The Debate's Key Moments: The Libya Question

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The were several big fights in the presidential debate that were target rich for both fact-checkers and GIF makers. In a few cases, what started as a calm, maybe even boring conversation suddenly broke down into pointed fingers and raised voices. We're combining the serious and the fun for to bring you an anatomy of these fights -- in GIFs. First up, Libya and the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi on September 11.


It began slowly -- the words that started the fight didn't immediately cause fireworks. An audience member asked about diplomatic security in Libya. Obama called Romney unpresidential in his response to Libya: Romney was "trying to make political points, and that's not how a commander in chief operates." Romney said that Obama had either misled Americans about what happened in Libya or didn't know, and didn't seem to take it seriously because he went to fundraisers not long after the attack. Obama's Middle East "strategy is unraveling before our very eyes."

Step 1: The provocation

That's when things start to get exciting. "The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened," Obama said. "That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime." This directly contradicted a Republican talking point, and then Obama went further, turning to Romney to reclaim the outrage turf, saying the suggestion he or "anybody on my team" would "play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive."

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Step 2: The call out

Romney can't believe Obama said he called the Benghazi attack a terror attack right away. He is so shocked he needs confirmation and spins around to look at Obama. "I -- I think interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror."

Step 3: The "come at me bro"

Obama nods. According to the Fox transcript, he says, "That's what I said" -- though I couldn't hear that in the video.

Step 4: The escalation

Romney can't believe it. "You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror?" He gives a nod, so sure he is right, requesting confirmation.

Obama nods. "Please proceed governor." He is now wearing his mean face too.

Step 5: The third-party appeal

Both men then appeal to Candy Crowley to say who's right. "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," Romney says as he approaches Crowley. "Get the transcript," Obama snaps from his seat.

Step 6: The reluctant third party

Poor old Crowley doesn't really want to play the role of live fact-checker. "It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror..." Obama wants Crowley to be less reluctant. "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?"

"He -- he did call it an act of terror," Crowley says.

But she gives Romney something to walk away with, too, waving her hands toward both men. "It did as well take -- it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that."

Step 7: Combatants disperse

"It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group," Romney says. "And to suggest -- am I incorrect in that regard, on Sunday, the -- your secretary --" That's when Obama steps in, and there's talking over each other. "I'm happy to have a longer conversation about foreign policy," Obama says. Crowley replies, "Absolutely. But I want to -- I want to move you on and also..." Obama agrees that it's time to move along. "I just want to make sure that ...all of these wonderful folks are going to have a chance to get some of their questions answered." In one of his signature debate moves, Obama signals the fight is over by turning his back on Romney and walking away.

Who was right?

Obama was, mostly. Here's the transcript from Obama's Rose Garden speech September 12.

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. 

On the other hand, for the next two weeks, Obama did not talk about the event being a terror attack, and the administration said there had been protests over the video in Benghazi.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.