Timeline: The Romney Campaign's Odd Response to the Embassy Protests

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 12 2012 9:43 AM

Timeline: The Romney Campaign's Odd Response to the Embassy Protests

It's a simple story, but it's got enough moving parts to be worth retelling in brief. So:

- A group of Coptic Christians, now understandably in hiding, released a baffling satirical video that mocked Muhummad. (You can see the video here.)

- Over several days, the video plays about as well as the 2006 "Danish cartoons" did. Early on Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Egypt (home to many Coptics) releases a statement that "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." (The embassy itself, as CNBC reports, had been partially emptied before the statement was made.) The statement is tweeted at 6:11 a.m. Eastern time.

- Despite that overture, protests break out at the embassy—culminating in the raising of a black-and-white flag that resembles the icon of al-Qaida. At 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, the embassy's Twitter account reiterates that it "stands by" the statement.

- In the next few hours, as America's embassy in Benghazi, Libya, is attacked, the Obama administration and the State Department distance themselves from the Egyptian embassy's press release. The embassy's statement is disavowed; Hillary Clinton says this:

The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

Politico's Byron Tau posted that at 10:06 p.m. ET.

- At 10:09 p.m. ET, the Romney campaign sends out a statement to reporters. It's "embargoed until midnight tonight," i.e., until after the 9/11 anniversary. Romney:

I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

At 10:24, the campaign lifts the embargo and reporters start mentioning the statement.

- At 12:01 a.m. ET, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweets:

Screen shot 2012-09-12 at 9.29.46 AM

Notice that the timestamp says "9:01 p.m." Twitter's website is cued to Pacific Time. Both the RNC and the Romney campaign were honoring a 9/11 embargo that ended only when 9/12 came to the Eastern time zone.

It was only after this that the extent of the attacks in Benghazi became known. I think that's why, today, you're seeing the GOP leadership in Congress—Cantor, Boehner—condemn the attacks without mentioning the Obama administration at all. No one else is trudging into that particular tar pit.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.