During the past several weeks of campaigning, Mitt Romney has argued that President Obama’s supposed failure to label the killing of Benghazi “terrorism” for two weeks was evidence that he had failed to lead on the issue. After Candy Crowley debunked Romney’s claim during the Tuesday debate, the right doubled down on Romney’s argument, suggesting Obama only used the term “act of terror” generally despite clear references to Benghazi on September 12 and 13.
Setting aside the dubious propriety of this semantic standard for leadership, it turns out Romney himself has failed on these terms: Obama managed to label the attacks terrorism twice in the two days following the attacks before Romney used the term once.
The first unmistakeable reference to terrorism from the Romney campaign came on September 20, after top counterterrorism officials had publicly described the attacks as terrorism. The first clear statement from Romney himself was on September 25, when he told Fox News that the Benghazi attack was “an act of terror. … But the White House doesn’t want to admit it.”
Here is a timeline of the relevant events, starting the day after the September 11th attack:
SEPTEMBER 12: Romney gives a press conference to clarify his initial press release accusing Obama of sympathizing with the attackers.The full transcript of the event shows that he never used the words “terror,” “terrorism,” or “al-Qaeda.” That was Romney’s first statement on the event since the initial release the night before. Roughly 30 minutes afterwards, Obama used the phrase “acts of terror” to describe Benghazi in his Rose Garden remarks.
SEPTEMBER 13: The President used the same phrase to describe the attacks at a September 13 at a campaign event. Romney also addressed the tragedy in Libya at a campaign event, but the on-site reporting (the campaign does not appear to have provided a transcript) does not mention him referring to the attacks as terrorism and, moreover, suggests that Romney did not directly challenge the administration’s approach (semantic or otherwise) to the events.
SEPTEMBER 19: Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says “[Americans] were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.”
SEPTEMBER 20: Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says “Governor Romney believes our immediate priority in Libya is to track down and bring to justice those terrorists who brutally murdered our diplomats. The attack is a clear reminder that terrorists, particularly those linked to Al Qaeda, remain a grave threat and one that is growing in North Africa.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said “It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
SEPTEMBER 25: Romney tells Fox that “That’s an act of terror. But the White House doesn’t want to admit it.”
A reader points out that Obama actually said “act of terror” a second time in reference to Benghazi on September 12, in Las Vegas. That makes a total of three times directly after the attack.