The 2nd presidential debate was even worse than I expected

Published 8:16 am Friday, October 19, 2012

During the dark days of the Great Depression, an old friend of Willie Highgrass invited him to his farm to hunt quail. It was a social occasion to which both host and guest looked forward, but neither discounted the happy prospects of some meat for the table, too. Scraping up 50 cents for a box of shotgun shells was a decision not lightly made.

The affable and practical host was more interested in fellowship and results than in sportsmanship. Still, Willie was taken aback when — just as they rounded the corner of the barn at the outset of the hunt — his host threw up his gun and leveled on a covey of quail traipsing across the path about 20 yards away.

“You’re not going to shoot ‘em running on the ground, are you?” Willie queried, as diplomatically as he could.

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“Course not,” assured his host. “I’m going to wait until they stop and bunch up.”

With the assistance of moderator Candy Crowley, DEM*, that is just the sort of ambush the president pulled on Mitt Romney on Tuesday night, when Romney challenged him on his response to the Benghazi attack. They shot him on the ground.

Naturally, Obama expected the question and had a response prepared, but the sequence and timing of Obama’s immediate demand to “play the video,” of Crowley’s quick interruption of Romney and interjection of herself into the fray in Obama’s support, plus the simultaneous cheers of the Obama fans in the audience indicate it was much more than a set of fortuitous circumstances for Obama. It was anticipated by the Obama camp to go just as it did, in all aspects.

And Candy Crowley was the *Deus ex Machina who made it work.

Never mind that reviews of the Rose Garden video show that Obama’s assertions that on Sept. 12 he labeled the attack as an act of terror are disingenuous at best. It didn’t happen that way. Never mind that the mass of statements ensuing from himself, his secretary of state, his press secretary, the state department and especially his ambassador to the United Nations focused on a spontaneous response to a video, to the exclusion of a planned, orchestrated terrorist attack, until the deluge of evidence to the contrary overwhelmed them.

Never mind that Crowley interrupted Romney 28 times to nine for Obama during the debate; or that those 28 interruptions do not count the times Obama interrupted Romney or groused in the background with impunity; or that Crowley’s 28 interruptions often occurred, conveniently, just as Romney was trying to complete an answer or point; or that Crowley was wrong to inject herself at all; or that she prompted and cued Obama and set up opportunities for him throughout.

And never mind that she damned Romney with faint, farcical and ineffectual retractions — there and elsewhere — after shooting him on the ground. The damage was done. Romney was cut off at the knees, the moment was lost forever and Obama’s bushwhackers have arm cramps from patting themselves on the back. The moment, contrived and false as it was, is all that most viewers will remember.

Had Crowley not intervened, cut Romney off and championed Obama, none of it would have happened. So the episode begs the question: Why would Obama take such a risk with an easily exposed and disproved calumny — one with a mountain of video evidence to the contrary? Why does he still spin the myth?

The answer is simple: He would do so only if he was certain he was betting a lock — that he could do it with impunity and insulation by the media.

And, to the disgrace of the American media, he was — and is — correct.

The president then told Romney he found suggestions that he or any in his administration would misinform the American people for political reason offensive.

No, Mr. President. What is offensive is that you did it — and that the press joined in the process.

Willie Highgrass’ bushwhacking friend was much more honest.

Sam Griffin retired as publisher and editor of a twice-weekly newspaper, The Post-Searchlight, Bainbridge, Ga., in 2008, after 46 years in community journalism. He is a former president of the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association. He may be contacted at