At the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney let a factual error botch what should have been an effective criticism of the Obama administration's confusing response to the Benghazi attack. At the debate, President Obama said he described the attack as an "act of terror" on the day after the attack, a comment that Romney pounced upon as if he were on the verge of delivering a knockout blow to his opponent. "It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Romney expounded, before moderator Candy Crowley interrupted to point out that Obama had, in fact, referred to the incident as a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Crowley has since been pilloried in the conservative press for allegedly ganging up on Romney.) No one can accuse Romney of showing up to debates unprepared — so how to explain his costly mistake? Some liberals say he's been reading too much conservative media, which has glossed over Obama's actual statements. Is the conservative echo chamber to blame?
Yes. Romney's allies in the media did him no favors: "Conservative media on the Benghazi story have driven at a single data point," says Erik Wemple at The Washington Post: "The misleading statements of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sept. 16, as she visited multiple Sunday talk shows and cited how the attacks stemmed from spontaneous protests related to an anti-Muslim video. Over and over: Susan Rice, Susan Rice, Susan Rice." The focus on Rice is clearly warranted, but "that style of coverage has made very little allowance for nuance and inconvenient details, like the one that President Obama mentioned on that debate floor."
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And it may make Romney seem unhinged: Romney "demonstrated that he had mindlessly bought into yet another Great White Whale from the right-wing outrage machine without bothering to check things for himself," says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. He's caught up in their "echo chamber, the same one that insists Obama wants to take your guns away and has spent the past four years apologizing for America." The more Romney and conservatives "dive into the conspiratorial weeds," the "worse they look" to ordinary Americans. "That's not moderate Mitt, and that makes it a loser."
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It's liberals who are focusing on the irrelevant: It's "inescapably accurate" that Rice "went on television to describe the incident as a 'spontaneous protest' four days after Obama spoke," says Michael Medved at The Daily Beast. Likewise, Obama "addressed the U.N. a week later and mentioned the low-budget film Innocence of Muslims a dozen times but never once pinned responsibility for the Benghazi murders on al Qaeda or even hinted in that forum that they amounted to terrorist atrocities." Conservatives are the ones focusing on the big picture, while liberals seize on tiny details to defend the administration.
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