By Kyle | October 1, 2012
John Cook of Gawker (a snarky, lefty, massively pro-Obama website) is due a bit of praise for this temperate and reasonable analysis of the coverage of Mitt Romney. I noted about one year into my journalism career (19 years ago) that you can make someone look really bad if you simply transcribe him precisely rather than smoothing over the rough edges. Cook astutely points out that one report:
had the added bonus of featuring his stilted fake laugh—”ha, ha.” (That laugh, by the way, has been repeatedly transcribed in news reports for no reason other than to make Romney seem wooden. Imagine if Obama’s every “heh” or “uuuhh” made it into his quotes.) It also had nothing to do with anything. It’s only value was as a gratuitous little grace note making Romney seem weird for the perfectly routine political maneuver of dodging a question.
About the airplane windows non-gaffe:
There are two interpretations of that statement. One is that it was a little off-hand nonsensical joke unworthy of further comment. The other is that Romney is really weird and doesn’t understand fundamental truths about aviation. To anyone reading or listening with a reasonable sense of detachment, it was quite obviously the former. But to too many reporters and producers—including people, like the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who ought to know better—it became more fodder for the “Romney keeps screwing up” narrative. The Telegraph’s lede for its story on the matter says all you really need to know: “Mr. Romney, who has a track record of verbal gaffes….”
I might add that even “conservative” London papers treat Romney about as fairly as the New York Times does. It goes beyond politics to a fear/hope that Americans, though our standard of living is amazingly and frustratingly high to our Socialist cousins across the sea, must be knuckle-dragging fundamentalist loons who somehow lucked into our circumstances rather than sensibly government-leery individualists who chose a limited state as the surest path to personal freedom and wealth creation.
Likewise, when Romney tried to get a crowd at a rally in Ohio add his running mate’s name to a chant they had started—”Romney! Ryan!” instead of “Romney! Romney!”—even nominal Republican Joe Scarborough stubbornly misinterpreted it as a hamfisted attempt to change the chant from Ryan’s name to his own. This is not because Joe Scarborough supports the candidacy of Barack Obama. It is because he supports the primacy of the Romney-is-a-Loser narrative, and wanted to hold up another shining example of that loser-dom for the rest of the political press to giggle at. Which they did, even though it was obviously based on a falsehood to anyone who took time to listen to the audio.
Cook says, “I loathe Mitt Romney.” Okay, and so does virtually everyone at, say, The Times. Cook at least is transparent. I’d rather read this than a fake-neutral report. And I might read The Times more if its reporters frankly acknowledged their bias. People like Cook are the reason institutions like The Times are becoming decreasingly relevant.