Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said late Tuesday that the Obama administration's first response to the attacks on the embassy in Cairo and consultate in Benghazi, Libya, "was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks" He called the response "disgraceful".
The following morning, he told reporters, "The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached," adding, "Protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. That instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America’s values is never the right course."
His remarks were in response to a statement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo that condemned a movie mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad -- a statement aimed at calming passions before violence occurred.
"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others," the embassy's statement said.
Romney's criticism of what he considers to be the Obama administration's soft response to Middle East events significantly mischaracterized the statement and its timing, earning him the Whopper of the Week, a distinction given by the Washington Guardian to the week's most inaccurate, misleading or badly chosen statements by officials or politicians.
The statement Romney referred to was issued by the Cairo embassy at 6:18 a.m. EDT, Tuesday -- before the attacks on the embassy or consultate occurred. However, the embassy did tweet about 14 hours later -- after the attacks -- that "this morning's condemnation ... still stands."
Romney first criticized the embassy statement in a news release issued with an embargo -- an instruction that news agencies not use it until early Wednesday morning.
The first official administration response after the violence was a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issued almost simultaneously with Romney's embargoed statement. It explicitly condemned the attack in Libya.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today," Clinton said in a written statement received by The Associated Press at 10:08 p.m., a minute before Romeny's statement arrived. "As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss."
Sixteen minutes after Clinton's statement was issued, Romney's campaign authorized news organizations to use his statement immediately instead of waiting for midnight.
Whether because of Romney's criticism or its own misgivings, the administration distanced itself from the embassy's statement.
"That statement was not coordinated with Washington. It was taken down," a senior administration official told AP. The news agency also reported that the reaffirming tweet had been deleted.
"The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government," an official told Politico.
Romney was accurate when he said that Obama shares responsibility for the actions of of the ambassadors and diplomatic personnel who represent the country.
Romney obviously disagrees with Obama on foreign policy, and whether the administration's response to the attacks has been too tepid is a matter of political debate. But the GOP nominee simply got his facts wrong when he characterized a call for religious tolerance -- a call which contained an affirmation of the value of free speech -- as an apology for American values; when he said it had been issued after the violence, when it in fact had been issued before the Cairo embassy walls had been breached or the attack on the Benghazi consultate had occurred; and when he said the first administration reaction failed to condemn the attacks, when it in fact did condemn them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.