Easy to do when every other word is a lie.
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“The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.”

— President Obama, remarks at a news conference, May 13, 2013

Once again, it appears that we must parse a few presidential words. We went through this question at length during the 2012 election, but perhaps a refresher course is in order.

Notably, during a debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, President Obama said that he immediately told the American people that the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya “was an act of terror.” But now he says he called it “an act of terrorism.”

Some readers may object to this continuing focus on words, but presidential aides spend a lot of time on words. Words have consequences. Is there a difference between “act of terror” and “act of terrorism”?

The Pinocchio Test

During the campaign, the president could just get away with claiming he said “act of terror,” since he did use those words — though not in the way he often claimed. It seemed like a bit of after-the-fact spin, but those were his actual words — to the surprise of Mitt Romney in the debate.

But the president’s claim that he said “act of terrorism” is taking revisionist history too far, given that he repeatedly refused to commit to that phrase when asked directly by reporters in the weeks after the attack. He appears to have gone out of his way to avoid saying it was a terrorist attack, so he has little standing to make that claim now.

Indeed, the initial unedited talking points did not call it an act of terrorism. Instead of pretending the right words were uttered, it would be far better to acknowledge that he was echoing what the intelligence community believed at the time–and that the administration’s phrasing could have been clearer and more forthright from the start.

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