Fox News is falsely reporting that Mitt Romney's statement last night criticizing President Obama over attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East was released before it was known that Americans had been killed in those attacks. In so doing, Fox is attempting to excuse that campaign's actions, which have been widely criticized, including by Republican foreign policy experts. In fact, Romney's statement itself referenced the death of an American consulate worker in Libya.
After Egyptian media reported on a film created by an American which denounces Islam, protesters in Egypt invaded the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and several Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” which was released before the protests started. Hours later and following the incursion, the Obama administration disavowed the statement. Romney responded to the initial embassy statement with a press release attacking the Obama administration that has drawn widespread criticism, including from Republican foreign policy hands.
Three Fox News employees sought to downplay criticism of Romney's statement by falsely claiming it was issued before anyone knew than an American had been killed during a single segment on Fox News' Happening Now this morning.
Contributor Mary Katherine Ham said Romney has “a fine line to walk” and called the Egyptian embassy's statement “pretty appalling.” She then said of Romney: “He responded to that before we had heard anything about anybody being killed in Benghazi. And I believe that is the timeline.” Anchor Jon Scott later read a portion of the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo and said, “That is what Governor Romney then criticized saying, look, our embassies are under attack. It later turns out four of our people were killed. And the United States is apologizing.” And Juan Williams, asked if Romney's statement was “inappropriate,” commented that “the death took place later.”
In fact, the Romney statement issued last night specifically referenced “the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi”:
“I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
Following the release of the Romney statement, it was learned that the consulate worker referenced therein was one of four Americans killed during the attack on the Benghazi consulate.
MARY KATHARINE HAM: First of all as Juan said, just like a heart-breaking and maddening loss for Americans of all stripes on a day that already is so heart-breaking for everyone. So, my prayers are with everybody who lost someone yesterday. I think Mitt Romney has a fine line to walk. It should be stated the statement he put out last night about the Cairo embassy's truly appalling statements that somehow sort of said, well this anti-Islam movie, we are apologizing for that, and for Americans sort of exercising their first amendment rights, putting that statement out was pretty appalling. He responded to that before we had heard anything about anybody being killed in Benghazi. And I believe that is the timeline.
And so I think that was actually a pretty important statement to make. And I think the governor sees an area here. Obama did not mention free speech in his discussion, although his speech was very nice. I think he sees a vacuum here to sort of endorse that and say look, it is not the fault of Americans or anyone else for expressing their -- exercising their first amendment rights that people are going crazy and killing people. And I think that is an important thing to state.
JON SCOTT: So viewers know what we're talking about here, I want to read at least one of the statement that was put out via Twitter by the U.S.embassy in Cairo. It says: 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. Today the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attackson the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
HAM: Abuse free speech.
SCOTT: Yeah. Now that is the statement that was put out by the State Department, an arm of the administration. And that is what Governor Romney then criticized saying, look, our embassies are under attack. It later turns out four of our people were killed. And the United States is apologizing. Juan, was that inappropriate?
JUAN WILLIAMS: Well I don't, first of all, I think the death took place later. So at the time, what you had was the embassy in Libya under attack, and an affirmation of our principles, which is that we're a country that respects all religions, and want to make it clear that a minister burning the Quran in Florida, it may be in keeping with our free speech ideals, but we don't as an American government embrace that. The American government, the American people didn't embrace that, and we want to make it very clear we're not about trying to insult anybody, and we get upset when Muslims say nasty things or attack Christians.
UPDATE: On Twitter, Ham responded to a complaint that she had gotten the timeline wrong by admitting, “I just double-chekced (sic), and you're right and I'm wrong.” She added: “We knew of a death, and not the death of the ambassador, and I don't think I was clear on that. It was unintentional, but wrong.”