Washington Post Fact Checker: Obama taking revisionist history too far

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 13: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the East Room of the White House May 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. The two leaders discussed the prospect of an European Union-United States trade deal and the ongoing civil war in Syria. During his three-day visit to the United States, Cameron will also be briefed by the FBI about the Boston Marathon bombings and will travel to New York to take part in United Nations talks on new development goals.Credit: Getty Images

Eight months after the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, the debate on whether President Barack Obama immediately identified the incident as a terrorist attack continues.

The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism,” Obama said at a press conference on Monday. Though Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler has written several times before about what exactly Obama actually said that day and what he meant, Kessler is once again examining the issue. This time, he’s turning up the heat.

“The president’s claim that he said ‘act of terrorism’ is taking revisionist history too far,” Kessler wrote in a post Tuesday, “given that [Obama] repeatedly refused to commit to that phrase when asked directly by reporters in the weeks after the attack.”

Kessler noted (once again) that though Obama did actually use the phrase “act of terror” after the attack, it was done “in vague terms, usually wrapped in a patriotic fervor.” In essence, it wasn’t clear that Obama was specifically referring to the Benghazi attack as a terrorist attack when he said “act of terror.” Most importantly, Obama didn’t say “terrorism” at all the day after the attack. He said “act of terror” and in subsequent remarks, declined to address the incident as a terrorist attack.

Indeed, in an interview with CBS immediately after the Benghazi attack, Obama was asked if he believed it was “a terrorist attack.” Obama responded, “It’s too early to know how this came about, what group was involved. But obviously it was an attack on Americans.” He continued, “I don’t want to jump the gun on this.”

Splitting hairs? Kessler preemptively defended himself from that charge in a previous post:

The Fact Checker spent nine years as diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, and such nuances of phrasing are often very important. A president does not simply utter virtually the same phrase three times in two days about a major international incident without careful thought about the implications of each word.

In previous posts on the topic, Kessler has not issued any “Pinocchios” for Obama’s claim that he immediately labeled the Benghazi incident as a terrorist attack. In the latest post, however, Kessler gives Obama four. According to the rating scale, four Pinocchios is reserved for claims believed to be “whoppers.”

Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House national security council, previously defended the administration from Kessler’s assessment on the issue, noting that former President George W. Bush used the phrase “act of terror” while visiting victims hospitalized by the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Follow Eddie Scarry on Twitter @eScarry