The Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) Wednesday evening newscasts devoted more than 9 minutes (9 minutes, 28 seconds) to the flap over Mitt Romney's statement criticizing the administration's handling of the Libyan crisis but spent just 25 seconds on questions regarding Barack Obama's Middle East policy, a greater than 20-to-1 disparity.
NBC's Brian Williams opened the Nightly News telling viewers: "Romney is taking fire tonight for the way he went on the attack politically...somehow [Romney] wanted today to be about America apologizing for its values, even after it became clear today was about the death of an American ambassador and others." CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley dutifully noted: "Democrats said the governor had injected politics into a tragedy." Over on ABC's World News Diane Sawyer announced: "Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney under fire for comments he made about the upheaval as it was unfolding."
Sawyer's colleague Jake Tapper was the only broadcast network reporter to highlight how the Libyan story brings up questions of Obama's Middle-East policies: "But beyond the tone and timing of Romney's attack are larger questions about the President's foreign policy...including questions about security at those diplomatic posts and more broadly what more blowback we can expect from the Arab Spring."
Tapper was also the only reporter who didn't hang Romney with criticism from fellow Republicans. CBS's Jan Crawford and NBC's Chuck Todd both included that claim, although Todd's story was the only one that included a Republican willing to go on camera. After Todd noted: "Some Republicans criticized Romney`s timing," he went to a soundbite from former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan who admonished the former Massachusetts governor: "I don`t feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors. Sometimes, when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go."
The following are transcripts of the relevant segments from the September 12 editions of ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams:
World News with Diane Sawyer
September 12, 2012
DIANE SAWYER: And we turn next and now to a note today from the aftermath of the tragic events in Libya. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney under fire for comments he made about the upheaval as it was unfolding. Fifty-five days to go now before Americans go to the polls, "Your Voice, Your Vote" and ABC's Jake Tapper has the latest on what happened today. Jake?
JAKE TAPPER: Good evening, Diane. President Obama said today that most Americans understand there are times to set politics aside and one of those times is when Americans overseas are in direct threat. And then President Obama took a direct political shot at Mitt Romney, suggesting he's not prepared to be commander-in-chief. As he condemned the attacks, the President today promised justice would be brought.
BARACK OBAMA: There is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence, none. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
TAPPER: And then he left to console shattered State Department employees. Last night when Americans were still in harm's way and Ambassador Stevens was still missing, Mitt Romney went after the President. The object of his ire? This press release from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, condemning the anti-Muslim movie's attempt quote "to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." Romney called it, quote, "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." But the U.S. embassy's statement about the movie was made before the diplomatic posts in Cairo and Libya were attacked. When asked about timing today, Romney stood firm. The embassy had tweeted, post-attack, that its original statement still applied, the campaign said. And as for U.S. personnel still having been in danger?
MITT ROMNEY: It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.
TAPPER: The President responded in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes.
BARACK OBAMA: You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and name later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that.
TAPPER: But beyond the tone and timing of Romney's attack are larger questions about the President's foreign policy.
ROMNEY: American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control.
TAPPER: The President did not take questions from reporters when he came to the Rose Garden today, Diane, but several are outstanding including questions about security at those diplomatic posts and more broadly what more blowback we can expect from the Arab Spring. Diane?
SAWYER: Okay, Jake Tapper reporting in from the White House.
September 12, 2012
SCOTT PELLEY: The protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, that Holly just told us about, touched off a sharp escalation in campaign rhetoric in this country. Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the protesters. Here`s what he was referring to. Before the protesters hit the embassy in Cairo, the embassy said this about that Internet movie. "The embassy condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." After the protesters breached the wall, the embassy said it stood by its statement. That, Romney said today, made matters worse, because the embassy didn`t condemn the protest. Democrats said the governor had injected politics into a tragedy. Here`s chief political correspondent Jan Crawford. Jan?
JAN CRAWFORD: Well, Scott, Romney called the administration`s response disgraceful, and today he kept up the criticism, and he deflected questions that he was speaking out too soon.
MITT ROMNEY: I don`t think we -- we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles. We express immediately when we feel that the President and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America.
CRAWFORD TO ROMNEY: Do you think, though, coming so soon after the events really had unfolded overnight, was appropriate? To be weighing in on this as this crisis is unfolding in real-time?
ROMNEY: The White House also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments and said they were not reflecting of their views. I had the exact same reaction. These views were inappropriate. They were the wrong course to take.
CRAWFORD : What did the White House do wrong, then, Governor Romney, if they put out a statement saying they disagreed with it?
ROMNEY: It`s their administration. The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors. The statement that came from the administration was a, was a statement which is akin to apology, and I think was a severe miscalculation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn`t it itself a mixed signal, when you`ve criticized the administration at a time that Americans are being killed? Shouldn`t politics stop for this?
ROMNEY: It`s also important for me-- just as it was for the White House last night, by the way-- to say that the statements were inappropriate. And in my, in my view, a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.
CRAWFORD: Now, Romney also said the President demonstrated a lack of clarity on foreign policy. Those are tough words, Scott, and many Democrats[sic]-- including some in his own party-- said he probably should have waited at least a day or two. But a senior adviser told me this afternoon that Romney will not hesitate to call out what he sees as failures in the president`s foreign policy.
PELLEY: Jan, thank you. President Obama sat down earlier today for an interview with 60 Minutes. Steve Kroft asked him about the Romney criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA: There`s a broader lesson to be learned here, and, you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I`ve learned is you can`t do that. That it`s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you`ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.
STEVE KROFT, CBS NEWS: Do you think it was irresponsible?
OBAMA: I`ll let the American people judge that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
September 12, 2012
BRIAN WILLIAMS: On our broadcast tonight the crisis following the killing of an American ambassador in Libya, murdered along with three other Americans as the consulate is attacked. The President says justice will be done but what sparked this furious attack? The response is now part of the race for president. Mitt Romney is taking fire tonight for the way he went on the attack politically.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And now to how all of this became political today in the race for President. Mitt Romney somehow wanted today to be about America apologizing for its values, even after it became clear today was about the death of an American ambassador and others in one of two attacks on American interests on 9/11 no less. And instead of backing away Romney doubled-down on his position. Our chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd, has been following the politics of this all day. Chuck, good evening.
CHUCK TODD: Good evening, Brian. Well, last night, Mitt Romney turned the attacks and brought it into the presidential campaign, despite getting criticized even by fellow Republicans for that timing. He stood by that critics today and he eventually drew a rebuke from the president. Mitt Romney, this morning in Jacksonville, a mere 15 minutes before President Obama`s Rose Garden statement amplifying his Tuesday night criticism.
MITT ROMNEY: The administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions.
TODD: The statement Romney referred to was issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo around 6:00 a.m. eastern time Tuesday. It said, in part, "The United States and Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The statement, issued on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was intended to distance the U.S. from the video that had angered protesters in Libya and Egypt. And it led to Romney's first criticism, which then triggered this reaction from the Obama campaign: "We are shocked that at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack." This morning, Romney faced questions about the timing of his initial criticism.
UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Do you think though coming so soon really after the events really had unfolded overnight was appropriate to weighing on as this crisis is unfolding in real time?
ROMNEY: The White House also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments and said they were not reflecting of their views. I had the exact same reaction. These views were inappropriate. The embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake. And I believe that when a mistake is made of that significance, you speak out.
TODD: Some Republicans criticized Romney`s timing.
PEGGY NOONAN, COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don`t feel that Mr. Romney has been doing himself any favors. Sometimes, when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go.
TODD: But conservative radio host, Laura Ingraham, who had lambasted Romney Monday for being too weak in attacking the President, was supportive.
LAURA INGRAHAM, TALK RADIO SHOW HOST (voice-over): Mitt Romney's team was smart in coming out strong last night, in saying we should never apologize when these things go down.
TODD: Late today, the President responded to Romney in an interview with CBS.
BARACK OBAMA: There is a broader lesson to be learned here. You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and name later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can`t do that. That it is important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
TODD: It is worth noting that Romney sort of changed his campaign schedule today and pulled back on an event he was holding in Florida. The President is landing in Nevada very soon, holding a campaign rally tonight in Las Vegas -- Brian?
WILLIAMS: Chuck Todd at the White House for us tonight. Chuck, thanks.
-- Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Click here  to follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.