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CNN editor claims in internal memo -- Crowley did a 'superb job'

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Oct. 16, 2012: Moderator Candy Crowley, center, addresses President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate.AP/EPA Pool

The firestorm over the role of the moderator at the second presidential debate shows no signs of dying down. 

First came Tuesday night's event at Hofstra and before it was over there was a major controversy over whether moderator Candy Crowley should have interceded on President Obama’s behalf. 

But wait, there's more. Now we have her managing editor at CNN, Mark Whitaker, sending out an internal memo defending her performance, calling it a “superb job.”

In the memo, first made public by the website TMZ, Whitaker ignores the fact that Crowley herself publicly admitted after the debate that she wasn’t entirely correct when she said Obama did describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya as a terrorist act in a Rose Garden statement one day later. 

Mitt Romney said the president didn’t do it until weeks after the attack. He said on Tuesday night that the president continued to say the Sept. 11 attack that killed our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans was the result of anger at an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States and seen on YouTube.

"He did in fact call it an 'act of terror,'" Crowley said in the debate. She was referring to the part of Obama’s statement on Sept. 12 that "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."

When a post-debate fact check of the transcript revealed that Obama was not directly referring to the Libya attack when he described “acts of terror,” Crowley revised her own remarks conceding that Romney “was right in the main.”

It is correct that Obama was not specifically referring to the Libya attack, but to terror attacks in general when he said, “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.”

In his internal memo to her colleagues at CNN Crowley’s editor makes no mention of the anchor’s revised statements. He blames the flap on sour grapes on the part of Romney supporters “no doubt because their man did not have as good a night (in the second debate) as he had in Denver.”

The memo continues, “On the legitimacy of Candy fact-checking Romney on Obama's Rose Garden statement, it should be stressed that she was just stating a point of fact: Obama did talk about an act (or acts) of terror, no matter what you think he meant by that at the time.”

It appears Crowley knew what the president meant when she checked the transcript afterward. Why didn’t her editor know? His remarks sound as much a defense of Obama as a defense of his anchor. 

Whitaker also defended Crowley, and the president, on why Obama got more time to speak than Romney.

“It should be noted that Candy and her commission producers tried to keep it even but that Obama went on longer largely because he speaks more slowly,” the memo said. “We're going to do a word count to see whether, as in Denver, Romney actually got more words in even if he talked for a shorter period of time.”

Whitaker’s defense goes on to say that Crowley had to perform her moderating task “under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.” But in fact, Crowley herself contributed to those “difficult circumstances” by granting several pre-debate interviews. She painted a target on her back by saying she would not be a passive observer and that she planned to ask follow-up questions to Obama and Romney on answers that might have evaded the questions asked.

For her efforts, Crowley found out the hard way that being a tough reporter and being a fair moderator are two different tasks.

Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches politics and journalism at American University and in the Fund for American Studies program at Georgetown University.  As a reporter, Benedetto covered every presidential campaign since 1984.