Jan Crawford Criticized Cairo Embassy Statement, Portrayed Romney’s Reaction Positively, and Is Generally Getting an Unfair Rap
Let’s put a little context on this “coordinated questions” issue. Two nights ago, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement claiming that a U.S. citizen had “abused” free speech with a YouTube video. And one of the first people to publicly criticize this statement was CBS News reporter Jan Crawford.
That’s right. Before Mitt Romney criticized the Cairo embassy for a wrongheaded view on free speech, Jan Crawford sent these tweets:
Then the press conference occurred, and Crawford issued this very fair report, which did not jump on Romney for his statement. Instead, Crawford portrayed Romney’s willingness to stick by his guns as bold and aggressive:
Conservatives have criticized Mitt Romney for a lot of things in this race, among them that he is running a timid campaign, that he pulls his punches and that he doesn’t have the fire in his gut to win.
Today’s press conference – in which he criticized the administration’s response to the attacks in Egypt and Libya — is the clearest indication yet those critics are missing something.
Instead of walking back the strong statement he issued last night, Romney held his ground–and offered even stronger criticism. Facing the media in an impromptu press conference, he deflected questions on whether his criticism was too soon -“I don’t think that we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles” – or that it was inappropriate, as Democrats, the Obama campaign and even some Republicans are arguing.
Here’s how Crawford described the entire situation:
For those who you who haven’t followed Romney’s response to the attacks in Egypt and Libya, here’s the background.
Last night, Romney issued a tough statement expressing his outrage, and then added this:
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Romney was referring to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that touched off a political firestorm. Before the protesters hit the Embassy, it said on its website: “The Embassy … condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
The embassy then stood by its statement, issuing a series of Tweets, as its compound was under siege. Last night, the administration seemed to distance itself from the Embassy statement, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton releasing her own statement, saying that “there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” and a senior administration official telling Politico it wasn’t vetted by Washington. The Tweets also were removed.
Then the tragic news broke overnight that four were killed in the Libyan attacks, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Some suggested Romney would regret his statement from the night before, although campaign sources told me before his morning press conference he had none. And when Romney took the podium, he made it clear himself.
In his opening remarks, Romney expressed sympathy for the victims and outrage at the attacks, and then referred to the embassy statement – “which, as I noted last night, was clearly at odds with the 1st Amendment.”
“I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney said, adding, “The statement that came from the administration – and the embassy is the administration – the statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to an apology, and I think it was a severe miscalculation.”
Romney also hit the president hard for sending a “mixed message” and said he has demonstrated “a lack of clarity as to foreign policy.”
The adviser said that tone won’t change -and today’s comments were putting down a marker.
“We’re going to draw contrasts when there’s an opportunity to draw contrasts, and we’re not going to shy away from that opportunity.”
Unlike the hacks at the L.A. Times, for example, Crawford told her readers that the Obama administration had walked back the embassy’s statement. And, far from taking the position that Romney’s timing was off, Crawford merely noted that some had criticized the timing — but that was a minor point in a balanced and fair piece that portrayed Romney as standing strong on an issue of free speech.
I challenge anyone to read Crawford’s post and honestly contend that it is a hatchet job of the sort foisted upon L.A. Times readers.
So: a) Crawford attacks the embassy’s statement; b) Romney issues a similar statement; and c) Crawford does a fair report that portrays Romney in a positive light.
Fast forward to the release of the video that some conservatives seem to claim is smoking gun evidence of collusion by a liberal media. I’ve now watched this thing perhaps ten times. The sound goes out at critical points and the video jumps at another point. But what I hear is Crawford telling a colleague not to ask Romney about his tone, but just to ask a plain vanilla question about whether he regretted his statement — a neutral formulation that would give Romney plenty of opportunity to articulate his views.
The next thing that happens is the colleague suggesting some kind of hectoring followup. The audio drops out and you can’t hear everything he says, but at the beginning he is proposing jumping down Romney’s throat in some way. And whatever he says, Crawford replies: “You can’t say that.”
I agree with Erick Erickson’s early analysis (before he knew it was Crawford in the video):
I don’t know who the CBS reporter was in the Right Scoop audio, but she seemed to be the only one trying to get the press to restrain itself
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) September 12, 2012
Now, I can understand people arguing that any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate. I disagree, but that argument is not outside the realm of reasonableness.
But portraying Crawford as some nasty member of a liberal cabal, while it might feel satisfying, is, in the end, an unnecessary attack on one of the good ones.
I have made similar mistakes before. Andrew Malcolm is a conservative who used to blog quite successfully at the L.A. Times. I was not a regular reader of his, but I saw his pieces from time to time and they seemed balanced. I always assumed (because of where he worked) that he was a lefty — and when his blog published a lot of nasty comments about Tony Snow after Snow’s death, I lit into Malcolm. Malcolm wrote me very friendly emails saying he had admired my blog, and it took me a while to realize that he was sincere — and that he was actually one of the good guys, and that I had been unfair in getting so mad at him.
Note well: I was right to be mad about the comments about Tony Snow. But I was wrong to use that episode to paint Malcolm as a lefty. I regret that now.
I think we are experiencing that now. Although I never talked politics with Crawford, I suspected she was center-right politically, and a friend of mine wrote me today to say that he had talked politics with her and he believes she is center-right. (He also agrees with me about her fine character.)
But look: Crawford is a reporter. She can’t really come out and say: I lean conservative. I agreed with Romney. I tried to rein in one of the lefties sitting next to me. Even if that’s all true, such statements would be expressing political opinions, which reporters can’t do. (By the way, this is all speculation on my part. Jan has said none of these things to me.)
I was heartened today to see some people read my post and hesitate on laying into Crawford — even though this morning’s post was not as strong a defense as I could have written had I discovered the writings revealed in this post. I would like to think that my readers pay enough attention to the facts that this post will give further pause as to whether Crawford was engaged in some bizarre anti-Romney media conspiracy.
Again: the so-called “coordination of questions” issue is fair game for reasonable minds to differ. I don’t see it as a huge deal, but I can respect someone who argues to the contrary. I’d like to see Jan address that issue, frankly.
But I think it’s unfair to write off this reporter as part of a liberal conspiracy to undermine Romney, when she seemingly agreed with his position, and portrayed it fairly and in a positive light. I hope this post makes people rethink such a position. Because Jan Crawford is not the enemy. She just isn’t.