Mitt Romney really needs to lighten-up with the press. If he can’t deal with Bret Baier or a behind-the-scenes reporter for the New York Times, he’s not ready for prime time. Via the New York Times:
Backstage can be something of an inner sanctum at a presidential debate: even though they are appearing on live television before millions of Americans, the candidates are used to having their clubhouse hermetically sealed from the public before and after they take the stage.
That was not the case for the six major Republican candidates who participated in a Fox News Channel forum on Saturday night, when the network invited this reporter to roam behind the scenes as they took turns before a panel of conservative state attorneys general and the Fox News host Mike Huckabee. How each reacted offered an interesting reflex test of the candidates and their campaign organizations.
Mitt Romney’s campaign stood out by going into defensive mode immediately, insisting that the reporter stay far away. The other candidates engaged to a varying degree in a little conversation as they left the stage — none more than Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who is now ahead of Mr. Romney in some polls.
Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was the last to arrive at the Fox News offices in Midtown Manhattan. He came in with his wife, Ann, and a smattering of aides and travel staff, and they quickly settled into a small conference room near the 12th-floor studio.
Spotting the reporter, Mr. Romney’s aides sprang into action, asking where he worked and what he was doing there, and then insisting that he not physically approach Mr. Romney before or after he was questioned on television by the attorneys general and Mr. Huckabee.
The request was reiterated to executives at Fox News.
Mr. Romney’s campaign has sought to carefully control his interactions with the news media this year as it has tried to keep a grip on front-runner status. Earlier last week, it faced days of criticism over Mr. Romney’s interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, during which he grew testy as Mr. Baier pressed him on policy shifts he had made over the years. But aides pushed back against the notion that their reaction on Saturday night was related to that criticism, saying Mr. Romney had not planned to talk to the press after spending a day with reporters in New Hampshire, where he also held a question-and-answer session and gave two interviews.
Mr. Gingrich, coming out of the studio after a tough round of questioning from the attorneys general, had an opposite reaction.
Upbeat and welcoming on a day when a Des Moines Register poll showed him building a lead in Iowa, he stopped on his way out of the studio to discuss his performance.
“I thought it was good because you can tell that the people who become attorneys general think differently,” said Mr. Gingrich, who had also mingled with reporters and took questions from them earlier in the day. “They were very professional,” he said of the attorneys general. “They were very competent, and they were willing to be pretty darn aggressive.”