On Friday, Hugh Hewitt asked CNN anchor Candy Crowley about her infamous fact-check heard 'round the world during the "town hall style" presidential debate at Hofstra University. Her general self-assessment? The journalistic equivalent of a solid B-plus:
HH: I have to begin by asking you about the debate, obviously, since it’s the first time I’ve talked to you since then. Looking back at not just your role but the media generally, are you happy with how it turned out? Is it pride, misgivings or both?
CC: Do you mean about the debate itself?
CC: Oh, no. I thought in the series of debates that you saw, whether it was Jim Lehrer or Bob Schieffer, Martha Raddatz or myself, that what you saw was a reflection of the styles of the four people, and you got a really good idea as to who these candidates were. So I’m good with it. I do think that the compilation and the, you know, what the Commission wanted to do was kind of have one debate build on another. I think they accomplished that, and I think more than that, because it’s not about the Debate Commission, it’s about the voters. I think they got a good view of these men under varying circumstances.
HH: Now there was some pretty ferocious criticism directed at you, Candy. Here’s Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.
HH: Then AEI’s Stan Veuger called it “an outrageous intervention” in which you “shamelessly provided cover for the President’s lies”, and then following, Charles Krauthammer on Fox said this.
HH: Now what do you think about this, Candy? I’ve been defending you for years as one of the best in the business. But you get all of these conservative critics of how the debate went. How do you react to it?
CC: You know, I, look, in the sense that this is a free country, there’s certainly, anybody is willing, anybody certainly has the ability to criticize, the freedom to criticize. I think if you go back and look at that Rose Garden statement, remember we were talking about one specific thing – what happened in the Rose Garden. I stand by it. Do I understand that conservatives thought this was a missed opportunity? I’ll tell you, the only thing I objected to all along was the idea that there was a motivating force to somehow support the President or somehow undermine Mitt Romney. And I can, it is one thing that actually I don’t like about politics anymore is that everyone’s always looking at everybody else’s motivation and can’t possibly know. So I think the motivation stuff bothers me, but certainly, you know, criticism is part of the game.
Immediately after the debate, Crowley admitted that Romney's broad point was correct, but her real-time intervention in front of 65 million viewers made it seem as though Obama's misleading characterization was accurate. If conservatives want to point that out, she shrugs, it's "a free country." Later in the discussion, Hugh asked if she might have approached the exchange differently if she'd seen excerpts of the president's September 12 interview with 60 minutes, a crucial portion of which CBS News mysteriously suppressed for weeks:
HH: Now Candy, would you have interjected the same way if you had seen that 60 Minutes excerpt before the debate?
CC: Had I seen it before the debate, you know what, Hugh, no. But let’s again remember that this was about what he said in the Rose Garden. And what he said in the Rose Garden, this was the day after the September 11th attack. He was referring to the attack, and he was talking about the attack in Benghazi. That’s why he was in the Rose Garden. He went on to talk about 9/11, and then he said these acts of terror, blah, blah, blah, and today we mourn, he mentions those folks that were murdered in Libya. So we were talking about that specific moment in that specific Rose Garden.
A laudable moment of self-reflection and honesty, followed by more dissembling. The fact is that Obama did not specifically refer to Benghazi as a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden, a point with which he concurred when the CBS News interviewer pointed out that the White House was conspicuously downplaying the terrorism angle. (That interview occurred on the same day as the president's Rose Garden statement). That was the crux of Romney's point. Hugh also pressed Crowley on why she cut Romney off during his answer on Fast & Furious, and asked whether she believes the White House still has a lot of explaining to do on Benghazi (Answer: yes). On the whole, I agree with Crowley's bottom-line conclusion that the debate she moderated did not change the outcome of the election, but it certainly impacted certain dynamics. For instance, Romney seemed to shy away from Benghazi criticism after that second debate, barely even touching the topic during the candidates' final meeting. Maybe he was a little spooked by Crowley's commentary on behalf of the president. More likely, he was intentionally avoiding a confrontation, based on a misplaced sense that he was winning -- thanks to flawed internal polling. So the Hewitt/Crowley discussion is less about assigning blame for the result of an election, and more of an interesting glimpse into how the media sees its role and judges its own performance.