Candy Crowley’s No-No

Moderating last night’s slugfest of a “town meeting” debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney was no enviable assignment.  Did CNN’s Candy Crowley overstep her proper role when she intervened during the candidates’ disagreement about Libya?  I think she did.

The exchange came as the candidates were arguing about the Obama Administration’s statements that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was precipitated by a YouTube video, and specifically whether the President had labeled the attack an “act of terror” in remarks he made shortly after the attack.  When Romney tried to pin the President down on that point, the President responded that Romney should get the transcript.  Romney replied that it took the President 14 days to call the attack a terrorist act.  Crowley then interjected that the President “did in fact” call it an act of terror, the President said “”Can you say it a little louder, Candy?” and the Obama supporters in the audience applauded — and thereby broke the rule that the audience should not respond to any statements.  A transcript of the full debate can be viewed here.

Were Crowley and the President right in their interpretation of the Rose Garden statement?  The official White House transcript of the remarks is available here, and I think the interpretation of those remarks is highly debatable.  The President did mention “acts of terror” — in paragraph 10 of the 13-paragraph statement — by saying:  “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.”   But is that lone reference, which refers to multiple “acts of terror” and restates a time-honored presidential theme so oft-repeated that has almost become a platitude, really labeling the Benghazi attack a terrorist act?  Moreover, the President earlier states, in the fourth paragraph:  “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.”  The statement about “denigrat[ing] the religious views of others” seems to be a reference to the YouTube video, and typically you would not call a planned terrorist act “senseless violence.”

My point is not to argue who was right or wrong in their characterization of the statement, but rather to note only that it is a debatable issue and to observe that Crowley stepped outside of her proper role in her interjection.  By purporting to state what the President “in fact” did, Crowley presumed to act as a judge.  She tossed the President a lifeline of sorts — which the President eagerly grabbed by asking Crowley to repeat herself — and she caused partisans in the audience to violate the “no applause” edict.  I think Crowley herself realized that she had blundered, because she immediately tried to even the ledger by saying that Romney was right in some of his criticism.  The proper course, however, would have been to say nothing, and let the people decide for themselves.

Crowley’s interjection was unfortunate for a larger reason: it feeds into an increasingly prevalent view that the news media is biased and can’t be trusted.  People who have that view and watched last night’s debate will conclude that if a member of the media can’t refrain from stating their personal interpretation even while moderating a presidential debate, the media can’t be trusted, period.  That’s bad for our country, because we need the press, warts and all, to ferret out the news and report it — and for that process to work we need for people to believe that the press is doing so fairly and objectively.

16 thoughts on “Candy Crowley’s No-No

  1. WB, it doesn’t matter what a person believes if the belief can’t be substantiated.
    I agree with you that CC and the audience failed in upholding the bargain. I would be remiss if I did not admit that it made me a little bit happy.
    How many terrorists can dance on the head of a pin?

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  2. I agree with you – but then you probably knew I would.

    You can be sure this topic does will come up again in next week’s debate. Last night, however, Mr. Romney seemed to be so surprised by the President’s assertion that he has since the day after the incident said that this was a terrorist attack, that Mr. Romney was flopping around like a fish in a fisherman’s boat.

    Of course, the President’s assertion, and Ms. Crowley’s “fact check” were both false. The administration paraded out Victoria Nuland, Jay Carney, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and others, for nearly two weeks claiming the attack on the embassy was an outgrowth of a demonstration of the nutty film outside of the embassy. Moreover, the President himself, on the Letterman Show and on “The View,” refused to admit the incident was a terrorist attack. So – we will surely hear more about this during next week’s debate.

    Finally, I have a couple of questions:

    1. Do they have a telephone at the embassy? Surely, since there was a big demonstration earlier in Cairo, someone from the State Department must have called the ambassador to inquire if there was a demonstration in Benghazi. Surely, when the attack started, someone from the embassy called the State department to tell them they were under attack, not from a mob carrying signs about defaming the prophet Muhammad in a goofy movie, but from heavily armed men?

    2. Do they have security cameras at the embassy in Benghazi? Every gas station mini-mart I’ve been in lately has security cameras. Surely, in one of the most dangerous places in the world, the State Department must have security cameras that can be viewed in “real time” by someone in Washington, D.C.? Surely, someone in Washington was watching those security cameras on 9/11 when demonstrations were already underway in Egypt and elsewhere? What did they see?

    Can anyone help me with the answers to these questions?

    As always, thank you for the post.

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    • Mike, I am so pleased to see you. Tonight on one of the news programs it was said that the attacks happened prior to the demonstrations. I agree with you that there is likely more to this story than has been revealed. I wonder what the truth is and how much the White House was privy to. I will be very disappointed if we don’t get a reasonable explanation.

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      • Good evening elroyjones. I am also pleased to hear from you this evening.

        That is a good question you raise about the timing of the Cairo demonstration relative to the Benghazi attack. My recollection is that the initial reports from the administration’s representatives was that the Benghazi incident was an “outgrowth” (or something to that effect) of the Cairo demonstration (and perhaps other demonstrations).

        I do believe the Cairo demonstrations preceded the attack on the embassy in Libya. Egypt and Libya are neighbors in the north of Africa. Egypt is directly east of Libya. (As an aside, I have a daughter who was doing some medical research in the far north of Cameroon last summer – just south of Egypt and Libya – it is a dangerous place). We know the attack in Benghazi occurred at night (starting about 9:40 p.m.). I believe the demonstrations in Egypt began during daylight in Cairo (but I could be wrong – so please correct me if I am mistaken). Therefore, the Cairo demonstrations would have had to have preceded the Benghazi attack.

        The link below takes you to one of the first CNN reports relating to the attack on the embassy. Please make a quick read of the article. If you have been following the news, you will see how wrong this early CNN report turned out to be.

        Many of the demonstrations did take place after the Benghazi incident. Over the next few days after the Behghazi incident, demonstrations reportedly reached something on the order of 30 countries.

        Please see http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/11/world/meast/egpyt-us-embassy-protests/index.html

        I am sure we will all get the truth . . . . . eventually. It is coming out – just very slowly. In fact, as I am typing this post, I see that Fox is airing a special report on what is currently known about the Benghazi attack. The report seems quite detailed. Perhaps this report will be available on line this weekend?

        Two things are clear to me: 1) this was a miserable failure of the administration and its State Department to protect ambassador Stevens and others on the anniversary of 9/11; and 2) the White House intentionally spun a false story for nearly two weeks thereafter.

        Again, it is nice to hear from you, elroyjones

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      • I should have clarified- it was reported that the Benghazi attack took place prior to the filmed demonstrations in Libya, not in Cairo.

        It is so cool that your daughter is involved in medical research and had an opportunity to go to north Africa.

        You’re right, the truth will out,we must have patience which is increasingly difficult in a world of 24/7 news. Thanks very much for the link.

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  3. This entire discussion as to when the President called the Libyan attach “an act of terrorism” is ridiculous. When it happened it was not a question whether it was an act of terror, THAT WAS A GIVEN.

    This discussion reminded me of the medieval dismissal of Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica,” written ca. 1270, where he asks many questions regarding angels such as, “Can several angels be in the same place?” However the idea that such questions had a prominent place in medieval scholarship has been debated. Eventually, scholars thought such discussions were pointless and came up with the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” It served to show how futile such discussions had become.

    I modified the question to show my utter frustration at this aimless debate.

    We have so many more problems than to get excited about semantics. Not to mention making a political football from such a sad, sad act of senseless violence.

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    • Jeff, I love the reference to Aquinas and I understand what you are saying, but I respectfully disagree. As I’ve noted in several postings, I think there are lot of questions about the Benghazi incident that need to be examined and explained, and the apparently shifting position of the Administration is one of those questions. Perhaps we are delving into semantics here, but “acts of terror” are, I think, typically understood to be planned actions, not spontaneous disturbances. If, as President Obama now contends, he was stating clearly the day after the attack that the Benghazi incident was an act of terror, why did he and other members of his Administration later indicate that it was the unpremeditated act of a mob whipped to a frenzy by a YouTube video? I’m trying to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt here, but it is hard to reconcile all of the statements that came later with the President’s current characterization of his Rose Garden statement.

      I think the President’s credibility — particularly on foreign affairs — is crucial. In my view, it is definitely a topic worth exploring.

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    • Thanks, Jeff. I found the reference to angels on the pin, which made me snicker and think how easy it may be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle during this election season.

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    • The Real Clear Politics website has a video of the clapping incident that appears to show that the First Lady did, indeed, clap during the exchange between the President, Mitt Romney, and Candy Crowley, in violation of the agreed-upon ground rules of the debate. The link to the video is http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/10/17/michelle_obama_broke_agreed_upon_rules_clapped_at_debate.html

      To my knowledge, there is no video evidence of Mrs. Obama misbehaving toward old ladies or puppies.

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      • I feel the same way about the Romney son wanting to punch Obama as I do about Michelle Obama clapping, both should know better than lose control in public but both are, as near as I can tell, only human. It has to be uncommonly difficult to watch someone you love receive unrelenting criticism. I do not think I would be able to contain myself under similar circumstances.

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