Politics in Candyland

Crowley's debate moderating was far from moderate

There are a number of things to question about CNN’s Candy Crowley’s handling of the presidential debate Tuesday night.

Despite a real-time stopwatch on CNN itself, she gave President Obama 10 percent more speaking time than Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The questions she selected to be asked seemed drawn from Democratic talking points. And one observer noted she interrupted Mr. Romney 28 times, Obama only nine – at one point actually telling Mr. Romney to “sit down.”

But the most blaring wart on Crowley’s moderating came when Mr. Obama claimed he called the embassy attack in Libya an act of terror one day later, and Mr. Romney disagreed.

Crowley – oddly stepping into the role of instant fact-checker – declared that Mr. Obama was right that he had, indeed, quickly called the attack an act of terror.

Unfortunately, most viewers will have gone on to something else by the time the debate was over and Crowley, during post-debate analysis on CNN, admitted that Mr. Romney was actually “right in the main.”

Excuse us, Candy. Do you mind saying that louder?

Here’s the unbridled truth, which Ms. Crowley didn’t get to in the debate: Mr. Obama did indeed use the word “terror” in his Rose Garden remarks after the Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans. But he was speaking in general – not specifically about the Benghazi, Libya, attack: “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.”

So, a fair assessment of the dispute is this: While the president certainly seemed to imply it, he did not, in fact, say the Benghazi attack was an act of terror.

So, Ms. Crowley, belatedly enough, is correct: Mr. Romney was “right in the main.”

You would hardly know it from watching the debate or Crowley’s handling of it, however. She shouldn’t have tried to fact-check the claim on the spot, and hopefully she regrets that.

But all of this misses the larger point – and it’s a point that a better moderator might have raised: Regardless of what the president said in the Rose Garden that day, the fact is that his administration, for the better part of the following week, perpetrated a hoax story – that the attack on our embassy was the result of a Muslim protest gone bad. The administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, went on the Sunday talk shows five days later to further gin up the “protest” story. But the administration later had to admit that there wasn’t even a protest outside the embassy that day.

It was always a lie.

Ms. Crowley did meekly admit in the debate that Romney was right about the administration’s odd delay in telling the truth – but by then the point was lost.

Furthermore Mr. Obama himself, in his Sept. 25 speech to the United Nations, six times cited an anti-Muhammad video that his administration was blaming for the nonexistent protest and subsequent attack on our embassy in Libya. Why, if he was so convinced on Sept. 12 that it was an act of terror and not a spontaneous protest of a video, did he continue that bogus story in his U.N. speech? And so long after the Sept. 11 embassy attack?

Again, it’s a point that a better moderator – or Republican candidate – could’ve made.

As it is, Ms. Crowley’s ill-advised injection of herself into the dispute led to a false impression – favoring a candidate, Mr. Obama, that most conservatives suspected she preferred from the outset.

On that count, and that count alone, she didn’t disappoint.

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