Saturday, September 15, 2012

How Romney blew it

John Podhoretz had a couple articles out this week assailing the media over its coverage of Mitt Romney's September 11th statement attacking the Obama administration for a controversial statement from the Cairo embassy.  His main thesis is that the media have collectively decided that it is illegitimate for Mitt Romney to have questioned the "apology" approach to foreign policy.  While such a response from the media would be terrible for our democracy, it's just not at all the case here.

The critical flaw in Podhoretz's argument is found in the New York Post piece, where he wrote:

First were the uninhibitedly liberal media, starting with the Web site Talking Points Memo, which called Romney a liar for attacking the statement because he should’ve known about the timing of its release. 
How that made Romney a “liar” when no one else knew, either, and when the White House evidently thought it needed to run in the other direction, is far from clear.
First off, Romney absolutely should have known the timing of the release.  Here is a conservative blog post dated 4:58pm on September 11th, which puts it 2-5 hours ahead of Romney's statement, depending on time zone.  The blogger knew that:
The Embassy apparently was trying to head off a backlash as Egyptian Muslims reacted angrily to a U.S.-produced film that critics say is insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. The embassy released a statement of appeasement, and was rewarded later in the day by a rampaging mob which stormed the embassy, tearing down its flag.
Emphasis mine.

I've honestly never heard of before the last few days, but they're linked to in the NBC News timeline of events, they're #1,338 in U.S. traffic among all websites according to, and I'd come across another article of theirs being highly ranked in a google search for "cairo embassy tweets", so I assume it's a fairly major website.  They surmised the not-too-complex correct temporal relationship of the embassy statement and the attack on the embassy hours before the man who would be President.  If the Romney campaign wanted to confirm the timeline before making bold pronouncements based on their faulty understanding of the events, they could have asked the Cairo embassy, or checked their twitter page, which said "this morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands.  As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy."  This tweet was about 4 hours before Romney's statement.

But let's accept Podhoretz's premise, that neither Romney nor anyone else knew the correct timeline at the point the statement was issued.  So no one knew when the statement was made relative to the attack.  We then have a situation where a major party nominee just made up out of whole cloth that the statement was in response to the attacks.  How is that not lying, exactly?

Podhoretz doesn't understand that the problem with Romney's statement is not the content of his position, but the demonstrably false evidence on which he bases the statement.  It would have been fine if he put out a reasoned argument for non-involvement by the government in religious affairs, or a pointed critique of Obama's supposed "lead from behind" strategy.  But he instead put out a crassly political, factually incorrect statement which only served to make him look incredibly unpresidential.

It's understandable that a Republican like Podhoretz would want to move the battleground away from the topic of his candidate's demonstrable flaws to one where Romney can be portrayed as being unfairly attacked by the mean ol' lame-stream media.  But it's just not the case here.  Here are the first several Talking Points Memo articles on the subject, and I don't see a darn thing condemning Romney for bringing up a foreign policy critique.  I read a lot of "uninhibitedly liberal media", and I don't recall much of anything along the lines Podhoretz claims.

There's just no getting around the fact that Romney put out a political statement in the middle of a crisis based on demonstrably false information.  It is this fact that damages his standing to be Commander-in-Chief, not that he wants to discuss how best to deal with the crisis.

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