The XX Factor

Hundreds of Nigerian Girls Are Missing. Fox News Blames Hillary Clinton.

Conservatives are using the kidnapped Nigerian girls story to attack Hillary Clinton.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

For most people watching the unfolding story of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by the Islamist cult Boko Haram, the dominant feelings are despair and helplessness and fear that these girls will never be returned to their families. For much of right-wing media, however, it seems to have sparked a different emotion: Hillary hate. Fox News and other outlets have been very busy trying to find a way to exploit this story to derail Hillary Clinton’s presumed 2016 run for president, because that’s what they do.

In order to pin this one on Clinton, conservative pundits argue that she failed by not having the State Department designate Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Brooke Goldstein, speaking to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, argued that failing to give Boko Haram this label “sends a green light, go ahead, continue with your terrorist activities, you can do it with impunity. We’re going to turn a blind eye.” Steve Doocy and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox practically blamed Clinton for the kidnapping. By not labeling Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization, Hasselbeck argued, the State Department “would have forbidden any sort of authority to increase securities to them, increase assistance to Nigerian security forces in that area and perhaps could have saved these girls earlier.” Doocy claimed that the reason that we can’t “go after them” is all because Clinton didn’t make the designation.  

This narrative has rippled through right-wing media, with Andrew McCarthy of National Review accusing Clinton of protecting Boko Haram because she is a devotee of “appeasing Islamists” and the Daily Caller saying this puts Clinton’s support for women and girls in the “allegedly” category, as if she had some prior knowledge of Boko Haram’s intention to kidnap girls. 

What’s the real story? Is it true that Hillary Clinton, in the thrall of Islamist bullies, refused to designate an obvious terrorist organization for what it was, thereby stopping the U.S. from stomping them out of existence? No. Clinton’s State Department designated multiple leaders of Boko Haram as global terrorists. And while the State Department now considers Boko Haram a foreign terrorist group—neatly disproving Doocy’s theory that we’re still hamstrung from treating them that way—in 2011 things looked a little different. As the New York Times reports, the group is primarily a local one and sits in the hazy middle ground between “religious cult” and “terrorist organization,” though it’s obviously drifting more toward the latter. It seems the State Department in 2011 was concerned about not pushing the group further into the “terrorist organization” direction. As ThinkProgress notes, in 2012, a group of 20 scholars in African studies implored caution in putting Boko Haram on the list, fearing it would “internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long term strategy, and undermine the U.S. Government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region.”

While this is obviously a complex subject, it’s a massive stretch to say that Clinton was tip-toeing around “Islamists” or that the foreign terrorist organization designation would have prevented this kidnapping. The only real reason to keep trying to hang this around Clinton’s neck is cynical partisanship, at the expense of taking the actual situation in Nigeria seriously for what it really is.

Lest there be any doubt about that, Laura Ingraham of Fox News even tried to squeeze the word Benghazi into her coverage, to maximize the baseless Clinton hysterics. “I think part of the problem here is that we have a dead American ambassador. We have no one in custody. Not to bring it back to Benghazi,” she said, proceeding to insinuate that the girls were kidnapped because “Benghazi” made the U.S. look weak.