Before last night’s presidential debate, Candy Crowley, the moderator, made it clear that she intended to inject herself into the debate, despite the rules clearly prohibiting that. And so she did.
In the egregious intervention everyone is talking about today, Crowley took it upon herself to insert some in-line fact checking, contradicting Mitt Romney to say that Barack Obama had called the Benghazi attack a terrorist attack the day after it took place.
The moderator should not be putting herself between the two candidates this way (particularly since the rules clearly prohibit it), but what makes Crowley’s intervention so egregious is she was wrong.
In Obama’s speech on September 12, he used the word terror one time:
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
Note that he did not say “these acts of terror”, which is what Candy Crowley apparently thought he said. That would have been a clear statement that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack.
One can argue that making that statement in a speech about the Benghazi attack implies that it was a terrorist attack. But that is debatable. He made the statement about acts of terror after mentioning the 9/11/2001 attacks, so he need not have been referring to Benghazi for the statement to be germane.
Moreover, still earlier in the speech, Obama said “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” clearly indicating that (in his view) the attack resulted from the anti-Mohammed YouTube video. This contradicts the notion that it was a terrorist attack, as a terrorist attack — by definition — must be premeditated. And, moreover, the protest-gone-bad theory was clearly the administration’s position for weeks after the attack, as Crowley herself admits.
There’s more. Obama’s remarks were not taken at the time to imply that the attack was terrorism. Both the Associated Press and New York Times made no mention of any such implication in their reports on the speech. (Via Brendan Buck.) The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler says “there is a world of difference” between what Obama said and acknowledging Benghazi as an act of terror. (Via Mickey Kaus.)
On September 20, White House spokesman Jay Carney agreed that the administration had never called the attack terrorism:
Q No, I just hadn’t heard the White House say that this was an act of terrorism or a terrorist attack. And I just —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think the fact that we hadn’t is not —
(Via American Crossroads.)
Carney refers to “the fact” that the White House hadn’t said that it was an act of terrorism.
Finally, on September 21, Crowley’s own network, CNN, reported:
The White House, for the first time Thursday, declared the attack that killed Stevens and three other people a terrorist attack.
That Thursday, on which the White House declared the attack terrorism “for the first time”, was eight days after the Obama remarks in question.
All in all, the interpretation of Obama’s September 12 remarks as calling the 9/11/2012 attack terrorism is quite debatable. And, wouldn’t you know it, there was actually a debate going on! She should have let the debate happen, rather than dragging it to a halt with her own misinformation.
UPDATE: Added some additional points observed by Mickey Kaus, who comments:
You could say that Obama was calling this attack an “act of terror.” Or you could say that Obama was using the phrase “act of terror” in the vicinity of discussing the “attack” to come close to labeling it an act of terror without actually, logically doing so, preserving his freedom to not do so in the future.
I think that’s probably right; this was a deliberate obfuscation, intended to provide opportunities for future spin. The candidate, not the moderator, should be delivering that spin.
UPDATE: Michael Ramirez nails it, as usual.