An early news leader following Tuesday night‚??s debate was a moment in which Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney appeared stymied, faced with President Barack Obama and moderator Candy Crowley both refuting his challenge that Obama had waited two weeks to walk back false reports that deadly attacks on a U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya were spurred by an anti-Muslim YouTube video, rather than a terrorist movement.
‚??There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack. And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people,‚?Ě Romney said. ‚??…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.‚?Ě
Obama replied, ‚??Get the transcript,‚?Ě and Crowley, a top CNN political correspondent, backed him up.
‚??He did call it an act of terror,‚?Ě she said. 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.‚?Ě
According to a transcript of the Rose Garden speech in which Obama responded to the attacks that killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, the president does say the phrase ‚??acts of terror,‚?Ě but it‚??s not at all clear that he‚??s describing the Libya attacks. Moreover, the phrase comes 12 paragraphs down from Obama‚??s promise, reiterated almost two weeks later at the United Nations, that the U.S. would ‚??reject efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.‚?Ě
Obama also quelled accusations that his State Department had failed to send the Benghazi consulate needed security by saying a full investigation was underway, officials would be held accountable, and it wouldn‚??t happen again.
But crucially, the president failed to explain why he had gone before the U.N. thirteen days after the attacks, mentioning a video six times as the source of the violence and failing to mention terror in the same context once.
Was it because a terrorist attack on U.S. citizens did not fit in with his narrative about al Qaeda having been severely weakened during his presidency? Was it lack of information? Or was it a deliberate misinformation campaign for some other reason?
Apparently stunned at finding himself challenged by two opponents instead of just one, Romney failed to press further on the issue and missed a crucial opportunity.