Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got it right. The Middle East desk at the State Department got it right, too. And so did Mitt Romney. All three correctly rejected the initial Cairo Embassy statement on the developing violence in Egypt and Libya as weak and inappropriate. And yet Romney was the only one to become the focus of media ire for it.
The sequence of events is becoming clear: Embassy Cairo ignored the advice of Hillary Clinton’s State Department and issued the statement anyway. When Romney condemned it, President Obama issued a statement criticizing Romney. Clinton was left shocked and upset that the draft statement she rejected was actually issued over her objections.
A State Department official told me that Clinton rejected the Cairo statement because it was weak. “It started from an awful place,” said the official. “The Secretary knew that Romney would use it against her and the president.” Clinton feared that her department was going to hand a political issue to Romney at a decisive moment.
(Judge for yourself. The Cairo statement read, in part: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.")
It is still unclear if Hillary called the White House to tell them of her initial rejection of the statement before President Obama attacked Romney’s condemnation of it. Did Hillary fail to let the White House know that they were walking into a trap? (Asked to comment, a State Department official reiterated the claim that the secretary of state’s office did not authorize the Cairo Embassy statement.)
As soon as Romney issued his criticism of the Cairo statement, the White House went into damage control, criticizing Romney for being political. Sadly, the media dutifully followed Obama and never judged whether the Cairo statement was in fact weak. Clinton certainly thought it was. But why is it that when Romney rejected the statement it was denounced as an outrageous political act?
The mainstream media has so far failed to ask persistent and tough questions of the State Department or the White House. In fact, NPR’s Romney campaign correspondent, Ari Shapiro, and CBS News’ Romney campaign correspondent, Jan Crawford, were caught on tape minutes before Romney’s press conference conspiring to trap him. Why had reporters like Shapiro and Crawford not tried to get the real story? Why were they following the Obama campaign’s playbook?
More fundamentally: why is it okay for Hillary to reject Embassy Cairo’s statement as weak and inappropriate but not okay for Mitt Romney to do the same?
Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney had the same gut instincts about the unfolding situation in Egypt and Libya. It’s Obama who is on the fringe.