Team Obama can’t possibly object to the way the Associated Press (AP) has broken down the latest thing that’s dividing Washington.
Benghazi, that is. People today are fussing over precisely how President Obama characterized the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans at the U.S. consulate. Speaking the day after the attacks in the Rose Garden, Obama said, among other things:
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. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
That passage slipped into a starring role in last night’s debate, as Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney claimed that the president took his sweet time in telling the truth about Benghazi:
MR. ROMNEY: I — I — 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.
Referring to Obama’s Rose Garden proclamation, moderator Candy Crowley brushed back Romney, agreeing with President Obama that the ”act of terror” acknowledgment came in that Sept. 12 Rose Garden event. Conservative critics panned Crowley’s extemporaneous fact-check, saying that the “no acts of terror” line didn’t refer explicitly to the Benghazi situation.
That’s a reasonable strain of thought, though this blog and other commentators thought Crowley was on solid ground with her intervention.
The gray area at the center of the discussion got considerable acknowledgement from fact-checkers. PolitiFact, for one, treaded carefully around the squishiness:
We went to the transcript, and the president has a point. On September 12, the day after the attack, in the Rose Garden, Obama condemned the attack and said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”
In the days since, some have parsed Obama’s remarks and argued he didn’t say the Benghazi attack was specifically an act of terror. However, given the overall context of his comments, it seems a fair conclusion that he was including the attack in the “acts of terror” that he said would never shake American resolve.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler also tiptoed around the semantic and conceptual puddles here:
What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.
But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.
More caution from FactCheck.org:
There was a sharp exchange between the candidates on the issue of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and the question of when the president acknowledged it was a terrorist attack. Obama said he called it an “act of terror” the day after the attack. Romney said that “it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
Obama is correct that he referred to “acts of terror” in a Sept. 12 speech in the Rose Garden. But after that Obama refused to characterize it as a terrorist attack while it was under investigation — even though other administration officials did.
Prepare for contrast. An AP fact-check of debate says this:
THE FACTS: Obama is correct in saying that he referred to Benghazi as an act of terrorism on Sept. 12, the day after the attack. From the Rose Garden, he said: “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. ... We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.”
Bolded text inserted to highlight some un-fact-checky behavior.
The AP wisely includes Obama’s statement so that readers can reach their own conclusions; it also notes the administration’s long delay in supplying solid information on the attacks.
Yet reporting that the president referred to an ”act of terrorism” appears to overstep the factual terrain. Calling Benghazi ”terrorism” or “a terrorist attack” would have been an act of greater candor for the president than merely rolling it into a statement about how “no acts of terror” will deter the United States. In other words, the AP fact-check furnishes some excellent post-debate coverage for the White House.