Actor Raymond Burr (left) as fictional defense lawyer Perry Mason, shown in the title screen of the TV series.
It was to be Mitt Romney's "Perry Mason" moment, pouncing on President Barack Obama's insistence that he had denounced the attack on the Benghazi consulate as a "terrorist" attack on the day after the lethal assault. Romney told the audience to take note of Obama's supposedly false statement, proof that Obama was the real liar.
It was also the moment when the "reality-based community," which a senior George W. Bush aide once famously mocked, collided with "right-wing world," where every formulation denigrating Obama is accepted as true, no matter how baseless and loony.
In Tuesday night's debate, when Obama countered by saying he had gone to the Rose Garden the day after the attack to say "this was an act of terror," Romney went in for the proverbial kill, highlighting to the national jury of voters that the President's remark was a lie. It was as if the TV defense lawyer "Perry Mason" was about to unmask a murderous villain.
"You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror?" Romney asked incredulously, as Obama nodded in the background. "I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror."
"Get the transcript," responded Obama.
At that point, moderator Candy Crowley of CNN interceded, telling Romney, under her breath, "He did in fact, sir." Romney then began to blubber, as Obama added, "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?"
Indeed, Obama had said in the Rose Garden, the next day referring to the consulate attack, "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."
Romney may have thought he was Perry Mason but he ended up looking more like Mason's inept adversary, the haplessly wrong prosecutor Hamilton Burger.
And besides getting his big accusation wrong, Romney reminded people about his unseemly attempt to make political hay out of the deaths of the four American diplomatic personnel on the night of the tragedy.
On Sept. 11, as events were still unfolding, Romney rushed out a statement that got the chronology of events wrong. Romney chastised the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for issuing a statement that had sought to head off protests by condemning an American anti-Islamic video that was circulating on YouTube.
But Romney reversed the order of events. Romney's statement transformed the embassy's preemptive criticism of the video into an expression of sympathy by the Obama administration for the people who attacked U.S. diplomatic outposts in Egypt and, fatally, in Libya.
In Benghazi, the assault involved an extremist militia and led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three of his aides. Shortly after 10 p.m. EDT on that night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi."
However, Romney saw an opening to hammer home his beloved theme that President Obama "apologizes for America." Disregarding the actual chronology, i.e., that the message by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo preceded the mob attacks, Romney put out a statement at 10:24 p.m., which declared: "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."
Romney's statement ignored Secretary Clinton's stern words, which represented the first official response from a senior member of the Obama administration. However, rather than correct his mistake the next day, Romney expanded on his criticism of the embassy officials in Cairo. Romney said, "The Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles. That was a mistake."
Romney's impetuous rhetoric -- both then and again in Tuesday night's debate -- reflects a politician who doesn't care about truth or fairness. After all, this was a guy who framed his nominating convention in Tampa around an Obama quote wrenched out of context -- "You didn't built that" -- with the "that" applied to the wrong antecedent, individual businesses when Obama was clearly referring to roads, bridges and infrastructure.