There is an astonishing amount of complaining among conservatives about how unfair the media was to Mitt Romney yesterday in reporting on — and calling out — his criticism of Obama over the Embassy attacks. The gist of the complaining is that the U.S. Embassy statement was, in fact, an apology in the face of aggression, and that news outlets are stifling legitimate criticism of Obama on foreign policy.
But oddly enough, the critiques tend to avoid directly addressing, or defending, the main thing about Romney’s comments that news outlets and commentators found newsworthy or objectionable.
The Wall Street Journal rails in an editorial today that Romney’s real mistake was to “offend a pundit class that wants to cede the foreign policy debate to Mr. Obama without thinking seriously about the trouble for America that is building in the world.” Philip Klein complains that the press predetermined its narrative about Romney’s poor timing, adding: “instead of scrutinizing Obama’s handling of a foreign policy crisis, the media has decided that the real story in Egypt and Libya is a Mitt Romney gaffe.” John Podhoretz argues that the media wants “to make it illegitimate for Romney to criticize the president’s foreign policy at a moment when foreign policy has suddenly taken center stage.”
I agree that the timing complaint is questionable; it’s legit to criticize a president during a crisis. But all of this skirts the thing that made Romney’s comments problematic, which is what he said: His accusation that the Obama administration sympathized with the embassy attackers.
The claim is false. The statement was issued before the attacks. Conservatives argue the Embassy reaffirmed the statement on Twitter after the attacks. So what? The statement does not sympathize with, or apologize for, any perpetrators of violence. The repeated claim that the White House distanced itself from the Embassy’s statement — proving Romney was right — is similarly irrelevant, as is the related claim that the White House was too slow in doing so. The statement still never did what Romney said it did, and did not constitute sympathy for attackers by the administration or anyone else. Romney’s initial claim — and his repetition of it yesterday at a high profile press conference — were lies, and carried despicable implications.
Yet his defenders sidestep this. Instead, they invoke other questions about what happened, such as whether the Embassy statement was overly apologetic or weak in some general sense; whether it comports with a broader weakness in Obama’s approach to the region; or whether the events raise legitimate questions about Obama’s policies there.
But is anyone claiming such questions are not fair topics? The vast majority of the criticism yesterday was directed at the specific claim Romney made about Obama administration sympathy with terrorists who assaulted U.S. Embassies as the country learned four Americans were killed. Do Romney defenders really think this was a defensible description of the Obama administration’s reaction to what happened? Do they really think that description was not a serious political error or highly newsworthy?
Ed Kilgore joked today, “I’ve never completely understood the persecution complex of American conservative gabbers.” What I don’t get is why so few of them will defend what Romney actually said, given that the media supposedly maligned him so badly.