Presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley not only improperly injected her opinion into the Barack Obama/Mitt Romney face-off last night, but she had her facts wrong.
The discussion was about the Obama administration's failure to publicly acknowledge in a timely manner that the attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead on Sept. 11 was an act of terrorism. Why were members of his administration and Obama himself so long in dropping the facade that the attack was a result of mob action inspired by an offensive video about Islam?
Obama said he had called the attack an "act of terror" during remarks the next day in the Rose Garden, and Crowley agreed with him. Suddenly, Romney found himself debating two people, Obama and Crowley, who had no business correcting either candidate.
Romney looked surprised and asked Obama:
“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? 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 replied, "Get the transcript."
Crowley then interrupted, telling Romney: “He did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terror …”
Obama immediately recognized that he had an ally and spoke up loudly: “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”
“He — he did call it an act of terror," Crowley said, complying with Obama's request.
Here the audience, in violation of the debate rules applauded.
Crowley, perhaps immediately understanding her screw up, added: "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.” Crowley said to Romney. But the damage already had been done. Crowley had blown her role as an independent moderator.
So, let's look at the actual Rose Garden transcript and what Obama really said. Here is the relevant portion, in which Obama supposedly said it was an act of terrorism:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourn with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those, both civilian and military, who represent us around the globe.
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.
Obama supporters assert that this was a clear statement by Obama the day after the attack that it was an act of terrorism. One can argue whether that the last paragraph was a reference to the the consulate attacks. More credibly, one might argue that taking the entire statement in its context that Obama was talking about terrorism in general (presumably including the consulate attack). On the other side, one can argue that the antecedent was the 2001 attacks, so that's what Obama was talking about. In any case, Obama failed to flat out call it an act of terrorism, and in that regard, Romney had him.
Such foggy statements are the currency of political debate and one side will never convince the other side.
- Members of Obama's administration clearly blamed mob action for the fatal attack, not for just a day or two, but for as long as two weeks. If Obama right away was actually telling us that it was a terrorist attack, why didn't he correct his spokespersons who were continuing the story that it was a mob attack? Why was Obama so obtuse?
- Obama himself went into the well of the United Nations and focused on the offensive video. He did not decry the attack as an act of terrorism, leaving the impression among the delegates and the world that America, by allowing this kind of (free) speech was somehow responsible for the deaths of the four Americans.
- Obama later said that during the attack he was immediately on the phone with his national security advisors. What did they tell him: That it was a mob action (and therefore his advisors were ignorant of what everyone else in the world could see)? Or did they tell him, as one might logically assume (since the people in the consultant were in real time contact with their higher-ups) that it was a carefully planned terrorist attack?
Those are the undeniable facts, leaving the puzzling and troubling question: Why in the world would the Obama administration officials cling to the argument that it was a mob action when it clearly was not? Or when their boss, the president, believed that it was a terrorist attack?
What did the administration have to gain by feigning such stunning ignorance?
All arrows point to...politics. Admitting that it was a well-planned terrorist attack would raise questions in the public's mind that Obama, contrary to his suggestions, he was an anti-terrorist master demonstrated by Osama bin Laden's death. Just before an election, admitting that terrorism still was a big problem would raise doubts about Obama's credibility. What other reasonable explanation is there for Obama's head-in-the sand posturing on the attack? I'd love to hear it.
On that point, I don't buy Vice President Joe Bidden's excuse during his debate with Paul Ryan that they "didn't tell us". Would Obama's security team sit by quietly when hearing that Obama's officials were mistakenly blaming mob action? Wouldn't they pick up the phone and ask Obama, "Hey, your people are calling it mob action and not what it was: a terrorist attack? Do you, Mr. President, really believe that it wasn't a terrorist attack?" We're supposed to believe Biden that the highest levels at the White House were uninformed? Or should we believe Obama when he asserted in the Rose Garden that he knew it was a terrorist attack, but then clung to the falsehood of mob action for days and days?
To all this, Obama got on his high horse and during the debate said the suggestion that anyone in his administration would play politics on the issue “offensive.” For liberals like Obama, accusing someone of causing an offense is like the nuclear option--it should end all debate.
Hurt feelings or not, Obama and his administration have left reasonable people no other alternative but to believe that he was trying to avoid the political fallout of the entire episode. That's scary
So, who is this Candy Crowley?
She, justifiably, is under attack by folks who think she exceeded her job as a moderator. Predictably liberals rationalized her blunder and conservatives pointed it out.
Here is some of the reaction:
- Moderator Crowley helps Obama rebut Romney on Libya. A liberal spin pretty much, in The Hill.
- CNN's Crowley: Romney 'Right' on Libya, He Just 'Picked Wrong Word' She explains her action.
- Candy Crowley Injects Herself Into the Presidential Debate
- Romney surrogate rebukes Crowley for 'fact-check' on Libya during debate.
The Hill compiles a timeline:
A timeline compiled by The Hill shows that National Counterterrorism Center director Matthew Olsen was the first member of the Obama administration to call the Libya assault a terrorist attack, and did so during congressional testimony on Sept. 19. The next day, White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was "self-evident" that the assault was terrorism.