose “illegal immigrants should be deported or put in jail for breaking the law,” while another 17% took the position that “illegal immigrants should have a path to legal status but not citizenship.”
7. Cut the defense budget first. “Indeed, a large number of respondents pointed to the defense budget as the place where cuts should start. In the survey, 35% of respondents thought that “we should have a smaller defense budget and leaner military,” including 49% of young independents.”
8. Democrats are more responsive on student loans. “Many focus group members did think that Democrats were responding to the student loan crisis. “I think they’re more in tune to what we need right now with student loans, getting a job, fixing the housing market and the environment,” observed one participant from Orlando, with another adding that he had “heard Obama once say, oh, he has student loans, he went to school, he knows what we’re going through.”
9. Climate change is real. “Ultimately, while voters may say they are concerned about climate change, they rarely list it among the issues on the top of their minds.”
10. Bush’s wars blew up the deficit. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan themselves, however, were largely viewed as having been a net negative for the U.S. In fact, during focus group discussions about the recession, one respondent said she felt that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had contributed in part to the economic crisis.”
11. Marriage equality for all. “Surveys have consistently shown that gay marriage is not as important an issue as jobs and the economy to young voters. Yet it was unmistakable in the focus groups that gay marriage was a reason many of these young voters disliked the GOP.”
Author: Paul Buchheit
“The Census Bureau has reported that one out of six Americans lives in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity.
1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009
2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later
Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.
3. Based on wage figures, over half of Americans are now IN poverty.
Census income figures are about 25% higher, because they include unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, public assistance, veterans’ payments, and various other monetary sources. Based on this supplemental income, the average household in the bottom 50% brings in about $25,000, which is just above the $23,000 poverty line for a family of four.
4. Based on wage figures, 75% of Americans are NEAR poverty.
According to IRS data, the average household in the bottom 75% earns about $31,000 per year. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130% of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.
Incredibly, Congress is trying to cut food assistance. Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher of Tennessee referred to food stamps as “stealing.” He added a Biblical quote: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” A recent jobs hearing in Washington was attended by one Congressman.
5. Putting it in Perspective
Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.
And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing, andeducation budgets combined.
Mr. Fincher should think about the tax breaks that allow this to happen, and then tell us who’s stealing from whom.”
Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.
Author: William Boardman
The guilty get some breathing room, but not safety yet
Former members of the Reagan administration are breathing easier, now that they are somewhat less likely to face criminal charges for their part in the Guatemalan genocide of 1982-1983, supported by Reagan policies.
The threat that former officials might be held accountable for genocidal policies of the Reagan administration increased on May 10, when a Guatemalan lower court convicted the country’s former president, General Efrain Rios Montt, 86, of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the killing of thousands of Guatemalan civilians.
Rios Montt’s conviction and sentence included an order by Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios to Attorney General Paz Y Paz to further investigate everyone else involved in Rios Montt’s crimes, an investigation that would include many Guatemalans including the country’s current president, as well as U.S. military advisors, the CIA and other American agents, and Washington officials like Elliott Abrams and others directly involved in supporting the Guatemalan governmental genocide.
But this threat of prosecution for accessories and accomplices to genocide didn’t last long, as Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, ruled by a vote of 3-2 on May 20 that the lower court’s proceedings going back to April 19 were dismissed, thus annulling the verdict.
The Genocidal General’s Trial May Yet Begin Again
But the Constitutional Court ruling also allows the trial to resume at some undetermined time in the future. The dismissal sets the trial back to April 19, when a judge who had heard earlier but separate proceedings relating to Rios Montt asserted jurisdiction over the continuing trial that had started a month earlier. Judge Barrios overruled the prior judge supported by Attorney General Paz Y Pay, who said his claim was unlawful.
The jurisdictional dispute proceeded to the Constitutional Court while Rios Montt’s trial continued to its unsurprising conviction, given the weight of the evidence against him and his administration.
Rios Montt came to power in 1982 through a military coup, after he had lost a democratic election for the second time, claiming massive fraud both in 1974 and 1982. Between elections, in 1978, Rios Montt had left the Catholic Church and become a minister in the evangelical/Pentecostal Church of the Word, based in California. His friends and supporters included Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, and others connected with the evangelical movement that helped elect Ronald Reagan president in 1980.
Rios Montt would be the American-supported dictator of Guatemala for only 17 months, before he fell to another military coup. But in that time he was responsible for government forces that killed more than 1,700 people, mostly indigenous Mayans, and also tortured, raped, kidnapped, and brutalized thousands more – for which he was found guilty on May 10.
Ronald Reagan and His Administration Supported Gen. Rios Montt
President Reagan praised Rios Montt for his anticommunism and claimed that human rights were improving under his rule, while human rights organizations condemned the general and the army. Amnesty International estimated that Rios Montt’s forced killed more than 10,000 rural Guatemalans from March to August 1982, and drove more than 100,000 from their homes.
Reagan evaded Congressional oversight in order to provide Rios Montt with millions of dollars of military aid. When Reagan and the general met in Honduras in December 1982, Reagan spoke warmly of him: “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”
“The next day,” the London Review of Books reported in 2004, “one of Guatemala’s elite platoons entered a jungle village called Las Dos Erres and killed 162 of its inhabitants, 67 of them children.” The report continued:
Soldiers grabbed babies and toddlers by their legs, swung them in the air, and smashed their heads against a wall. Older children and adults were forced to kneel at the edge of a well, where a single blow from a sledgehammer sent them plummeting below. The platoon then raped a selection of women and girls it had saved for last, pummelling their stomachs in order to force the pregnant among them to miscarry.
They tossed the women into the well and filled it with dirt, burying an unlucky few alive. The only traces of the bodies later visitors would find were blood on the walls and placentas and umbilical cords on the ground.
On another occasion, Reagan claimed that the dictator was getting a “bum rap.”
In 1983, then assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams told PBS, “the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step…. We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged.”
Guatemalans Have Struggled for Decades to Get Justice
The currently interrupted trial is part of a judicial process that began in 2001, with a ruling by the Constitutional Court on March 21, exposing Rios Montt and others of the ruling party to prosecution for corruption. The next day, two grenades were thrown in the yard of Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios. Three days later, the head of the Constitutional Court, Judge Conchita Mazariegos, had shots fired at her house.
The criminal role of the United States in Guatemala has continued at least since 1954, when the Eisenhower administration engineered a CIA-backed coup d’etat against the country’s elected president.
American reporting on the Rios Montt trial and America’s role in genocide in Central America goes largely unreported in the United States. According to FAIR, none of the three major TV networks have mentioned the trial since it began. Perhaps the most detailed coverage has come from DemocracyNOW, which summed up the present situation this way:
In the run-up to its latest decision to overturn, the court had come under heavy lobbying from Rios Montt supporters, including Guatemala’s powerful business association, CACIF. Rios Montt remains in a military hospital where he was admitted last week. His legal status is now up in the air. He will likely be released into house arrest, and it is unclear when or if he will return to court.
For the moment, that leaves surviving Reagan administration officials beyond the reach of Guatemalan law and international law.
In 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi, head of the human rights commission uncovering the truth of the disappearances associated with the military, including Rios Montt, was assassinated. His successor is Catholic bishop Mario Enrique Rios Montt, the convicted general’s brother. The trial and conviction of Bishop Gerardi’s killers in 2001 was the first time members of the military were tried in a civilian court.
Source: National Memo
Author: Devin Burghart
While it is well known that the so-called IRS scandal has been used by Tea Partiers to bash the IRS, less well known are the actual facts of the case.
Specifically, while the IRS delayed confirming the tax-exempt status of some groups, and some also faced additional scrutiny, not a single Tea Party organization was denied tax-exempt status.
A May 14 draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied: “For the 296 potential political cases we reviewed, as of December 17, 2012, 108 applications had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 cases were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days (some crossing two election cycles).”
In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant whose request for tax-exempt status was recently denied happens to be a progressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Although the group did no electoral work, and didn’t participate in independent expenditure campaign activity either, its partisan nature disqualified it from being categorized as working for the “common good.”
The Inspector General’s report found that in the “majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In fact, only 91 of the 296, or roughly 31 percent of the applications reviewed for the report, did not have “indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In other words, more than two-thirds of groups flagged for processing by a team of specialists had those indications.
That sort of political campaign intervention would normally disqualify a group from 501(c)(4) status, but the deluge of Tea Party applications combined with the politicization of the process has allowed them to slip through. A closer look at the activities of some of the Tea Party groups that are currently under review or have received non-profit status from the IRS reveals a difficult and potentially dangerous situation.
The First Coast Tea Party Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, for example, which applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2009 — and received it in 2011. Commenting about the recent IRS controversy on Facebook, the group declared “We file a tax return, account for every penny. We do not endorse candidates, that is a no no.” Yet the First Coast group has boasted about directly helping Republican campaigns. In an August 30, 2012 Facebook post, for instance, the group advertised a Jacksonville rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, adding, “bring your chairs and your signs, make sure they know that the First Coast Tea Party is and has been helping their campaign.”
Three weeks later, the same group declared a “state of emergency” on Facebook, pleading with supporters to campaign for Romney: “FLORIDA FRIENDS, IF YOU LIVE IN ANY OF THESE 3 COUNTIES GET OFF THE COUCH NOW, GET YOUR FRIENDS OFF THE COUCH. GET TO THE REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS AND OFFER AND THEN DO SOME WORK. PHONES, (YOU CAN EVEN DO THESE CALLS FROM HOME) AND WALK AND KNOCK. NOW. WE CANNOT LOSE FLORIDA TO OBAMA.. NOW. THIS IS MOST CRITICAL [emphasis in original].” These weren’t posts from some random supporter on the group’s Facebook page; they were posts from the official account of the organization.
Similarly, the IRS granted 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status to the Louisville Tea Party in 2009. The same group published a list of “officially tea party endorsed candidates for the 2011 Kentucky primary.” They also published an article headined “The Rationale for Romney-Ryan,” arguing that Tea Partiers should vote for the Republican candidate.
Then there is the Katy Tea Party Patriots, which filed for 501(c)(4) status in 2009. This group actually ran an “Oust Obama 2012” campaign, organizing block-watching with the Fort Bend GOP and phone-banking against Obama at GOP headquarters in Sugarland and Houston, Texas. Still featured on the front page of the group’s website is an October 4, 2012 article titled “Our Country’s Future,” by Katy Tea Party Patriots president Darcy Kahrhoff, who urged members to vote for Romney. “Please take time to talk with friends and family you may have living out of state, and try to convince them to vote for Governor Romney, especially if you have friends and family in Florida, Colorado, or Ohio. Also, find a Senatorial candidate to support in these states, and go to FreedomWorks to phone bank for these patriots. Everything you can do to help will matter. We can, and we must, win this!
Not to be outdone was the Central Valley Tea Party Inc., a regional California Tea Party group that won the much more politically restrictive IRS 501(c)(3) tax status in 2009. It should be noted that 501 (c)(3) status explicitly prohibits any partisan political activity. “Under the Internal Revenue Code,” as the IRS explains, ”all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”
Despite its 501 (c)(3) designation, the Central Valley Tea Party group appears to have been involved in partisan political activity. Currently, the front page of the group’s website features “upcoming events” instructing members to “Volunteer for Measure G,” and “Volunteer for Vidak for Senate.” In the latter case, the website simply instructs members: “Please volunteer to do phone banking or precinct walking to help win the election.”
Further stretching IRS regulations, the same group’s newsletter endorsed and advertised conservative candidates. In an article in the October, 2012 issue of the Central Valley Tea Party Times – headlined ”Why You Should Be Excited to Vote for Mitt Romney” — Paul Szopa told fellow Tea Partiers to get out and campaign for the Republican presidential candidate. “So it’s time to get excited to vote for the better candidate. It’s time to talk him up to friends and family. It’s time to join with groups like Operation Swing State (www.operationswingstate.org) and make calls in support of his candidacy.” Published on the front page of the newsletter was a “Voter Guide” that seemed even less ambiguous, listing all the candidates that the group recommended as well as their positions on all of the ballot measures.
The newsletter also featured advertisements for conservative candidates. The April-June, 2012 edition of the Central Valley Tea Party Times carried an ad for Whelan for Congress on page 27, another for Frank Bigelow for the 5th District California Assembly seat on page 38, and an ad “Elect Richard J. (Rick) Farinelli, Madera County Supervisor District III” on page 39. The newsletter’s August-September, 2010 edition featured an ad for Diane Lenning, a write-in candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction; so did the October-November, 2010 edition.
Another Tea Party group granted the 501(c)(3) non-profit status by the IRS, is the Tifton, Georgia-based Tiftarea Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which received the designation in 2010. This group too appears to have engaged in openly political activity, including publicly endorsing candidates. On October 9, 2012, in a post on its website — “Are you ready to vote?” — the Tiftarea group strongly endorsed Romney: “The choice is simple. Obama has stated, He will transform America and acted to do such. Everything this Administration stands for, is Government and control of every aspect of life. This is the pipe dream of a Socialist’s mentality, for in their eyes, you the individual, do not know and cannot do, what is right, so someone else has to make decisions for you, to ensure, you do not make the wrong choices or actions. Or you chose Romney, who does not want to transform America, the greatest nation in history of human kind. He wants to allow, the individual, to have the right, to succeed and fail on his own regard, while ensuring those freedoms, given by our Creator and to assure those inalienable rights, written about in the Declaration of Independence are retained by their proper owners, ‘We the People.’”
These are but a few of the many examples of political intervention by Tea Party non-profits catalogued by IREHR. There are many, many more and they’re not difficult to find. Rather than the so-called IRS scandal cooked up by Tea Party groups and their partisan supporters, the real criticism of the IRS may be that it has permitted so many of these groups to obtain tax-exempt status despite apparently egregious violations.
After the firing of several high-level IRS employees over this incident, how likely is it that Tea Party groups will be sanctioned for these kinds of violations in the future?
This is adapted from a special report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. To request a printed version of the report, complete with exhibits, please email the Institute at email@example.com.
Source: National Memo
Author: Joe Conason
No doubt the degraded quality of congressional oversight astonishes Thomas Pickering, the distinguished American diplomat who oversaw the State Department’s Benghazi review board — although he tries not to say so too directly. For his demanding and difficult effort – only the most recent in a long history of public service under both Republican and Democratic administrations — Pickering has found himself under sustained attack by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the excitable partisan who chairs the House Government Reform Committee.
Last Friday, Issa subpoenaed Pickering to deliver a taped deposition to the committee behind closed doors, without offering a public chance to answer the charges already lodged by Republicans against the Accountability Review Board report authored by Pickering and retired admiral Mike Mullen.
Immediately prior to this latest skirmish, Pickering spoke with The National Memo about the ARB report, political maneuvering by the administration’s adversaries, and media coverage of the Benghazi “scandal.” Asked whether he had ever experienced or seen anything resembling Issa’s conduct, Pickering said, “No, I haven’t.…I suspect that on this particular issue, this guy [Issa] is driven by whatever will maximize his capability to be tough on the administration. This seems to be one effort he’s kind of landed on to make that happen. But I’m only guessing here,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pickering hasn’t noticed much attention being given on Capitol Hill to the extensive recommendations that he and Mullen made to improve security in dangerous posts around the world. “I can’t tell you whether anyone [in Congress] has sat down and examined them and wanted to have hearings on [the recommendations]” – instead of the notorious “talking points” developed by the White House last September. “So far I haven’t seen any evidence of that.”
For Pickering, the subpoena issued by Issa must be especially confusing. Ever since the Government Reform committee announced its planned hearings on Benghazi last winter, its leadership has repeatedly failed to establish a time when the review board chairman — perhaps the most important witness – could testify. Although at first Pickering says he thought they were “genuinely interested” in getting his testimony, he became “increasingly less inclined” to appear before the committee “as the thing became more politicized.”
Before the May 8 hearing, he made a final effort to arrange to testify publicly. But via the White House and the State Department, he learned that his presence was not desired. Before Issa issued his subpoena to Pickering on Friday, he and Mullen had sent a letter requesting an opportunity to testify publicly – and said that they are “not inclined to give testimony in a closed hearing before that [happens].”
Having listened to Issa and others take potshots at him, Mullen, and their report for several weeks, Pickering wants to rebut some of the misinformation they have propagated, for the record. He wants to address claims that the military “could have relieved or in fact changed the situation by sending men or equipment or both the night of the event” – and specifically assertions by Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, that four Special Forces soldiers should have been dispatched to Benghazi from Tripoli. Pickering says those four officers would have arrived in Benghazi too late to help and were needed in Tripoli anyway to treat the wounded, who were brought there after the Benghazi attack.
“The third question that has come up,” said Pickering, “is why we didn’t investigate the Secretary of State” and her deputies. The “simple and straightforward answer” is that “they played no role in the decision making which was relevant to the preparations for meeting the security crisis in Benghazi,” and the role they did play on the night of September 11 “was fairly clearly portrayed to us by other people who attended the meetings, and we had no questions about it. We thought that what they did made sense and fit exactly what should have been done.”
What Pickering may mention, if and when he does testify in public, is the role of Congress, which he considers primarily responsible for underfunding the protection of diplomatic posts abroad. Fortunately, legislative idiocy has not prevented the redirection of almost $1.5 billion in funds to improve security in dozens of posts, both physically and with additional security officers and Marine guards.
Aside from the weak oversight of Congress, Pickering also seems critical of the media coverage of Benghazi. In preparing to chair the Accountability Review Board, Pickering said, he “asked for, received, and read all of the press reporting that the State Department could find and put together for me, covering the events in Benghazi and the aftermath, from the initial attack right through to the day we submitted our report.”
He undertook this required reading because “I thought there would be useful ideas, leads, analyses that had to be taken into account. What I found in general was a very significant amount of wild, and I think fictionalized, made-up kind of information…
And in effect much of this alleged a kind of betrayal of those people, in one way or another, all of which I thought bordered on Pulitzer Prize creative fiction but didn’t bear any relationship to what we were able to determine, both from the documentary evidence, from the extensive film footage that we had an opportunity to review carefully, and of course the interviews we had with people who were on the spot.” Indeed, Pickering believes that the ARB report is “the best compilation I’ve seen of what actually took place.”
Pickering won’t comment on the “talking points” controversy, which wasn’t relevant to the ARB investigation. But he resents broader allegations by the Republicans and their allies in the media — in particular “the allegation that I would be engaged in a cover-up…I hope people feel that I’m a more honest and hopefully more dedicated public servant than that. “
“Our interest was to do everything we could to find out what happened,” Pickering said, “and then on the basis of that [investigation] to make as clear recommendations as we could to help the State Department and other agencies so that it wouldn’t happen again. That was our motive, that was the driver, and that’s where we went. Any effort to cover up would have been a betrayal… We did everything we could in terms of the national interest in saving future lives.” He believes it is vital to defend the credibility of the report and prevent it from being undermined. “That’s why I’m interested in talking to the American public now, because I think the report is a good report. And so far I haven’t heard anything that I believe we didn’t consider carefully.”
As for his critics, “I would hope they would read the report. If they have, maybe they need to read it again.” He laughed. “Both Mike Mullen and I believe that it’s important that we have this opportunity, either through Chairman Issa or some other committee, to deal with the people who have concerns about the report and tell them how we were thinking and why we reached the conclusions we did.”
Audio of the interview can be heard here.