Presidential debate: Libya questioner says Obama didn’t answer

October 17, 2012

Kerry Ladka stood before President Obama at last night’s town hall-style debate and asked the question that would touch off an onstage verbal brawl and, later, an intense national discussion. Here’s how it went:

Q: It’s Kerry, Kerry Ladka.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Great to see you here.

Q: This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

Was Ladka satisfied with how the president responded? Simply no. “I really didn’t think he totally answered the question satisfactorily as far as I was concerned,” Ladka tells the Erik Wemple Blog.

Jeez, what about the president’s response could possibly have disappointed Ladka? Was it the fact that he started out with a canned talking point, inserted, perhaps, in the hope that the audience will forget the question? Here’s the first part of Obama’s response:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, talk about our diplomats, because they serve all around the world and do an incredible job in a very dangerous situation. And these aren’t just representatives of the United States; they’re my representatives. I send them there, oftentimes into harm’s way. I know these folks, and I know their families. So nobody’s more concerned about their safety and security than I am.

Or was it the next part of the president’s response, when he goes bureaucratic, explaining his three-pronged set of instructions to his staff? And since no response in a presidential debate is complete without an attack on your opponent, Obama was careful to then point out that Romney had politicized the tragedy in Benghazi.

Now, Governor Romney had a very different response. While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release trying to make political points. And that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue, certainly not right when it’s happening.

That was all by the way of not answering the question Ladka had placed before him. The president’s clear intent to sidestep Ladka’s inquiry might have prompted activist moderator Candy Crowley to say, Hey, how ‘bout an answer, Mr. President?

She didn’t, and the conversation careened toward a clash over whether the president had given the country a timely admission that Benghazi was a terrorist attack.

President Obama, though, wasn’t done with Kerry Ladka. “After the debate, the president came over to me and spent about two minutes with me privately,” says the 61-year-old Ladka, who works at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola, N.Y. According to Ladka, Obama gave him ”more information about why he delayed calling the attack a terorist attack.” For background, Obama did apparently lump Benghazi into a reference to “acts of terror” in a Sept. 12 Rose Garden address. However, he spent about two weeks holding off on using the full “terrorist” designation. The rationale for the delay, Obama explained to Ladka, was to make sure that the “intelligence he was acting on was real intelligence and not disinformation,” recalls Ladka.

As to Ladka’s question about who turned down the Benghazi security requests and why, Obama reportedly told him that “releasing the individual names of anyone in the State Department would really put them at risk,” Ladka says.

Obama’s retail politics left an impression on Ladka:”I appreciate his private answer more than his public answer,” he says. Spoken like a very genuine undecided voter, Ladka says he wasn’t impressed with Romney’s response to the Libya matter, either.

“I like Obama very much but I am very impressed with Romney’s business background,” says Ladka, who’s not saying in which direction he's leaning. Didn’t someone out there say these debates make no difference?

More on Libya from The Washington Post:

Erik Wemple: AP’s Libya fact-check very kind to Obama

Jennifer Rubin: Obama and Crowley get it wrong on Libya

Erik Wemple: Was Crowley’s fact check fair?

Jennifer Rubin: More evidence of deception on Libya

Jamelle Bouie: Romney lost by swinging and missing on Libya

Jonathan Bernstein: Conservative closure catches Romney


View Photo Gallery: A far more aggressive President Obama showed up for his second debate with Mitt Romney, and at moments their town-hall-style engagement felt more like a shouting match than a presidential debate.

DisclaimerThis is a non-scientific user poll. Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of Washington Post users as a group or the general population.
Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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