The New McCarthyism: GOP Exploits Benghazi to Fuel Media's Narcotic Obsession with Hillary's Emails

By Tom Watson and Peter Daou

From the very beginning, the House Select Committee on Benghazi had a mission, and that mission had nothing to do with the facts of the tragedy in Libya, international relations, the use of government email, or even American honor. The goal was always political, cynical, and repugnant: working in partnership with a facile and easily manipulated national media to use the power of the people’s representatives to damage the reputation of Hillary Clinton.

Explicit confirmation came from the Republican who would be the next Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, who said the following on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

Let that sink in for a moment: Republicans are actually considering electing a man named "McCarthy" to be the Speaker, a man who admits his party is playing politics on the backs of dead Americans to tarnish the character of one of the most prominent women in the world.

You couldn't make it up.

This is the New McCarthyism in full and open public view at long last, a despicable and dishonorable strategy to use the Benghazi tragedy against the most viable female candidate for president in American history.

This is about leaks to willing media partners like The New York Times, which is waging an earnest and open campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton from both the newsroom and the editorial page. This is about what feeds the monster that is the media's obsession with Hillary’s emails a bizarre narcotic that has columnists like Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post writing more than 50 columns on the subject.

This is about the fuel for the daily frat boy fest that has become MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where every minor detail leaked from the GOP committee becomes a segment of leering giggles, sneers and craven attacks.

The New McCarthyism doesn’t use rightwing media as its main weapon; those channels are already preaching to their electoral choirs. No, it uses mainstream corporate media (often deliberately mislabeled as “liberal media”) as its main conduit.

In a cohesive campaign waged in partnership with Rovian consultants and their Koch brothers funders, information gathered on behalf of the public interest is slowly and deliberately leaked to reporters all too eager to conjoin their personal ambitions with dishonest rightwing sources. And then the Beltway commentators grasp their hymnals and worry aloud about the “drip, drip, drip” that their own corporate outlets are creating with the Kevin McCarthys of the world.

As we’ve documented at #HillaryMen for four months, the New McCarthyism uses the Constitutional oversight duties of Congress for naked political attacks. Back in July, we wrote:

The GOP is not interested in what happened in 2012. The attacks have been fully investigated and reported on to the public, starting with the State Department’s own in-depth review. No, it is simply an attack mechanism, a hijacking of an important Congressional function that is reminiscent, frankly, of the McCarthy Era. 

“It appears that much of the Select Committee’s work has been shelved while Republicans pursue every possible avenue of political attack against Secretary Clinton,” wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings at that time.

Conservative columnist Bill Kristol essentially confirmed that narrative in a tweet just a month later, as he watched some of Hillary’s approval ratings fall in concert with the actions of the committee and its chairman, Trey Gowdy, now a rising Republican Congressional star for his “service” to the party:

The media did not listen to Congressman Cummings, or take the clear warning of a public victory lap from the likes of Bill Kristol. Instead, it continues to this day to take leaks from the Gowdy committee and other partisan sources and then to wonder aloud with posed concern why, in the words of the New McCarthy, Hillary’s “numbers are dropping.”

Voters are catching on. As Blue Nation summarized, a recent PPP poll showed a clear public understanding of what’s really going on:

A majority of voters–54 percent–think Rep. Trey Gowdy‘s Benghazi investigation is purely political, with the intent to damage Clinton. Even more voters–62 percent–think Gowdy ought to release his emails connected to his work on Benghazi. 56 percent say Gowdy is employing a double standard by not doing so.

Yet, the Committee’s “investigation” really, a publicly funded opposition research and political smear operation rolls on unabated. Hillary will publicly testify in three weeks. As House Democrats noted this week, the Committee is the longest running special investigative committee in Congressional history and it’s the eighth investigation into Benghazi, not the first. As Adam Schiff noted this month in a call to disband the panel:

The Select Committee became little more than a partisan tool to influence the presidential race, a dangerous precedent that will haunt Congress for decades. This is all the more painful when you consider how grievously the committee has let down those families, along with the rest of the American people.

The New McCarthyism may be here to stay. The GOP leadership is full of praise for Chairman Gowdy’s dishonest hit job and an even more conservative Republican caucus is emerging in the House. Their weapons are the leak, the smear, the whisper, the cowardly, skulking ‘not for attribution’ comment. At #HillaryMen, we stand firmly against this unadulterated shame.

To the House leadership and their partners in the media:

Have you no sense of decency, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.