During his overseas trip, Mitt Romney traveled to some of our closest allies accompanied by some of his most merciless enemies — the media.
If you don’t know that Romney’s foreign jaunt was the worst diplomatic fiasco since the Zimmermann telegram or the XYZ Affair, you haven’t been reading his press clips.
In Poland, when a few reporters shouted thoughtlessly hostile questions at Romney near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they nicely encapsulated the tenor of the coverage. A Romney aide, Rick Gorka, told them to “shove it” — a perfectly apt sentiment.
The press can say that, like it or not, it simply played its role. Which is true, if it’s supposed to be querulous, unfair, and self-obsessed.
In London, the U.S. press covered the British press’s manufactured outrage over Romney’s Olympics comments. Romney didn’t say anything about the shaky preparations that you couldn’t have read in a British newspaper. That didn’t stop Fleet Street’s gleefully nationalistic piling-on, which gave the accompanying U.S. media its narrative for the trip. In one word: fiasco.
On high gaffe alert in Israel, the press fastened on Romney’s observation at a Jerusalem fundraiser that culture has a large hand in Israel’s economic success. Two-for-two, the press needed just one more gaffe in Poland to achieve the “mistake-ridden trip” trifecta. Pay dirt came in the “shove it” exchange.
Notice the steadily diminishing quality of the Romney miscues. The Romney trip started with the candidate supposedly offending an entire nation; it ended with his traveling press secretary offending three reporters.
No matter. Gorka got nearly as much play as Lech Walesa, the legendary Polish human-rights activist and former president, who, unaccountably, endorsed Romney despite his “gaffe-plagued” foreign trip.
The shouted questions in Poland were instructive — all emanating from deep within the media’s own narrative. There was: “Do you have a statement for the Palestinians?” Then there was: “What about your gaffes?” Finally, that original follow-up: “Do you feel that your gaffes have overshadowed your foreign trip?”
Seriously, we send people to journalism school for this?
The reporters were said to be boiling over with frustration from lack of access to Romney. But Romney did interviews with Brian Williams and Matt Lauer of NBC, David Muir of ABC, Jan Crawford of CBS, Greta Van Susteren and Carl Cameron of Fox, and Wolf Blitzer and Piers Morgan of CNN.
It’s true that there was a gross imbalance on the trip between the access for TV journalists and for the traveling print reporters. This might make fascinating fodder for a Columbia Journalism Review symposium one day. Outside of media and political professionals, though, it interests precisely . . . no one.
The fact is that the press doesn’t need any excuse to be either superficial or unfriendly to Romney. Back here at home, Newsweek ran a cover calling the former Massachusetts governor a “wimp.” A publicity stunt with a stitched-together excuse for an article attached, the cover nonetheless made NBC Nightly News on Sunday — one of the few segments on the broadcast not related to beach volleyball.
Despite all the conservative energy devoted to monitoring and critiquing media bias, it is as bad as ever. Why? The answer goes back to Romney’s comment in Jerusalem: the enduring importance of culture.
Imagine if a cadre of journalists recruited to cover the Obama campaign were 100 devoted Rush Limbaugh listeners living in the 230-mile corridor from Midland to Amarillo, Texas. Imagine they were overwhelmingly pro-life and heavily evangelical, owned five firearms each, and largely socialized with one another and other conservative Republicans.
They could try their damnedest to be fair to the president whose politics they disdain. Still, their own predilections would inevitably show through.
In the real world, journalists tend to have the opposite of all these qualities, and on top of that they are usually self-important and willfully blind to their own biases. It’s a wonder they aren’t told “shove it” more often.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry(at sign)nationalreview.com. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate