When Mitt Speaks: Why Romney's Avoid-The-Press Strategy Doesn't Work

Yesterday there was a little dust-up in Mitt Romney world. The candidate had given a TV interview in Ohio, during which he got asked about the so-called Blunt amendment controversy in Congress, relating to "conscience clause" exemptions for employers wishing to provide health insurance that does not pay for services (like contraception) to which they have religious or moral objections.

I don't want to get into the back-and-forth; basically, Romney seemed to say that he is against the legislation, which would put him at odds with most conservatives. But the exchange was somewhat confusing, and the campaign quickly insisted that Romney favors the amendment. Many Democrats are now painting this as a rapid flip-flop; regardless, it put attention on an issue that Romney would clearly rather not be talking about.

What I want to point out here is that this is, to a large extent, the direct result of Romney's avoid-the-press strategy.

If Romney talked to reporters more often, than he would most likely be on the record about this issue several times already -- it's not a surprising question to ask, given that the Senate was slated to vote on it this week (and did, earlie today). In that case, one awkward exchange would be easily brushed aside, since his actual meaning would be clear from other interviews.

But Romney avoids the press (and most direct, unscripted human contact) almost pathologically. He had gone more than two solid weeks without taking questions from his travelling press corps, before he did an availability the morning of this Tuesday's primaries. He does some radio interviews with friendly conservative talk-show hosts, and gives a few, brief, interviews to local media in key states where he's campaigning (such as the one yesterday, with the Ohio News Network). Very rarely, he does a strategic national hit, such as one he did on FOX News with Sean Hannity Tuesday night after the primary.

His campaign is also notoriously unwilling to speak to journalists for articles, or even to provide answers to seemingly straightforward questions.

In this atmosphere of his own creation, Romney's few public exchanges get parsed in microscopic detail, and carry supersized weight. (Also, I'd argue that it's keeping him from getting better at interviews.) I suspect we'll see problems like yesterday's - and worse -- crop up throughout the campaign.

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