Ari Fleischer Slams Media 'Double Standard' on Foreign Policy

GOP strategist Ari Fleischer set the record straight about the media infatuation with Mitt Romney's statements on the embassy attacks. On Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360, he called out the media's "double standard" and defended Romney's criticism of the Obama administration.

"Debates about foreign policy are an absolute vital part of our democracy and I don't know why the media is rushing to criticize Mitt Romney for criticizing a foreign policy when they did not do that to Barack Obama or John Kerry when they exercised their right to criticize Republican foreign policy," stated Fleischer.

"In fact in July, 2008, nine servicemen were killed in one day in Afghanistan. On that very day, Barack Obama weighed in to criticize George Bush and John McCain's foreign policy. And I don't remember any of this media double standard saying to Senator Obama, isn't it inappropriate for you to criticize the foreign policy of the person you're running against on a day when people died? It's a double standard," insisted Fleischer.

Fleischer responded to CNN's Anderson Cooper running another critical "Keeping Them Honest" report on Mitt Romney. Cooper fact-checked his criticism of a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that it sympathized with the attackers, when the statement was released before the attack.

However, Cooper himself admitted that the embassy stood by its earlier statement after the attack took place. Fleischer jumped all over that admission.

"I'm glad to see that you put the piece up at the end where the administration officials in Egypt, which are our State Department, part of the Obama administration, reiterated support for that initial foolish misguided statement after the attack took place," he told Cooper.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on September 12 on Anderson Cooper 360 at 8:21 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[8:21]

ANDERSON COOPER: Ari, the government – the governor said last night that the administration's first response to the death of an American had been to apologize. Now regardless of what someone may think of Governor Romney's statement, isn't it clear from the timeline that the heart of his attack was not accurate? That statement from the embassy was put out before the assault on – before the assault on the consulate in Benghazi, and is a tweet by an embassy worker, really administration – a statement by the Obama administration.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN political contributor: Anderson, I thought you did a good job walking people through the timeline and I'm glad to see that you put the piece up at the end where the administration officials in Egypt, which are our State Department, part of the Obama administration, reiterated support for that initial foolish misguided statement after the attack took place.

What I would have done if I was advising Mitt Romney was I would have made sure there was a clear reference to that – that the administration stood by our Egyptian embassy's earlier statement. I think if they had done that they'd have been on more solid ground, but I think Mitt Romney is making a broader, bigger point about the Obama administration policies.

COOPER: But wait, wait. Sorry, but wasn't the administration's stand -- because the administration basically retracted the statement. That was the statement from the administration. It was the embassy which reiterated the statement and said, and we also criticize the breach of the embassy.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's a fine distinction but I don't think you can separate an embassy from the administration. The embassy is a tool, an arm of the administration. I say that in the benevolent sense of a tool. That is what administrations do. They have embassies that represent the administration.

(Crosstalk)

COOPER: But some embassy worker who's worried about getting attacked, is that really fair?

FLEISCHER: If it's good enough for the administration to disown the statement, it's good enough for Mitt Romney to also criticize the statement. It shouldn't be only one party just to criticize the statement. They both should. That was a terrible statement. It represented American weakness. A retreat on American values. And the bigger point here is that when American officials make apologies to the Muslim world so we don't offend Muslim feelings by backtracking on American values, it shows weakness and it invites more trouble. It doesn't avoid trouble.

(...)

COOPER: Ari, given that, at that point last night at 10:25, whenever it was, full details weren't known. We didn't know if the threat, if the attack was still going on. We knew one person was dead. We didn't know if they were an American citizen. Who they were, we didn't know it was the ambassador, we didn't know the other people had died as well. Should he have just waited? I mean is it inappropriate in the heat of a political campaign to weigh in when American lives are in the balance?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a great question. But let me remind people about what John Kerry said about George Bush in 2004, and certainly what Barack Obama said about John McCain and George Bush in 2008. Cornell has an interesting new standard that in 2012, the Republican candidate should not weigh in at a time when there are deaths, talking about the interesting – the important differences in foreign policy approaches.

Yet certainly that is exactly what John Kerry did regularly to George Bush, as was his right, while people were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, as it was Barack Obama's right. But I don't remember people criticizing either John Kerry or Barack Obama for criticizing the Bush and-or McCain foreign policy. In fact in July, 2008, nine servicemen were killed in one day in Afghanistan.

On that very day, Barack Obama weighed in to criticize George Bush and John McCain's foreign policy. And I don't remember any of this media double standard saying to Senator Obama, isn't it inappropriate for you to criticize the foreign policy of the person you're running against on a day when people died? It's a double standard – Anderson.

COOPER: Is it the same thing, though? That's an ongoing war where, you know, if you say you can't comment on anything about an ongoing war that goes on for years at a time, and you can't make any statements. This is a thing where hours matter and we don't know if people are alive or dead. We don't know if the attack if is still going on.

FLEISCHER: Anderson, this has been a 20-year war against Muslim terrorists who attack our country. Who struck four times in the Clinton administration, once in the Bush administration and now once in the Obama administration. This is a ongoing war too. Debates about foreign policy are an absolute vital part of our democracy and I don't know why the media is rushing to criticize Mitt Romney for criticizing a foreign policy when they did not do that to Barack Obama or John Kerry when they exercised their right to criticize Republican foreign policy.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014