As a case study in partisan journalism, this piece will look at media coverage of Khizr Khan, the Muslim father whose soldier son, Humayun, was killed in Iraq in 2004 while defending his squad. Then, by way of contrast, I’ll examine the attention given to bereaved mother Patricia Smith, who opposes Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House. Patricia who, you ask? Exactly! You have likely never heard of her, as she is definitely not part of the media narrative — despite, or because — her son was killed by terrorists who attacked the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 during Hillary’s term as Secretary of State. So here we go…
There are not many positive things the media can find about Hillary. Number one, she’s the first female presidential nominee. Second, horrible people call her names like “bitch”[i] and “lock her up”. Third, err, see 1 and 2.
Her term as Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009-13 was marked by endless disasters, such as the premature US pullout from Iraq (2007-11), IRS targeting of conservatives for tax audits (2010-12), and Al Qaeda’s sacking of the US consulate in Benghazi. Her successes? Hmm. I’ll get back to you.
As icing on Hillary’s rancid cake, there was her use of a private email server for State business and her official connivance in the money-making corruptions of husband Bill, who has enhanced the couple’s wealth by $US150 million-plus since 2001 (such as taking $US500,000 from Moscow for a speech in 2010 concurrent with Hillary’s department approving a Russian takeover of US uranium resources). By a further coincidence, Hillary clean forgot her undertaking to Obama to disclose $US2 million-plus gifts to the Clinton Foundation from those uranium interests.
Hillary’s record is therefore of no interest to the mainstream media. Instead they focus on the latest gaffe or infelicity of her Republican rival, Donald Trump. Trump is dubbed a racist, violence-promoting, dangerous fool. Like the magicians who distracts his audience’s attention with a waved handkerchief, the object is to distract the audience — America’s voters — from what’s actually important.
This month the story was all about how Trump, on July 30, disparaged the parents, particularly the silently grieving mother, of the (genuinely) brave Captain Humayun Khan. ABC TV continues to wallow in Schadenfreude about Trump’s boorishness. Cut to visual of Captain Khan’s headstone in Arlington cemetery. Cut once again to father Khizr Khan giving Trump that serve at the Democrat National Convention in mid-July. Hillary would never sink so low as to disparage the parents of a dead patriot, was the ABC’s unstated premise. And yes, even conservative ABC viewers probably found Trump’s behavior (as distilled by the ABC) indefensible, ungracious and discomfiting.
But it’s never smart for conservatives to drop their guard. The media’s specialty is removing the context and failing to tell the whole truth, even when not telling actual, outright lies.[ii]
So let’s unpack the Trump vs bereaved Muslim parents controversy, and see what really emerges.
About 100,000 Muslims immigrate to the US each year. After the San Bernardino shooting of 36 people by an Islamist couple last December, Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim would-be immigrants “until we can figure out what the hell is going on”. He subsequently and continually refined the idea of allowing re-entry of obviously “good” Muslims, such as US servicemen and those hailing from US allies such as the UK, and he redefined the proposed ban to involve only immigrants from nations “tied to Islamic terror” or those with a “proven history” of anti-Western terrorism. Grey areas include countries like France and Spain with their large Muslim populations. Note that Trump targets new Muslim would-be immigrants and has never proposed retrospective action against existing Muslim immigrants now resident in the US.
Two years ago a plan such as Trump’s would have been highly controversial, but Islamic barbarities in the West have escalated — the recent mass slaughter in Nice and throat-slitting of an elderly priest near Rouen last month being the but two of the most recent examples. Hence Trump’s proposed banning new Muslim arrivals, pending a tougher screening regime, is no longer beyond the pale as a rational response to terror.
However, “progressives” have distorted Trump’s idea to mean that he would have excluded every decent/innocent Muslim ever to immigrate in the past.[iii] The argument is like saying that someone in early 1939 who called for the banning of German (including Nazi) immigrants, would have banned and/or expelled all German immigrants of the 1920s and 1930s.
Bereaved father Khizr Khan not only waved his son’s shroud to assembled Democrat conventioneers, but did so in the context of a fiery attack on Trump and a call to elect Hillary as the candidate of love, amity and decency.
“Tonight, we are honored to stand here as the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, and as patriotic American Muslims …
Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son “the best of America.” If it was up to Donald Trump, he [Humayun] never would have been in America.
Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims…. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.
Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? …[In fact, the constitution does not bar the US from discriminating against would-be immigrants based on their religion].
Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.
You have sacrificed nothing and no one.
We can’t solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are Stronger Together.[iv]
And we will keep getting stronger when Hillary Clinton becomes our next President.”
Khizr Khan concluded by imploring all US immigrants to vote for Hillary, “the healer, not the divider”.
Thus provoked, Trump responded,
- “I’d like to hear his wife [Ghazala Khan] say something” (implying that such Muslim women are kept subservient – Ghazala responded that she was too grief-stricken to speak);
- Khan’s speech was scripted by the Democrats (Khan denied that);
- He, Trump, had made sacrifices for the country as a business person employing thousands; and
- Radical Islamic terrorism requires counter-measures.
Trump honored the dead soldier and included respectful remarks about Khizr: “He looked like a nice guy to me,” but pushed back against Khizr’s accusations. Mainstream media went into paroxysms of indignation at Trump, omitting the context that Khizr Khan had done his utmost to offend Trump and promote Hillary.
At the start of this piece I mentioned pro-Trump Mrs Patricia Smith. She’s the mother of Sean Smith, one of the four US embassy staffers who were murdered in Benghazi. Hillary, as I noted, was Secretary of State at the time and ultimately responsible for the safety of US staff abroad. The run-up to the Benghazi assaults is not easy to summarise but includes
- Despite President Obama’s clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya when the last two Americans were killed almost 8 hours after the attacks began.
- A US Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) sat on a plane in Rota, Spain, for three hours, and changed in and out of their uniforms four times.
- With Ambassador Stevens missing, the White House convened a two-hour meeting at 7:30pm, which resulted in “action items” — the spin fed to the press — that focused on a locally-made anti-Islamic YouTube video.[v]
This was all unfortunate, but what is Patricia Smith’s specific beef with Hillary? Well, her accusation was that Hillary was not just responsible for Sean’s death. But standing by the son’s very coffin, Hillary had lied to the grieving mother that the video had provoked the Benghazi mob. These hotheads, Hillary claimed, spontaneously rioted against the US installations in Benghazi. Smith’s case is that Hillary knew at the time, as proved by a subsequently revealed email to daughter Chelsea on the night of the attack, that the waves of assaults were planned and executed by al Qaeda-like forces.
Moreover, Hillary’s lie beside Sean Smith’s casket was overheard by other parents who lost children in Benghazi. So Smith took the stage at the Republican convention a week before Khizr Khan’s appearance at the Democrats’ gathering, and, in tears, had this to say:
“…The last time I talked to Sean, the night before the terrorist attack, he told me, ‘Mom, I am going to die.’
All security had been pulled from the embassy, he explained. And when he asked why, he never received a response.
Nobody listened. Nobody seemed to care.
The very next day, he was murdered by radical Islamic terrorists…
That night, we lost sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands.
We lost four brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country they chose to serve.
And, the American people lost the truth.
For all of this loss, for all of this grief, for all of the cynicism the tragedy in Benghazi has wrought upon America, I blame Hillary Clinton.
I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.
In an email to her daughter shortly after the attack, Hillary Clinton blamed it on terrorism.
But when I saw Hillary Clinton at Sean’s coffin ceremony, just days later, she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.
Since then, I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to explain to me the real reason why my son is dead. I’m still waiting.
Whenever I called the State Department, no one would speak to me because they say I am ‘not a member of the immediate family.’…
How could she do this to me? How could she do this to any American family?
Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not…And, when it comes to the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, he will not hesitate to kill the terrorists who threaten American lives…This entire campaign comes down to a single question. If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?”
So how did Hillary respond to Smith’s accusation? She more or less called Smith a liar (emphasis added).
CLINTON: “… I certainly can’t even imagine the grief that she has for losing her son, but she’s wrong. She’s absolutely wrong. I and everybody in the administration… we were scrambling to get information that was changing literally by the hour, and when we had information, we made it public. But then sometimes we had to go back and say we have new information that contradicts it. So I testified [to congressional inquiries] for 11 hours… and when it was over, the Republicans had to admit they didn’t learn anything…[vi] And this is not the first time we lost Americans in a terrorist attack…At no other time were those tragedies politicized. Instead people said, let’s learn the lesson and save lives. That’s when I did.” (My emphases).
Note that Hillary dismisses Smith’s accusation in blanket terms, dodging all the specifics and then going off on a tangent.
How did the media react to Smith? With a classic pack attack. She was guilty of “extreme overreach”, “scary” stuff, “really disturbing” [i.e. reprehensible] and “a new crossing of a line and an ugly degradation of a norm in American politics.” The Republicans, by promoting Smith, were being both “exploitative” and “irrelevant”.
Fact-checker Politifact rushed to defend Hillary, tweeting, “Smith has said Clinton lied to her about Benghazi, but it’s not completely clear just what Clinton said.” Politifact further claimed, “No one recorded these brief meetings behind closed doors. Family members and Clinton disagree on what was said. Especially given the emotional setting, memories — both Clinton’s and the families’ — might be fuzzy.”
Sorry, but Smith heard the words, as did several other bereaved Benghazi parents. Politifact then tried to argue that, even if Hillary did blame the video, she might have believed, genuinely believed, the video was the culprit. This meme is regularly run when Hillary is caught out lying; she just made (yet another) “honest mistake”.
This week Pat Smith and another bereaved Benghazi parent, Charles Woods, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hillary Clinton. They claim that Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server contributed to the attacks by, highly probably, exposing Benghazi embassy routines to hackers. They also accuse her of defaming them in public statements.
FBI head James Comey, in announcing last month the findings of the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s private e-mail server, said it was “possible that hostile actors gained access” to it but there was no direct evidence of that. A Clinton spokesman said that nine different Benghazi investigations had cleared Hillary Clinton.
By now readers should have a solid grasp of how the mainstream media is operating in this US presidential campaign, and how media “truthiness” is neither truth nor the whole truth. The US public is wising up to the media spin, and that’s why Trump is getting a good shot at winning the presidency.
Tony Thomas’s new book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here
[i] Julia Gillard likewise gained victim-of-sexist-attacks status when her stature as Prime Minister fell to pieces
[ii] The ABC 7.30 footage of an Aboriginal child detainee in a spit-hood is a classic context-free message, as Prime Minister Turnbull has discovered to his embarrassment.
[iii] Pauline Hanson has been attacked thus for her similar proposed ban, with Q&A rabble-rouser Khaled Elomar, for example, demanding to know why his 11yo son is worried by Islamaphobia.
[iv] “Stronger together” is a Hillary campaign slogan.
[v] The low-budget, amateur trailer entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” for a never-shown film, portrays Muhammad as a womanizer who approved of pedophilia. The trailer’s author Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, was arrested and charged with violating terms of his probation, including making false statements regarding his role in the film and his use of the alias “Sam Bacile”.
He got a year in prison.
[vi] The Republican-dominated report in fact concluded that Clinton and the Obama administration should have realized how endangered U.S. outposts in Libya were and done more to protect them. Rep. Jim Jordan (OH) said:
“Obama Administration officials, including the Secretary of State, learned almost in real time that the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Rather than tell the American people the truth, the administration told one story privately and a different story publicly.”