One of the most memorable moments from last night’s presidential debate was when President Obama called Mitt Romney out for suggesting that he would play politics with the death of an American ambassador.
Romney responded by suggesting that the President just lied when he said that he called the attack “an act of terror” the day after it occurred. Romney was setting it up as his big ‘win” of the evening. Then, disaster struck. The moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, told Romney that Obama did in fact say it. And a check of the transcript of the President’s remarks that day shows the President did says “act of terror.”
OBAMA: The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.
ROMNEY: I — I think interesting the president just said something which — which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.
OBAMA: That’s what I said.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.
It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It — it — it — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terror…
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He — he did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
But don’t let facts stop Team Romney.
Crowley says “nuh uh.”
Here’s Crowley with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien this morning:
“Not a backtrack?” O’Brien said.
“No,” Crowley said.
For a further explanation of the issue, let me quote at length what I wrote this morning:
Crowley was perhaps at her best when she faced the age-old journalistic ethics conundrum: What do you when you know the guy you’re interviewing is lying?
In Crowley’s case, her journalistic ethics won out, and she called Romney on it. Here’s how Joshua Green at BusinessWeek described it:
When Romney did draw questions that offered opportunities to score big points, he often whiffed–none bigger than the question about the president’s handling of Libya. Romney erroneously claimed that Obama had refused to call the assault on the U.S. embassy a terror attack until 14 days after it occurred, when in fact Obama did so the very next day. Crowley’s correction and admonishment of Romney–and the crowd’s applause–were devastating. Romney slunk back to his stool looking utterly defeated.
I’d be shocked if most independent and loosely affiliated voters in battleground states didn’t come away from this debate impressed and reassured by the president–and newly skeptical (re-skeptical?) of Mitt Romney.
And here’s the video. First you’ll see President Obama scolding Romney in what is probably the moment at which the President won the debate. Romney had just suggested that the President and his team, on finding out that a US ambassador and three other American personnel were murdered, decided to “play politics” with it. Obama was not pleased. And he tore Romney to shreds.
But then, as the video shows, Romney gets up and think he’s got President Obama nailed. Obama did not, as he just claimed – Romney says – call the attack on our ambassador an “act of terror” the day after the attack. Obama, Romney claims, waited 14 days to call it an act of terror. Not true, says Obama, and not true says moderator Candy Crowley. Romney then deflates and slinks back to his seat.
And Crowley was right. If you look at the President’s remarks that morning after the attack, remarks titled “Remarks by the President on the Deaths of U.S. Embassy Staff in Libya,” you see quite clearly that he called the attack “an act of terror.” In fact, the President said the plural, “acts of terror,” because he was also referencing the 9/11 attacks. Those are the two attacks he mentioned in his address, 9/11 and Benghazi. Then, in the next sentence, in the same paragraph, the President again mentions Benghazi.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
I mention this in some details because conservatives, God bless em, are now trying to claim that the President’s remarks didn’t deal with Libya, even though the remarks are titled “Remarks by the President on the Deaths of U.S. Embassy Staff in Libya,” and even though the President only mentioned two attacks in his speech, 9/11 and the attack in Libya, and used the plural “acts of terror.” What else was he referring to if not the two “acts” in his speech?
(In any case, it’s an odd argument for the Romney people to be making, whether we did or didn’t call something an act of terror less than 24 hours after it occurred and when we were still collecting information on what happened half a world away. In Romney-land, snap judgments are the norm. One does not wait for the facts before forming an opinion that might lead to military action and more loss of lives.)
One final point: Note that Crowley didn’t slam down Romney 100%. She said that the President was correct about using the phrase “act of terror,” and Romney was correct about the message being muddled for a few weeks. She’s right. And Romney was wrong to hinge his entirely argument on claiming that the President lied about using the phrase “an act of terror.”
Romney was playing the “I gotcha!” game, looking for yet another “opportunity” to politicize the deaths in Libya, and he lost.
Or as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein just put it on CNN: “He tried to hit back and he whiffed.”