The mainstream media have been busy today criticizing Mitt Romney for his criticism of the Obama administration's response to the attacks on our embassies in Egypt and Libya. First Read encapsulates the media narrative quite nicely:
Romney was referring to a statement that the U.S. embassy in Egypt issued condemning the “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” But that embassy statement, which the White House has distanced itself from, was in reference to an anti-Islam movie and anti-Islam pastor Terry Jones, and it came out BEFORE the embassy attacks began.
A couple points: One, the U.S. embassy in Egypt stood by the statement after the attack occurred. Two, and more importantly, Obama didn't distance himself from the embassy statement--he essentially doubled down on it this morning. Obama said during his Rose Garden remarks:
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
So, like the embassy statement's condemnation of efforts "to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims," the president condemned "efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," and, like the embassy statement, the president did not defend the right to freedom of speech.
Contrast Obama's statement with Romney's remarks this morning:
America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We’ll defend also our constitutional rights of speech, and assembly, and religion. We have confidence in our cause in America. We respect our Constitution. We stand for the principles our constitution protects. We encourage other nations to understand and respect the principles of our constitution, because we recognize that these principles are the ultimate source of freedom for individuals around the world.
As you can see, there's a real disagreement between Romney and Obama about how the U.S. government should respond to the siege of our embassies by mobs that do not respect freedom of speech. Should the United States merely condemn the attack as well as an offensive movie about Islam, as Obama believes? Or should the United States condemn the attack and also stand up for the right of free societies and free people to express themselves, as Romney believes?
It's also possible, of course, to condemn anti-Islamic speech while standing up for the right to free speech, as the Bush administration did in response to the Mohammad cartoon uproar in 2006. Which response is best is debatable. But if you read the mainstream press today, there's no real debate, just a scurrilous attack on our fearless president by Mitt Romney.