Romney And The Press

I was recently reminded of something from the 2008 campaign. Shortly before the New Hampshire primary, there was a debate at St. Anselm. John McCain got a little worked up and chided Romney for running ads describing his immigration position as "amnesty." Romney flatly denied it: "I don't describe your plan as amnesty in my ad... I don't call it amnesty." This was a lie; the ad in question, which had run approximately a gazillion times, very specifically said that McCain "supported amnesty" and "wrote the amnesty bill."  

The McCain team, once they picked their jaws off the floor and put their eyes back in the sockets, fired back and ultimately won New Hampshire and the nomination. There ain't no McCain team standing in Romney's way this year.

Today is Super Tuesday, and it looks like it will be a good day for Mitt Romney -- which is no big surprise, really; we've known for some time that he's got the only campaign left capable of ramping up to the full-scale, multi-state competition phase of the nomination process. I mean, Rick Santorum had raised a grand total of about $6.5 million for his campaign through the end of January; he claims to have raised another $9 million in February, which brings him all told up to about what a real Presidential candidate raises in its first fundraising quarter. And while that burst of late cash is obviously very helpful, it doesn't make up for a year of shoestring campaigning -- a year without, for example, a research staff to dig up a 2009 Romney op-ed in which he expressed support for national health-care legislation that included an individual mandate.

That op-ed finally surfaced yesterday, further exposing the blatancy of Romney's dissembling in insisting, throughout this campaign, that he had never, never, never, never expressed support for such a thing.

On MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning, the panel, and especially Joe, were absolutely hammering Romney over this, and particularly for Romney repeating the lie -- Joe's word for it -- yesterday after the op-ed had circulated.

I've written a number of times about the difficulty the political media faces in figuring out how to deal with Romney. In November, when Romney released an ad thoroughly misrepresenting something Obama once said, I wrote:

People look at me funny when I say this, but people in and around politics are remarkably, and rather naively, honest. Yes, they spin and hyperbolize and stretch context and so on, but they really don't very often just flat-out lie in obvious ways... With or without Romney, the political world has been and will move more and more in the direction of the corporate world's advances in media and message manipulation. I have suggested, on previous occasions, that the political world, and the political news media in particular, are not keeping up. We're seeing a small taste of that now, in the flummoxed reaction to this latest little Romney lie.

I think we've seen, over the past couple of months, an important tipping point where much of the national political media now recognizes -- as the McCain team did during that January 2008 St. A's debate -- that, in the Romney campaign, they are dealing with something unlike the normal spin and hyperbole. They are realizing that Romney and his campaign simply cannot be trusted, in any way, about anything. 

They are also coming to realize just how carefully controlling Romney is about the media, how little access and information the media will get from the candidate and the campaign, and how hostile Romney is toward them. (It was recently reported that Ann Romney said in a speech to supporters: “I am so mad at the press I could just strangle them. And, you know, I think I’ve decided there are going to be some people invited on the bus and some people just aren’t going to be invited on the bus.”)

Knowing this about Romney, and knowing what to do about it, are two different things. But it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months.

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