“Everything changes,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom famously said on CNN in March. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
Fehrnstrom’s gaffe resonated because it fed into the public’s perception that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper who changes his views to match those of whatever constituency he’s trying to woo. But Ferhnstrom was actually referring to the pivot, a routine campaign dynamic in which candidates who win primaries retool their messaging to appeal to moderate swing voters whose votes usually decide elections.
It got lost in the controversy over Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe but candidates, especially presidential candidates, cannot execute the pivot on their own. What Ferhnstrom and the reporters covering his gaffe knew was that Romney would have help erasing his primary bungles from the very reporters who were tittering over Ferhnstrom’s unintentional truth-telling.
But why could Romney and Ferhnstrom feel they could rely on supposedly objective reporters to help them rewrite the history of the 2012 Republican primary? In part because elections for which the outcome is certain are boring, and the giant media companies the reporters work for need a close race to boost ratings. Secondly, it is a tenet of journalism that reporters must be fair to all candidates, even when the candidates are clearly incompetent and would pose a danger to the republic if elected — as was the case with Sarah Palin in 2008 and Bush in 2000 and 2004, and is arguably the case with Romney, the hapless corporate stooge and well-greased weather vane, now.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released this week found that political journalists have gradually shifted to more positive coverage of Romney’s campaign since he became the putative nominee:
[The] presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney enjoyed more positive (33 percent) than negative coverage (25 percent). After largely mixed coverage in the first three weeks in April — when the narrative switched from the Republican primary battle to a general election focus — Romney has now enjoyed two consecutive weeks when his tone was solidly more positive than negative.
As the media’s coverage of Romney has grown more positive, his poll numbers have improved. (See how this works?) A pair of polls released this week found Romney and the president in a statistical tie.
Most of the disparaging coverage Romney received during the primary was in reaction to his persistent gaffes — his wife’s two Cadillacs, his love of firing people — or bizarre statements like “corporations are people, my friend” and his peroration about the perfect height of trees in Michigan, for example.
But is the shift to more positive coverage now a result of Romney improving his performance in the campaign? Not hardly. Here are five instances of Romney’s blundering in just the first eight days in May:
- On May 1, Romney came off as weak after he bowed to pressure from a hate group associated with the Republican Party base and jettisoned Richard Grenell, his campaign spokesman on international relations because Grenell was openly gay.
- Two days later, Romney criticized the Obama administration over its handling of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who had escaped from house arrest and was seeking asylum. But Romney’s criticism was so baseless that the soulless neocon Bill Kristol criticized him for it. (See video above.)
- The next day, Romney rushed to the cameras to disparage the April jobs report, saying that the number of jobs added in April — 115,000 — as insufficient. But then he blundered. “We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created per month,” he said, citing a number that will come back to bite him throughout the campaign and, especially, if he’s elected, because he will be held to it, just as Republicans have held Pres. Obama to a prediction made by his economic advisers a week or so before he took office that U.S. unemployment would peak at 8 percent.
- On May 7, Romney displayed a profile in cowardice at a town hall when he let a supporter’s claim that Pres. Obama was guilty of treason go unanswered.
- That same day, in Ohio, Romney blundered again by taking credit for the auto company bailout, which he had opposed in 2008 in an op-ed titled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Now he says, “I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back” — a statement that you can bet will appear in an Obama-Biden ad, along with the counterpoint of the opposite position he took in the 2008 op-ed.
Clearly, Romney is not getting any better as a candidate, and yet his coverage — and his poll numbers — are.
Shake, shake, shake.