Mitt Romney’s ‘Perry Mason’ Moment

Exclusive: Mitt Romney thought he had President Obama set up for the fall, like TV lawyer Perry Mason boring in on a suspect. He called out Obama on his claim to have termed the Benghazi attack “an act of terror.” But the Republican presidential nominee again showed a reckless disregard of the facts, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

It was to be Mitt Romney’s “Perry Mason” moment, pouncing on President Barack Obama’s insistence that he had denounced the attack on the Benghazi consulate as a “terrorist” attack on the day after the lethal assault. Romney told the audience to take note of Obama’s supposedly false statement, proof that Obama was the real liar.

It was also the moment when the “reality-based community,” which a senior George W. Bush aide once famously mocked, collided with “right-wing world,” where every formulation denigrating Obama is accepted as true, no matter how baseless and loony.

Actor Raymond Burr (left) as fictional defense lawyer Perry Mason, shown in the title screen of the TV series.

In “right-wing world,” where Romney apparently has bought yet one more residence, Obama endlessly “apologizes for America,” including as Romney claimed on the night of the Benghazi attack last Sept. 11. According to Romney, it then took Obama 14 days to decry the assault in eastern Libya as a terrorist attack.

In Tuesday night’s debate, when Obama countered by saying he had gone to the Rose Garden the day after the attack to say “this was an act of terror,” Romney went in for the proverbial kill, highlighting to the national jury of voters that the President’s remark was a lie. It was as if the TV defense lawyer “Perry Mason” was about to unmask a murderous villain.

“You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror?” Romney asked incredulously, as Obama nodded in the background. “I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”

“Get the transcript,” responded Obama.

At that point, moderator Candy Crowley of CNN interceded, telling Romney, under her breath, “He did in fact, sir.” Romney then began to blubber, as Obama added, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”

Indeed, Obama had said in the Rose Garden, the next day referring to the consulate attack, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

Romney may have thought he was Perry Mason but he ended up looking more like Mason’s inept adversary, the haplessly wrong prosecutor Hamilton Burger.

Doubling Down

And besides getting his big accusation wrong, Romney reminded people about his unseemly attempt to make political hay out of the deaths of the four American diplomatic personnel on the night of the tragedy.

On Sept. 11, as events were still unfolding, Romney rushed out a statement that got the chronology of events wrong. Romney chastised the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for issuing a statement that had sought to head off protests by condemning an American anti-Islamic video that was circulating on YouTube.

But Romney reversed the order of events. Romney’s statement transformed the embassy’s preemptive criticism of the video into an expression of sympathy by the Obama administration for the people who attacked U.S. diplomatic outposts in Egypt and, fatally, in Libya.

In Benghazi, the assault involved an extremist militia and led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three of his aides. Shortly after 10 p.m. EDT on that night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi.”

However, Romney saw an opening to hammer home his beloved theme that President Obama “apologizes for America.” Disregarding the actual chronology, i.e. that the message by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo preceded the mob attacks, Romney put out a statement at 10:24 p.m., which declared: “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.”

Romney’s statement ignored Secretary Clinton’s stern words, which represented the first official response from a senior member of the Obama administration. However, rather than correct his mistake the next day, Romney expanded on his criticism of the embassy officials in Cairo. Romney said, “The Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake.”

Romney’s impetuous rhetoric both then and again in Tuesday night’s debate  reflects a politician who doesn’t care about truth or fairness. After all, this was a guy who framed his nominating convention in Tampa around an Obama quote wrenched out of context “You didn’t built that” with the “that” applied to the wrong antecedent, individual businesses when Obama was clearly referring to roads, bridges and infrastructure.

It didn’t seem to matter to Romney or his Republican supporters that they were railing against a misplaced antecedent. Similarly, it hasn’t mattered to the Right that Obama was born in Hawaii, not in Kenya, a fact established by Hawaii’s birth records.

Besides feeding the racist passions of neo-Confederates who can’t countenance an African-American as a legitimate President of the United States, the “birther” conspiracy theory guarantees you admittance into “right-wing world” through a defiant repudiation of the “reality-based community.”

Referencing Obama’s purported Kenyan birth is like a passport that lets through the gates of “right-wing world.” That is perhaps the best way to understand Romney’s allusion to the crypto-racist smear when, in Michigan on Aug. 24, he pointed out the hospital where he was born, declaring “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.”

Romney’s insistence that Obama lied about the terror attack in Benghazi is another part of Romney establishing his bona fides with “right-wing world” where the assumption is that Obama must be a liar and a fraud, how else to explain the fact that he is in the White House. In the first debate, the Right loved Romney’s demeaning comparison of Obama to his five sons who repeat the same lie until they think it passes as true.

The Freak-Out

And perhaps the best way to understand the freak-out among Obama’s supporters that followed the President’s lackluster performance in the first debate is to realize that the “reality-based community” still suffers from flashbacks to the years of George W. Bush.

These folks have post-traumatic-stress nightmares about that era when right-wing propaganda trumped all and those who protested Bush’s actions, such as his invasion of Iraq, were marginalized and demeaned as unpatriotic or as enemies of the state.

For better or worse, Obama with his rhetorical skills is seen as the champion of the “reality-based community” against the return of “right-wing world” to dominance. Obama’s reelection is the last barrier against the restoration of the arrogant neocons to control of U.S. foreign policy and the victory of the Tea Party’s anti-government extremists.

In the first debate, Obama’s supporters bewailed his tepid reaction to Romney’s lies, such as Romney’s claim that his $5 trillion tax cut wasn’t a tax cut at all, that it magically would be revenue-neutral, and Romney’s bald-faced assertion that his health-care plan covered pre-existing conditions when even his advisers acknowledged that the plan only applied to those already with insurance.

Though Obama did point out Romney’s inconsistencies, the President didn’t do it with the verve that his supporters wanted. They wanted Obama to rub Romney’s face in his lies. When that didn’t happen, the fragile psyches of liberals and progressives almost visibly cracked. Their panic may have done more to guarantee Romney’s post-debate bounce than Obama’s weak debate showing.

Seeing the “reality-based community” in frantic disarray, “right-wing world” realized it had found a new hero in the unlikely person of Mitt Romney. Indeed, much of the Republican primary scramble had centered on who could best humiliate the biracial President so intensely hated by “right-wing world.” Romney earned plenty of credit for having done so in the first debate.

Stunned by the out-sized reaction to his politeness in the first debate, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were not about to make that miscalculation again. Biden and then Obama took the fight to Paul Ryan and Romney, respectively.

Even on relatively minor points, such as Romney’s claim that he wanted to expand the Pell Grant program for needy students, Obama challenged Romney’s honesty and noted how the Obama administration had cut out the banks’ middleman role, freeing up billions of dollars for students.

The New York Times’ fact-checkers concurred with Obama regarding Romney’s claimed support for more Pell Grants, though they politely referred to it as “a new position for him.” The Times noted that Romney had earlier vowed to “refocus Pell Grants dollars on the students who need them most,” which was interpreted as a plan to cut back and narrow the program. Romney also has favored restoring the banks’ middleman role.

Romney led with his chin again during closing remarks when he rhapsodized about how he cared about 100 percent of the American people. That gave Obama the opening in the last minute of the debate to contrast that claim with Romney’s videotaped comments from last May when Romney disparaged “the 47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes as moochers who won’t take personal responsibility.

Obama noted that the group includes retirees who worked all their lives, hard-working people who simply don’t earn a lot of money, and soldiers fighting America’s wars. Because Romney had sought to preempt Obama’s attack by mentioning “the 100 percent,” he unwittingly let down his guard for a devastating final punch on “the 47 percent.”

While it’s unclear if the second debate will slow or reverse Romney’s surge in many polls, Obama’s performance at least steadied his supporters and left them little to complain about. For at least one night, the most prominent defender of the “reality-based community” stood at the gates and fought back against the incursion of “right-wing world.”

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

15 comments for “Mitt Romney’s ‘Perry Mason’ Moment

  1. hogorina
    October 23, 2012 at 20:19

    Get rid of the scumbags in politics that hold America into an international network syndicated Grand Orient political philosophy.


  2. calzone
    October 18, 2012 at 07:24

    As the advertising industry discovered decades ago, you sell far more products by appealing to people’s emotions than you do be appealing to their intellect. Back in the 1950s, ads always included some sort of appeal to experts, such as “9 out of 10 doctors agree,” but how many commercials do you see on TV these days that still use that approach?

    The fact is, most people don’t know and don’t care what the facts are, and are much more susceptible to emotional appeals than to factual appeals. This is why the GOP is attempting this rather unprecedented strategy in this election cycle, in which their entire line of attack is about 100% fact-free. Fox News has been working for many years now to delude and confuse huge segments of the population, and now the politicians are attempting to “close the deal” by running campaigns based on pure fabrications. These fabrications run the gamut from false numbers on budget to the myth of voter fraud, which they are attempting to use as a way to reintroduce Jim Crow.

    It might not work this time around, but the trend is clear, and like most of these strategies, once it starts working for one party, the other party will attempt to coopt it. The two-party system is a miserable failure, and as long as both the Democrats and Republicans continue to shut out real alternative voices from these so-called “debates,” the system will continue to degenerate into a lying free-for-all.

  3. RichardKanePA
    October 18, 2012 at 04:05

    You didn’t start from the beginning the Hate Islam film trailer that was supposed to generate enough trouble for Obama to look incompetent. As if to prevent the Libertarians from getting on the ballot in Pennsylvania, provocators would cut people off the highway and show them the finger, hoping that down the road would be a traffic jam blocking the Libertarians from getting their petitions to get on the ballot in on time,

    The following link is similar to what I kept emailing Consortium News about, hoping for publication

  4. John Atkins
    October 17, 2012 at 23:25

    Boring borat: moron boron…. Your vocablulary is very limited and you seem incapable to have a coherent thought.
    Always the same thing. Are you not tired of yourself? What a bore you are.
    If you can’t be objective at all, why bother posting here? You are wasting your time and everyone is ridiculing you. You make the situation for yourself and your Zionists worse by showing how ignorant you are.
    I hope you do not represent the rest of your country.

  5. moron
    October 17, 2012 at 18:01

    Mr. Parry- You were right to fact check and point out how Romney brazenly tried to ‘mitpick’ and sell an obviously concocted and flawed narrative, and Paul Pillar (in “Exploiting the Benghazi Attack”, was right earlier in pointing out the inherent dangers of diplomacy as a line of work and the limitation of resources and of the frequent lack of real time information, but Ray McGovern (in his “The Real Blame for Deaths in Libya, hit the nail on the head when he said: ‘It’s the policy stupid’. The tightest security measures reinforced by squads of Marines cannot compensate for the fallout from a stupid policy of bombing and violent “regime change” in Libya and elsewhere in the Muslim world”. Moreover, the photo ops with Stevens in his Western business suit escorting John McCain, showing the two of them strutting proudly through the streets, or the horrendously undignified threats, challenges and comments by our hapless Secretary of State, such as the one about Qadaafi (‘we came, he saw, he died’ hah, hah, hah….) that is viewable by anyone on YouTube, all of which seem to have been intended to humiliate Arab dignity while compelling or coercing compliance, were not only foolhardy and uncivilized, but they betrayed her essential weakness as a diplomat (her husband’s electioneering for her 2016 Presidential run, notwithstanding). Furthermore, if what we have heard from Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power (and Suzanne Nossel- now at Amnesty International) is what we can expect from the women who have risen to top positions of power in our State Department, then like Albright and Condoleeza Rice, and from their male neocon counterparts in the present and prior Administrations that they have so emulated, they all deserve a good ‘slap down‘ and stiff jail terms, when they are held to account.

    At the same time, to hear John McCain as a shill for Romney now claim that Obama’s leadership has been weak in his execution of policy in Libya, when McCain’s (and Romney’s) would not only be foolhardy, but would lead to the veritable conflagration and “Gottedamerung” McCain lusted after in Vietnam, is one more confirmation that he himself should be medically examined and committed to an asylum (and not the ones our Congress and repeated Administrations have constructed for ourselves here and in the Middle East).

  6. Jym Allyn
    October 17, 2012 at 17:19

    Rationality and Truth have little or nothing to do with the Republican agenda. Republican “Truthiness” is more akin to the inability of alcoholics not knowing when they are lying even when they are sober.

    To pose the “truth” or identify Republican lies is a waste of time and effort because they won’t believe you because they don’t want to believe you.

    The real hope is that the half of the 46% of voters who don’t believe in Evolution and who are likely Gullible Old Phools supporting Romney are also Evangelicals. Evangelicals don’t believe that Mormons (or Catholics) are “Real Christians” so it is probable that many of these “likely Romney” voters will actually NOT vote rather than violate their conscious and vote for a Heretic.

  7. charlie Levenson
    October 17, 2012 at 15:10

    If Obama had really wanted to hit Romney about the 47% comment, he would have added, “so I must politely wonder if Mr. Romney was lying to get people to invest in his campaign then or if he’s lying to get people to vote for him now.”

  8. nora king
    October 17, 2012 at 14:55

    Great piece. Now, the Della Street moment: the binders full of women were filled by Liz Levin BEFORE Mitt Romney became Gov. Romney. Levin, an Obama supporter, worked in 2002 with other women to put together a talent portfolio of women qualified to serve in govt. posts. The project was not driven by Mittens in any way.

  9. Chuck Zlatkin
    October 17, 2012 at 14:41

    I’m a bit confused. Do you really believe that if the liberal-progressive base held their responses in check and didn’t articulate their collective dismay, everything would have been fine? It was the panic of the left that gave Romney his first debate bounce? Watching the first debate with Romney supporters and a few independents as well, I saw their responses as the debate happened. The right-wingers didn’t have to wait for pundits or liberal reaction to know that their guy killed. One independent who claimed to be undecided before the debate. was troubled by Obama’s performance, wondering out loud what was wrong with him. The bounce that Romney got after the first debate was handed to him by Obama’s poor performance, not the behavior of Obama’s supporters afterward.

    • Robert Locke
      October 18, 2012 at 19:19

      I was with a group of self-described progressives during the first debate and they all immediately leapt to the conclusion that Obama had lost, all on style. Romney, as one couldn’t help note, said NOTHING of substance, the same 5 points again and again, including thrice: “I am going to cut the deficit by giving unemployed people high-paying jobs and the high taxes on those salaries is all we need.”

      Of course Obama thought that all that was necessary was to say, “Your math is impossible, Governor.” The audience should have required no more than that, each time Romney articulated such a ridiculous statement.

      But progressives as a group contain a lot of belly-achers. “Well, Obama didn’t say it the way I wanted him to say it!”

      They wanted blood, and they knew that Obama could easily have drawn blood, but did not. I think that he CHOSE not to.

      Obama, a black man hated by perhaps as many as 47% (who keeps such a poll?), would have opened himself up to all sorts of criticism had he done that. It should be enough to say, “That is not true. That makes no sense. Your math doesn’t add up.”

      In the second debate Obama did become more direct with his accusations of Romney’s lying. But is more direct more forceful?

      Yes, the progressive, liberal Obama supporters did let Obama down, opening the door for all of those incredible ejaculations about a huge win for Romney when he presented no more than five full ideas, if that, all unsupported, and all as idiotic as the one I paraphrase above.

      I don’t mind anyone’s saying, “Obama was more subdued than Romney.” But to say Romney won when the only real facts were presented by the President, the only supported ideas by the President, the only accomplishments those enumerated by the President, and these in the face of a hostile Congress?????

      Progressives, take responsibility for having given Romney this surge, and let us hope that it is as short-lived as it deserves to be. Even some of the people reading are blow-hards.

    • gregorylkruse
      October 19, 2012 at 05:52

      I also take issue with Parry’s assessment. If the liberals and progressives had refused to believe their eyes and ears, they would have been like Fox News, the all-denial network. I don’t like most of Obama’s policies, but I firmly believe that he is a wily politician. I think Romney surprised him and his crew with his audacious pivot, but I also think that Obama’s game plan was to rope-a-dope, give Romney lots of rope, and perhaps he would hang himself on a railing. Then there is the sport season wisdom to not peak at the wrong time, knowing that there were two more debates that Romney wouldn’t have time to recover from if he didn’t keep clearing the bar he set for himself in the first one.

  10. Maheanuu
    October 17, 2012 at 14:25

    Why is it that Republicans seem to continually lie throuth their teeth and then smile smarmily at the camera expecting to be believed? I have not believed a word any Repig has said even befor Nixon. 99.9999% of these greedy bastards are either “Me Firsters, or Fundie Nuts who should be put away for life for their own protection.

    Do I likie Repigs? No, I loathe the Bastards, I left the country of my birth because of them, and have pretty much left my blood family due to their ignorance and right wing leanings. I have abandoned all of my “So Called Friends” who are of the Reich Wing persuasion or of the Fundie beliefs.

    I no longer live in the country of my birth and in fact am a citizen of the “Adult” country I immigrated to…. I haven’t regretted my actions for a moment.

    Just this old Chief’s 2 cents

  11. Neil Farbstein
    October 17, 2012 at 13:56

    Romney lies through his teeth! The enw york times caught him last night.

    “Even on relatively minor points, such as Romney’s claim that he wanted to expand the Pell Grant program for needy students, Obama challenged Romney’s honesty and noted how the Obama administration had cut out the banks’ middleman role, freeing up billions of dollars for students.

    The New York Times’ fact-checkers concurred with Obama regarding Romney’s claimed support for more Pell Grants, though they politely referred to it as “a new position for him.” The Times noted that Romney had earlier vowed to “refocus Pell Grants dollars on the students who need them most,” which was interpreted as a plan to cut back and narrow the program. Romney also has favored restoring the banks’ middleman role.”

    Dont vote for that con man. Nobody knows where he stands on the issues. Dont trust him.

    • John Atkins
      October 17, 2012 at 23:17

      All you need to do is look at Rob-me’s ‘bloinking’ little pig eyes, in addition to his whiny voice, to know that he is not gifted.

  12. Neil Farbstein
    October 17, 2012 at 13:47

    Romny is full of it. He’s the biggest liar ever to run in the presidential race.

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