Does anyone remember the rope line kerfuffle that broke out between reporters and Mitt Romney's campaign team in May 2012? After the Republican nominee addressed supporters in St. Petersburg, Florida, campaign aides tried to restrict reporters from getting to the rope line where the candidate was greeting audience members.
As the incident unfolded, Kasie Hunt from the Associated Press tweeted, "Campaign staff and volunteers trying to physically prevent reporters from approaching the rope line to ask questions of Romney." And from CNN's Jim Acosta: "Romney campaign and Secret Service attempted to keep press off ropeline so no q's to candidate on Bain." (Bain Capital is the investment firm Romney co-founded.)
Contrast that with the media wildfire that broke out over the Fourth of July weekend this summer when Hillary Clinton marched in the Gorham, New Hampshire parade. Surrounded by throngs of reporters who jumped into the parade route to cover the event, Clinton's aides created a moving roped-off zone around Clinton to give her more space.
The maneuver produced images of journalists temporarily corralled behind a rope, which most observers agreed made for bad campaign optics.
Note that like Romney's episode on the rope line when reporters objected to being barred from overhearing the candidate interact with voters, journalists in New Hampshire were upset they couldn't hear Clinton greet parade spectators. But this story was hardly a minor one. It created an avalanche of coverage -- nearly two weeks later journalists still reference it as a major event.
It's interesting to note that during his 2012 campaign, Romney often distanced himself from the campaign press and provided limited access, the same allegations being made against Clinton this year. But the way the press covered the two media strategies stands in stark contrast.
That's not to suggest Romney's avoidance of the press wasn't covered as news four years ago. It clearly was. But looking back, it's impossible to miss the difference in tone, and the sheer tonnage of the coverage. Four years ago the campaign press calmly detailed Romney's attempts to sidestep the national press (minus Fox News), versus the very emotional, often angry ("reporters are being penned off like farm animals"), and just weirdly personal dispatches regarding Hillary's press strategy.
In a 2011 article, the Huffington Post interviewed reporters about how Romney was employing a much more closed-off press strategy compared to his 2008 campaign. The article featured quotes from Beltway journalists like the Washington Post's Dan Balz saying that while Romney had been more "open and available" in his 2008 campaign, during the 2012 cycle, "In general, I think they have kept him as much as possible out of the press spotlight ... And I think it's part of what has been their overall strategy, which has been to act like a frontrunner and not do a lot of interviews."
By contrast, the New York Times, reporting on Clinton's press relationship, recently described her as a "regal" "freak" who "seems less a presidential candidate than a historical figure, returning to claim what is rightfully hers." Slate noted "the political press has turned noticeably hostile in the face of her silence." And the Daily Beast wanted to know why Clinton was so "determined" to "infuriate the press."
So when Clinton's standoffish with the press, she's deliberately trying to "infuriate" journalists. But when Romney was standoffish, he was just employing a frontrunner strategy.
Why the blatant double standard? Why the steeper grading curve for the Democrat?
Are the Romney and Clinton press scenarios identical? Probably not. But they do seem awfully similar. Note that in February 2012, ABC News reported that "Romney last held a press conference in Atlanta on Feb. 8, and has not done so again since. Wednesday is the two week mark." Two months later, not much had changed: "Reporters yelled questions at Romney yesterday on the rope line after a speech prebutting this summer's Democratic National Convention -- to no avail. Romney has not taken questions from the press since March 16 in Puerto Rico."
That dispatch came on April 19, which meant at the time Romney hadn't taken a question from the national press in more than a month, and that was during the heart of the Republican primary season. But where was the Washington Post's running clock to document the last time Romney fielded a question, and the New York Times special section to feature hypothetical questions to ask Romney if and when he next spoke to the press?
When Romney ignored the national media for more than a month in 2012 the press mostly shrugged. When Hillary did something similar this year, the press went bonkers, sparking "an existential crisis among the national press corps," according to Slate.
And that may be an understatement. The coverage of Clinton's treatment of the press has become a truly boundless genre of commentary. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
And that's just a sampling.
For whatever reason, the Beltway press signaled a long time ago that the press was going to be a central topic during the Clinton campaign and the press was going to write a lot about how the press felt about Clinton's relationship with the press. (Media critic Jay Rosen has dismissed some of the media's campaign complaints as being nonsensical.)
We've certainly never seen anything like this in modern campaigns. And it certainly did not happen with Romney four years ago.
From the June 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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ABC News and CBS News helped potential GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney dredge up discredited attacks on Hillary Clinton in their reports on an upcoming speech by Romney. The attacks smear Clinton's diplomatic work with Russia as secretary of state and scandalize comments she made on trickle-down economics that were taken out of context by the media.
Reports from two news networks hyped excerpts from Romney's planned speech at Mississippi State University on Wednesday night that will be targeted at Clinton. Both ABC and CBS News articles uncritically reported that Romney will be criticizing Clinton's "clueless" efforts to "reset" U.S.-Russia relations during Mr. Obama's first term.
But the "reset" moment that media outlets frequently cite as the primary example of Clinton's dealings with Russia while serving as secretary of state does not accurately portray her tenure. Clinton's successful negotiations with Russia resulted in in an agreement that allows the "U.S. military planes to transport lethal materiel over Russia to Afghanistan," reducing reliance on Pakistan for transporting cargo. Clinton also expressed serious concerns with Russia's 2011 elections, and warned that Russia was trying to "re-Sovietize" Eastern Europe and that Vladimir Putin would attempt to consolidate Russian control over eastern Ukraine if the opportunity presented itself.
Both ABC and CBS also highlighted another misleading attack against Clinton from Romney's upcoming speech, where he will assert that Clinton "doesn't know where jobs come from in the first place," an apparent reference to a scandal invented by the media over Clinton's statement that tax breaks for the rich don't cause companies to create jobs. CBS portrayed Clinton's remarks on tax breaks for the rich as a slip-up:
In his speech text, Romney takes a swipe at Hillary Clinton for telling voters during the 2014 midterm campaign, "Don't let anybody tell you it's corporations and businesses that create jobs."
"How can Secretary Clinton provide opportunity for all if she doesn't know where jobs come from in the first place?" Romney is expected to ask. "We need a president who will do what it takes to bring more good paying jobs to the placement offices of our college campuses."
After her remarks sparked a round of mockery from her opponents on the right, Clinton claimed she misspoke and said she meant to say that the economy grows when companies create good-paying jobs in America, "not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas."
This attack on Clinton's remarks, omits crucial context used by right-wing media outlets to scandalize the comments. The full context shows that Clinton's statement was in reference to tax breaks for the rich, and argued that trickle-down economics is not successful at creating jobs (emphasis added):
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up.
"In American politics, there's a sense you want to be new. You don't want to be too familiar. You want to be something fresh. You don't want to be something old and stale." Karl Rove discussing Hillary Clinton on Fox News, May 26, 2014.
Mitt Romney's reemergence as a possible top-tier Republican contender for the 2016 White House race has created an awkward situation for some Republicans and conservative commentators who have been dwelling on Hillary Clinton's age in recent months. The development also poses a potentially thorny issue for journalists in terms of how they treat male and female politicians.
To date, Republicans have been eager to highlight Clinton's age. "Republican strategists and presidential hopefuls, in ways subtle and overt, are eager to focus a spotlight on Mrs. Clinton's age," the New York Times reported in 2013. Just this week, conservative Washington Post contributor Ed Rogers mocked Clinton for being stuck in a cultural "time warp," circa the "tie-dye" 1960s.
So why the newfound awkwardness for spotlighting Clinton's age? Because Mitt Romney's the same age as Hillary Clinton. They're both 67 years old. (Actually, Romney's older than Clinton by seven months.)
The fact that early polling suggests the possible Republican front runner is the same age as Clinton raises interesting questions for the political press, which has carved out plenty of time and space in recent years to analyze the question of Clinton's age and to repeat Republican allegations that she might be too old for the job of president. Going forward, will the same press corps devote a similar amount of time and space asking the same questions about Romney? And if not, why not? (A recent Boston Globe article actually positioned Romney's age as a plus for the Republican: "Supporters have also noted that Romney would be 69 years old in 2016 -- the same age as Reagan when he was sworn into his first term.")
From the January 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
The Washington Post updated a piece from columnist Marc Thiessen to note his financial ties to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and indicated the need for better disclosure in future Thiessen columns on the 2016 presidential campaign, in response to inquiries from Media Matters.
On September 1, the Post published a column from Thiessen criticizing the idea of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running for president again in 2016. In the piece, Thiessen identified Scott Walker as one of several "successful governors" that would be a preferable candidate. Thiessen co-authored Walker's 2013 book, a fact the columnist has previously disclosed when writing about the governor for the Post but which went unmentioned in his latest column.
Media Matters published a piece criticizing the Post and reached out to the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who indicated that Thiessen's mention of Walker was "so glancing" that it did not warrant disclosure. But the Post subsequently reversed course, adding text to the column explaining, "Full disclosure: I co-authored a book with Walker."
Hiatt told Media Matters that he intends to meet with Thiessen to discuss the need for a "best approach" to disclosure in future columns touching on the 2016 presidential campaign.
"You are right that he has disclosed the relationship with Walker whenever he writes about Walker. In this case the reference to Walker was so glancing that I didn't think the co-authorship needed to be re-disclosed," Hiatt said in an email. "But you ask a reasonable question, and as the campaign proceeds I will talk with Marc about what the best approach will be."
The original lack of disclosure drew criticism from media ethicists who said leaving out the fact that Thiessen had co-authored a book with Walker is misleading to readers.
"I think this kind of entanglement is unacceptable," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. "Where you don't know if a particular writer's column is a payback for favors done in the past or auditions for jobs sought in the future. The reader is not in a place to make any intelligent decisions based on the off-screen relationships. The fact that he is getting money off screen is just not compatible with that."
As Wasserman suggested, Thiessen's extensive political career would make him a plausible hire in a Walker administration. The two have "developed a bond," according to the Post's own reporting.
Kevin Smith, ethics committee chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, said such financial connections "widen an already large divide between the journalist and the public's right to be accurately and fairly informed."
Fox News' The Kelly File hosted 2012 Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to attack President Obama's foreign policy and rewrite the history of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
President Obama on August 7 authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq to prevent "genocide" and protect Americans in the region. The Islamic State released a video of its murder of American journalist James Foley on Tuesday, citing the U.S. airstrikes and demanding an end to them. The airstrikes prompted a right-wing media backlash blaming President Obama for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which they accused of increasing the danger posed by the Islamic State.
On August 21, Fox host Megyn Kelly accused President Obama of a reversal on "whether he did or did not order the withdrawal of all of our troops," and of making the decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq. After making this assertion, she asked 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney whether Obama "is misleading the American people." Romney claimed President Obama had made "extraordinary errors with regards to the Middle East," and cited the lack of "the Status of Forces Agreement that would allow us to have troops in Iraq" as a fundamental cause contributing to the growth of the Islamic State and the danger it represents.
Contrary to this attempt to rewrite history, President Obama did not refuse to negotiate a SOFA with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind American forces. His attempts to negotiate the SOFA were thwarted by the Iraqi government, whose parliament was unwilling to approve the agreement -- approval that was made necessary by a precedent set in 2008 by President Bush.
Time reported in 2011 that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq was "an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending" the existing SOFA. The AP also noted that the Iraqi government stopped the SOFA negotiations when it became unwilling to grant American troops legal immunity -- protections "common in nearly every country where U.S. forces operate," and similar to those guaranteed in Bush's 2008 SOFA. Colin H. Kahn, the senior Pentagon official responsible for Iraq policy during the first three years of the Obama administration, explained:
Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, told U.S. negotiators that he was willing to sign an executive memorandum of understanding that included these legal protections. But for any agreement to be binding under the Iraqi constitution, it had to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. This was the judgment of every senior administration lawyer and Maliki's own legal adviser, and no senior U.S. military commander made the case that we should leave forces behind without these protections.
Unfortunately, Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal. Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the U.S. military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American G.I.s to stay). Maliki was willing to consider going to parliament to approve a follow-on agreement, but he was not willing to stick his neck out.
So when Iraq's major political bloc leaders met in early October 2011 in an all-night session, they agreed on the need for continued U.S. "trainers" but said they were unwilling to seek immunities for these troops through the parliament. The die was thus cast. Obama and Maliki spoke on Oct. 21 and agreed that U.S. forces would depart as scheduled by the end of the year.
Suffering an election hangover after having been told by Fox News that Mitt Romney's victory was a sure thing (a "landslide" predicted by Dick Morris), some Republicans have promised to break their addiction to the right-wing news channel in the coming year. Vowing to venture beyond the comforts of the Fox News bubble, strategists insist it's crucial that the party address its "choir-preaching problem."
This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.
For Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the network's slash-and-burn formula worked wonders in terms of catering a hardcore, hard-right audience of several million viewers. (Fox News is poised to post $1 billion in profits this year.) But in terms of supporting a national campaign and hosting a nationwide conversation about the country's future, Fox's work this year was a marked failure.
And that failure helped sink any hopes the GOP had of winning the White House.
From the farcical, underwhelming GOP primary that Fox News sponsored, through the general election campaign, it seemed that at every juncture where Romney suffered a major misstep, Fox misinformation hovered nearby. Again and again, Romney damaged his presidential hopes when he embraced the Fox News rhetoric; when he ran as the Fox News Candidate.
Whether it was botching the facts surrounding the terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, parroting the Fox talking point about lazy, shiftless voters who make up "47 percent" of the electorate, or Romney's baffling embrace of reality TV show host-turned Fox News pontificator Donald Trump, the Republican candidate did damage to his chances whenever he let Fox News act as his chief campaign adviser.
Fox viewers didn't fare much better. Fed a year's worth of misinformation about the candidates, and completely misled about the state of the race (all the polls are skewed!), Fox faithful were left crushed on Election Night when Romney's fictitious landslide failed to materialize.
"On the biggest political story of the year," wrote Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, "the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media."
Ted Nugent claimed that Democratic politicians in Detroit "train[ed] and reward[ed] people to scam, cheat and refuse to be productive" causing the majority of residents to become "pimps, whores and welfare brats that have made bloodsucking a lifestyle" during an October 30 interview with The Washington Times. Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association and columnist for the Times, is also a high-profile endorser of Mitt Romney.
According to Nugent, President Obama is "doing everything he can to take the whole country down" the same path as Detroit:
It is so very true that my birth city of Detroit was the cleanest, most neighborly, positive-energy, work-ethic epicenter of planet earth when I was born there in 1948, right on through to the 1960s. Enter the liberal death wish of Mayor Coleman Young and a tsunami of negative, anti-productivity policies by liberal Democrats that put a voodoo curse on our beloved Motor City. When you train and reward people to scam, cheat and refuse to be productive, there is only one direction that society can go: straight down the toilet. It is truly a heartbreaker. Some wonderful people are still to be found back home, but they are outnumbered by the pimps, whores and welfare brats that have made bloodsucking a lifestyle. And now we have a president who is doing everything he can to take the whole country down that same path. Truly amazing.
Nugent also claimed that The New Deal and Great Society economic programs "succeeded in brainwashing a segment of our country to believe Fedzilla would provide for anyone who decided, for whatever reason, to not be productive."
The New Deal was responsible for creating the Social Security Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs to combat poverty were responsible for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and a variety of other anti-poverty programs. These initiatives dramatically reduced the rate of poverty, particularly among the elderly.
A CNN article published yesterday about increased efforts by the National Rifle Association to defeat President Obama credulously echoed false NRA talking points on assault weapons, without noting Mitt Romney's well-documented flip flop on the issue.
The article notes that in responding to a question about assault weapons in Tuesday's presidential debate, Obama mentioned an assault weapons ban. Instead of offering independent reporting on the topic, CNN political director Mark Preston only provided readers with the take of the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, on the issue of assault weapons bans:
"Some gun owners took Obama at his word four years ago, when he said he wouldn't take their guns away," said Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "So, after years of paying lip service to the Second Amendment, President Obama finally let it slip last night that he supports the most draconian form of gun control - a gun ban."
Preston, however, did not acknowledge that 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, favor assault weapons bans. Nor did he mention that President Obama never made a promise to gun owners to not restrict access to assault weapons, as Cox suggested.
Turning to an exchange during Tuesday night's presidential debate where Romney was asked by moderator Candy Crowley about his changing position on assault weapons, Preston served as a stenographer for Romney without noting that the GOP nominee told a distorted version of events concerning his role in banning assault weapons while governor of Massachusetts.
In an October 16 column, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller praised Mitt Romney's opposition to gun violence prevention legislation while fearmongering about President Obama' s support for an assault weapons ban. But Miller did not acknowledge that Mitt Romney has been a proponent of assault weapons bans -- as recently as the last time that he ran for president.
Criticizing former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for backing some gun restrictions, Miller warned that Obama "would put another liberal justice -- or three -- on the bench if given a second term." Miller presented Romney in sharp contrast to Justice Stevens, and reprinted Romney's claim that his "Sportsmen for Romney" coalition, whose members include representatives of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, "will have a friend in the White House" if he becomes president. Obama, who has not enacted any new restrictions on firearms while president, was characterized by Miller as "an outspoken gun-control advocate before he ran for president."
By presenting Romney as a vigorous defender of gun rights, while attacking Obama on the issue, Miller effictively hid Romney's own well documented past support for rigorous gun violence prevention measures.
During tonight's presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney echoed a false claim from the National Rifle Association's radio show Cam & Company that whitewashes the former Massachusetts governor's record on guns.
News outlets will surely report on what was a contentious exchange between candidates on an issue that has thus far been ignored in the presidential race. But will they get to the bottom of Romney's past support for gun violence prevention measures?
Romney echoed the NRA talking point that an assault weapons ban he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts was agreeable to that state's leading gun advocacy group after moderator Candy Crowley suggested that his position on assault weapons has changed in recent years.
CROWLEY: Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned. I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts. Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that given the kind of violence we see sometimes with these mass killings? Why is it that you've changed your mind?
ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually in my state the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation. And it's referred to as an assault weapon ban, but it had -- at the signing of the bill both the pro-gun and the anti-gun people came together because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted.
The NRA has endorsed Romney and recently used its NRA News radio outlet to rewrite history in an attempt to hide Romney's past support for tough gun control measures.
During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company on NRA News, host Cam Edwards told viewers that Romney's gun policy while governor was in line with the positions of Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), the Massachusetts state gun advocacy group. Edwards also claimed that Romney loosened restrictions on assault weapons while governor instead of enhancing them. Neither claim is accurate.
NRA News is deliberately misleading its supporters about Mitt Romney's firearms policies while he served as governor of Massachusetts. During the October 2 edition of Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards suggested that any action taken by then-Governor Romney on assault weapons was supported by Massachusetts state gun rights group Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) and further stated that Romney "actually undid some of the damage" of the commonwealth's 1998 assault weapons ban. In fact, legislation signed by Romney in 2004 made the Massachusetts assault weapons ban permanent.
A July 1, 2004 press release issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, titled, "Romney Signs Off On Permanent Assault Weapons Ban," leaves little doubt that the former Massachusetts governor was involved in restricting access to assault weapons. Indeed, at the bill's signing ceremony Romney stated that the "sole purpose" of assault weapons is "hunting down and killing people." In response to the new law, GOAL stated that the Romney administration "took a major shot at lawful gun owners and showed their true colors."
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: Doc in Jacksonville, Florida says, "Cam, due to the fact that Mitt Romney signed a gun ban into law while he was governor of Massachusetts, does the NRA trust him to stand up for the Constitution and Second Amendment as president?" You know, I'm glad you asked this question, Doc. Last time -- I've got to promote this video because we've got it up I know on our YouTube page -- the last time we had Jim Wallace from the Gun Owners Action League in studio, that's the state-level organization in Massachusetts, we asked him about this. Because Mitt Romney did sign a bill as Governor of Massachusetts, but he did not institute an assault weapons ban. This was actually a bill that the Gun Owners Action League in Massachusetts supported. The quote unquote assault weapons bill, or excuse me the quote unquote assault weapons ban, was already law in Massachusetts. It was already permanent in Massachusetts. This bill actually provided some relief to gun owners in the state of Massachusetts. It was portrayed and it has been portrayed in the media as Governor Romney signed a bill to ban quote unquote assault weapons in the state of Massachusetts. But that's not the case. This was a bill, as I said, that was supported by the state gun owners' organization in Massachusetts because it actually undid some of the damage of that original legislation.