EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 28, 2012

Column: Romney missed chance to hit Obama on Libya

Taylor Armerding
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — With the presidential election less than two weeks away, the usual questions face voters: who will “fix” the economy (as if any president could really do that); how the nation’s leaders should handle divisive social issues; what the U.S. role in the modern world should be; and others.

But mainstream media editorial boards, ought to be asking themselves one overriding question: Are they covering President Barack Obama just as they would if George W. Bush was running for a second term?

If they are honest, they will have to admit that, especially regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the answer is no.

Here in blue, blue Massachusetts, the state’s dominant (and overtly liberal) newspaper has carried a number of stories about the, uh, “evolving narrative” on the attack of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. But, more often than not, those stories have been picked up from wire services and carried on inside pages.

If this had happened under Bush, it would not be a wire service afterthought. The paper’s best investigative reporters would be crawling all over it. The stories would be at the top of the front page.

Not that the media are entirely to blame for the issue essentially disappearing from the campaign. Republican Mitt Romney and his handlers were apparently hypnotized by the glare Obama used in the second debate while declaring how deeply offended he was that Romney would suggest that he or any member of his “team” had misled Americans regarding the attack.

Romney didn’t counterpunch, and declare that yes, the administration had indeed misled Americans, either through intentional deceit or gross incompetence. He blew it, first by being unfamiliar with exactly what the president said the day after the attack, and second by failing to point out that Obama’s use of the phrase “act(s) of terror” was the rhetorical equivalent of Slick Willie trying to parse the meaning of the word “is.”

Romney should have pointed out that what is really offensive is to try to conflate “act of terror” with “premeditated terrorist attack.” They both have “terror” in there, but they are not the same – not even close.

Then, at the start of the third debate, Romney completely ignored the substance of the question moderator Bob Schieffer asked about Libya.

But if this had happened under Bush, for the media it would be the second coming of Watergate. Instead, it is now almost as though the whole thing never happened.

It doesn’t even take major investigative work to know that this is a more aggressive whitewashing of reality than any of Mitt Romney’s so called “Etch-a-Sketch” moments.

While Obama and his surrogates attacked Romney for speaking out about the attack “before all the facts are known,” they were speaking out contrary to the facts that were known. As even lefties have been forced to acknowledge, the administration tried for the better part of two weeks to claim that the attack grew out of a spontaneous demonstration against a movie trailer, when they knew otherwise.

This should be held up to the same level of ridicule Obama tried to heap on Romney at last Monday’s debate for allegedly misunderstanding how technology has changed the needs of the military.

When Romney noted that the number of ships has dropped below the level that the Navy said it needs to fulfill its mission, the president mockingly suggested that ships are as obsolete as “horses and bayonets.” Then he went on to talk as though aircraft carriers and submarines are newfangled weapons, even though they were major factors 70 years ago in World War II.

When Obama declared that it was impossible to say for weeks afterward what had happened in Benghazi, Romney should have reminded him that there is this cool thing called the Internet, which allows for instant communication worldwide.

He should be reminded that an unnamed senior official in his own State Department, in a conference call on Oct. 9, said the administration’s claim of a protest about a YouTube video was, “not our conclusion.”

Indeed, there was no protest. None. To claim that was, as many have said, was a fairy story. This was a military-style assault by Ansar al-Sharia, the branch of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

If Obama didn’t know it within hours – certainly by the day after, he didn’t want to know it.

It is pathetic that it takes Reuters, a news agency based in London and not the U.S., to report this past week on emails showing that two hours after the attack, Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility for it, and that U.S. diplomats had described the attack, while it was under way, to Washington.

But the administration still claimed, for weeks, that its “best information” was that it was a protest of a video. There was no such evidence. If there was, let them produce it.

Ah, but there’s nothing to see here, really. All you really need to know is that Romney wants to cut funding for Big Bird.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net