By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — The Republican Party has finally admitted what has been fairly obvious for much of the past six years: It produces fake news.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation to anybody who has been paying attention but, still, it’s an important step for the party to embrace the phoniness.
“NRCC Launches Fake News Sites to Attack Democratic Candidates” was a headline in the National Journal on Tuesday.
As Shane Goldmacher reported, “The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources.”
These two dozen sites, with names such as “North County Update” and “Central Valley Update” look like political fact-checking sites; the NRCC’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, called it “a new and effective way to disseminate information.”
An NRCC official told me the sites are legal because, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll find, “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee” in small print. “They’re not fake websites,” the official said. “These are real attack websites.”
Real attacks, but fake news: This is a fairly accurate summary of what the GOP’s scandalmongers have been purveying during the Obama years.
There was the assertion that the White House was covering up high-level involvement in “Operation Fast and Furious,” a gun program under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that went awry. No evidence was found.
There was the accusation that the Obama White House pushed through money for Solyndra to pay the president’s political cronies even though officials knew the solar-energy firm was going bankrupt. Didn’t happen that way.
Accusation: Obamacare would bring about the collapse of the American health care system and replace it with socialized medicine and death panels. No such thing has occurred.
The IRS scandal, it was alleged, could be traced back to the White House, which targeted Obama’s enemies for political reasons. Nope.
The actual truth of the allegations doesn’t matter. Each one sullied President Obama’s name, and investigators’ failure to deliver the goods did little to remove the taint. That’s why fake news works: Falsehoods can drive a president’s approval rating into the cellar while the truth is still getting out of bed.
And now we have the Benghazi exoneration.
For nearly two years, Republicans have been alleging all manner of scandal involving the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in the Libyan city. That somebody — Hillary Clinton? — issued a stand-down order to prevent help from getting to American officials under fire; that Clinton had rejected pleas for more diplomatic security in Libya; and that the Obama White House pushed false talking points to play down the terrorist attacks.
The accusations have been roundly debunked, most recently in military officers’ testimony released by the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee.
Now there’s a bipartisan report, adopted unanimously by the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee on July 31, awaiting declassification by the administration. It throws yet another bucket of cold water on the conspiracy theories. In a statement, the top Democrat on the panel, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, said the report finds that:
“There was no intelligence failure surrounding the Benghazi attacks.”
“There was no ‘stand down order’ given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, and no American was left behind.”
“The talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis.”
“There was no illegal activity or illegal arms sales occurring at U.S. facilities in Benghazi.”
“And there was absolutely no evidence, in documents or testimony, that the intelligence community’s assessments were politically motivated in any way.”
The report is not yet public, and Republican sources indicate that there is more disagreement in the report than Ruppersberger’s statement indicates and that the report is not as exculpatory as he implies. But there has been no challenge from the Republican side to the accuracy of the findings Ruppersberger detailed in his statement.
Now that the truth is catching up to them, House Republicans will need to stay one step ahead. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the select committee on Benghazi, told CNN’s Deirdre Walsh last week that, despite what the Intelligence Committee found, “there is more work to be done and more to be investigated.”
Excellent. Maybe he can post his phony accusations on some fake news websites.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.