During a press briefing on Wednesday, deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf condemned the beheading of American journalist James Foley by Islamic terrorists while adding that the threat posed by the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) “is not about the United States and what we do.”
That comment led Associated Press reporter Matt Lee to ask if President Barack Obama's speech the day before -- in which he called for “a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread” -- was a sign that “you’re actually going to do something” about terrorism.
"I think ISIL wants to make this about the United States and our actions,” Harf said before asserting that the president was actually calling for “countries in the region” to come together and “fight a shared threat, and this is not about us."
When she said the department has no evidence that any governments are supporting the group, Lee interrupted to ask why Obama stated: “From governments and peoples across the Middle East, … there has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies.”
“You’re reading something into that statement that I don’t think is actually there,” Harf replied.
“Well, I’m reading into this that you’re actually going to do something,” Lee fired back.
Harf responded that Obama’s call to action was not a veiled accusation aimed at other countries, saying: “What the president was referring to” was that “all of the countries need to come together to fight ISIL in any way we can.”
“You’re linking it to a specific piece and think -- and reading into it an accusation that I don’t actually think is there,” she added.
Lee stated: “If you’re already happy with what the people and governments around the Middle East are doing to extract the cancer, why would” Obama say what he did?
“I’m not trying to be confrontational,” he added. “I’m just trying to figure out, if you need all the governments to work together -- do you think that they’re not all working together now?”
“Clearly, there’s more we can all do to fight ISIL,” Harf responded, but she said that Obama’s statement “was not intended for any specific country.”
Foley, who was captured in Syria in 2012, was the first American to be murdered in Iraq by ISIS, which posted a video showing the beheading on YouTube and threatened to kill another captive U.S. journalist -- Time magazine contributor Steven Sotloff -- unless Obama halts the airstrikes he ordered this month against the group.
The video also warned Obama that his actions “will result in the bloodshed of your people.”
After the president stated on Tuesday that the journalist's death “shocks the conscience of the entire world,” he stressed: "One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
One day later, Harf told reporters there was “no justification” for Foley’s killing, but she couldn’t say how the Obama Administration plans to respond to the militant terrorist group now that its members have murdered a U.S. citizen.
The Democratic occupant of the White House also stated on Tuesday that “no just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by people who build and not destroy.”
Harf also emphasized the administration’s view that ISIS does not accurately represent Islam as a whole.
“ISIL does not operate in the name of any religion. The president has been very clear about that, and the more we can underscore that, the better,” she explained.
As NewsBusters previously reported, ABC News has stated that the Obama team knew in advance of the ISIS plan to kill a U.S. journalist.
On the Wednesday edition of MSNBC's Hardball weekday program, host Chris Matthews responded angrily to the president's remarks: “This is an attack on our country; we have to react to it.”
Wednesday's incident isn't the first time Lee became the news instead of reporting it.
In a tweet in late July, he posted: “Looks like phase one of new US peace strategy to p*ss everyone off so much they stop fighting each other & turn on Kerry is working.”
Lee later stated that his message was “a joke,” demonstrating that a sense of humor is not required for someone to work at the Associated Press.