We now move to the most critical part of the election campaign: Inquiring about the character of President Obama as well as the media that instinctively defends him against all challenges, foreign and domestic.
Did we hear him correctly last night when he suddenly tried to “walk back” the version of events that his own spokesmen vigorously defended for weeks? So the attack on the Libyan consulate really had not resulted from a flash-mob incited by that YouTube video? Instead it had been a 9/11.2 terrorist attack all along? And this despite all those pious and repeated protestations by UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama’s own speech to the United Nations extolling religious freedom? Then, in a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland, CNN moderator Candy Crowley rode to his rescue, insisting to an astounded Gov. Romney that Mr. Obama’s recollection was indeed correct. So who are you going to believe: her or your lying eyes?
It was the second time in a week that the press let the Obama administration wriggle off the hook. When Vice President Joe Biden said during his debate with Congressman Paul Ryan that “we didn’t know” there might have been a problem with security at the Libyan consulate, the possible explanations included dissembling or simple obtuseness. Martha Raddatz failed to ask the only follow-up that really mattered: “Well then, Mr. Vice President, why did you not know something that seems obvious to anyone outside the Obama White House?” But she didn’t, and Mr. Biden — with a characteristic wink, tic and grimace — simply skated away.
In similar fashion, Mr. Obama covered his retreat last night by saying it was “offensive” for anyone to suggest that either he or anyone “on my team” had been less than truthful about the Benghazi debacle. If his phrasing sounded familiar, it was because he and his spokesmen had used comparable language earlier this year to knock down allegations of White House leaks to the New York Times. You might also recall that those leaks were as detailed as they were suspicious, as if Times reporter David Sanger had set up shop in the West Wing of the Obama White House. For another, Mr. Sanger went to extraordinary lengths to depict a macho and characteristically cool President Obama ingeniously deploying the Stuxnet virus against Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Because of our techie obsessions, the Stuxnet virus grabbed all the headlines while sober-minded experts wondered about the wisdom of conducting industrial sabotage against Iran, especially when the United States is more vulnerable to cyber-retaliation than any other society. Cynics also questioned the timing, asking whether the NYT was simply re-furbishing the administration’s foreign policy record, since the re-set with Iran wasn’t really going all that well. Those suggestions of deliberate media-White House collusion eventually prompted Mr. Obama’s high dudgeon about being offended, dismissing as well those nasty charges of espionage. After all, the president can de-classify anything he wants so what’s the big deal?
The Obama foreign policy narrative rolled inexorably forward as though the leaks had never occurred. But perhaps you have noticed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s increasingly worried pronouncements, because our banking industry has recently been beset by waves of denial-of-service attacks. Iran is a possible source because, as Homicide Detective Kate Beckett might point out, they have both the motivation as well as the capability. But do you think the media is at all likely to ask pointed questions, like whether the combination of the leaky Obama White House and their New York Times allies had anything to do with the current wave of cyber-attacks? Nope, I don’t either.
Our foreign policy is rapidly collapsing - and since we no longer have a free press, nobody says anything about it. Today the media is simply a polite term for Democrats on sabbatical - and with better clothes, hair and make-up. You can glimpse the reigning mind-set whenever CNN’s Soledad O’Brien fires back at Republican guests like a Cuban machine gun. Because privileged media positions demand blind-sided, left-brain thinking, you can see why the Benghazi situation instantly throws everything into a whole new light. Suddenly the bright Arab Spring seems dark and threatening. Raped in Tahrir Square, CBS correspondent Lara Logan has recently begun giving speeches that al Qaeda didn’t die with Bin Laden but poses a still-menacing threat. Did CBS News somehow forget to send her the memo?
Bottom Line: We have just three weeks until the election to demand that the press, despite its defects, call President Obama to accountability. Thereafter, the character we will learn about most is our own.
Col. Ken Allard, retired from the Army, is a former NBC News military analyst and author on national security issues.