Everyone hopes that, in Bob Schieffer, tonight's debate gets the sort of moderator that was so lacking before now.
If Jim Lehrer was reduced to a hand wringing blur, conservatives are really down on Candy Crowley. And who can blame them?
MR. ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.
MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
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.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.
MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.
So let me, let me - call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror.
CBS reports on how media figures react:
Glenn Beck: "Candy loves to police Romney! As soon as he begins to win she shuts him down."
Jonah Goldberg: "There goes Candy holding Romney's feet to the fire while, letting Obama unchain his muse."
John Nolte: "Crowley is the one losing this debate. She's been absolutely disgraceful and biased from choice of questions to time."
- Rush Limbaugh: "an act of journalistic terror."
The predominant accusation is not that Ms. Crowley was inaccurate or untruthful. Rather, the charge is that she did not remain neutral and silent about the inaccurate rendition by Mr. Romney, or, failing the journalistic duty of silence, that she was not balanced in her correction.
I listen to Candy Crowley pretty often on KMOX radio, here in St. Louis. She is a frequent remote telephone guest. Her stays are usually brief. She does, after all, have a full schedule as the chief political correspondent for CNN. But she has had time to reinforce the prevailing journalistic ethic. She only occasionally takes on the morally uncertain role of fact-checker.
Contemporary journalism is more concerned with balance than with truth. She hesitates at violating that value by reporting that Person A is saying something that is untrue. She would rather report that Person B is accusing Person A of saying something that is untrue, rather than reporting what documentation reveals.
When events make that untenable, she always makes a good faith attempt to balance any untruth from one side with some example from the other. Person A accused the administration of stealing 750 billion dollars from Medicare when actually 750 billion dollars was saved by telling corporations they could no longer overcharge for services. But Person B claimed to have dropped a quarter on the ground and there is some suggestion that Person A actually dropped a nickel. So, you see, they all do it.
Candy Crowley does pretty well at balance, even when it takes the heroic sacrifice of truth. She doesn't come close to Associated Press, who managed to accomplish he said/she said AND balance at the same time in on recent piece. They reported on a litany by Bill Clinton of Republican untruths, including a completely accurate quote by Clinton of a Romney campaign pollster: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." AP reported the blizzard of facts, finding nothing wrong with them, but balanced the piece by noting that Bill Clinton, years ago when he was President, once told a lie.
As it happens, Candy Crowley was there in the Rose Garden as President Obama spoke about the Benghazi attack the very next day. She heard and reported on his words at the time. "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." So I suppose it was hard for her to remain silent when Governor Romney was issuing his directives at her about getting the accusation on the record. So she spoke up.
As it happens, President Obama had also talked about the attack as an act of terror two days after the attack and then three days after the attack. He was not alone in that. After after the first two days, intelligence reports had information that took time to clear up. Those reports were given to the press as they came in. Kevin Drum has done some re-reading of reports filed at the time. He leads us to McClatchy Press:
In the first 48 hours after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, senior Obama administration officials strongly alluded to a terrorist assault and repeatedly declined to link it to an anti-Muslim video that drew protests elsewhere in the region, transcripts of briefings show.
Ms. Crowley repeated what she heard the President say in the Rose Garden the day after the Benghazi attack: "He did call it an act of terror." This was a clear violation of contemporary journalistic standards.
But let's be entirely fair to Candy Crowley. After her debate outburst, she quickly realized her error and tried to adhere to the prevailing ethic of balance first. She made a last second try for balance with the same effort we might see in a receiver's desperate dive for a misthrown pass.
It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
She tried. She really did. But by then it was too late. Balance was lost. Neutrality was overlooked. The damage was done.
Truth had been uttered by a journalist.
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