National Voices

Wednesday, Sep 19 2012 11:00 PM

DANA MILBANK: Why the media should go easy on Romney

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    Dana Milbank

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"The media wants to beat up Mitt Romney," Sean Hannity told his Fox News viewers this week, "which is driving me nuts."

Me too, Sean. Much as I'd like to see Hannity driven nuts, I agree that we in the media have been far too rough on the Republican presidential nominee. In fact, I send this urgent appeal to my fellow members of the lamestream media: Please go easy on the guy -- for our own sake.

First, Romney was pounded for his false and tone-deaf statements about the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt; in a weak moment, I joined in the criticism. Then, Politico came out Sunday night with an article titled "Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled," discourteously detailing all sorts of infighting and missteps. Worst of all was Monday, when my friend David Corn had the temerity to post on Mother Jones a surreptitiously recorded video of Romney dismissing nearly half the country as moochers. At this rate, Romney will surely lose the election -- and for journalism, this would be a tragedy.

At these times of declining revenue, we in the media need to stay true to our core interests. As the old saying goes, we should "vote the story." And the better story in this election is clearly a President Romney.

Romney's hit parade -- insulting the British, inviting Clint Eastwood to the Republican convention, flubbing Libya and now dismissing half the nation as parasites -- may make good copy for the next seven weeks. But if we go easy on him, we could have four years of gaffes instead of just seven more weeks. Admittedly, this may not be the best outcome for the country, or for the world. But in this race, there is no denying that one man will give us much better material.

President Obama has many talents, but he is not good copy. He speaks grammatically, in fully formed paragraphs. He has yet to produce a scandal of any magnitude. He is maddeningly on message, and his few gaffes -- "you didn't build that," "the private sector is doing fine" -- are inflammatory only out of context.

Romney, by contrast, showed his potential for miscues in his first presidential run (see: varmints, hunting of), but he truly blossomed in the gaffe department this cycle, when he became a one-man blooper reel:

"Corporations are people, my friend."

"I like being able to fire people."

"I'm not concerned about the very poor."

"I'm also unemployed."

"Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs."

"Ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?"

"I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners."

"There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip."

In addition, Romney frequently gives the media fresh opportunities to rerun the blooper reel with his attempts to explain the original mistakes. This goes back to his explanation for why he strapped his dog, Seamus, to the top of the family car: The dog "enjoyed himself" up there.

More recently, Romney offered this explanation for his claim that Obama was making America a less Christian nation. "I'm not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was," he said.

Saying zany things and then standing by them: From a presidential nominee, this is newsworthy. From a president, it could be sensational.

Romney caused an international incident when he went to London and spoke of "disconcerting" signs that the Brits weren't prepared to host the Olympics. Were he to do that as president, he could bring trans-Atlantic relations back to War of 1812 levels -- and that would be a big story.

At home, likewise, he has caused consternation with his remark that 47 percent of Americans "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it" and won't "take personal responsibility and care for their lives." If he governed that way as president, he could stir up social unrest not seen in half a century -- and that, too, would be quite a story.

Usually, reporters have little trouble recognizing our self-interest. For all of Newt Gingrich's complaints about media bias during his primary candidacy, reporters fantasized about a Gingrich presidency. We should do the same now as we consider prospects for a Romney presidency: gaffes in news conferences, diplomatic slights or ham-handed attempts to placate conservatives in Congress. This is exactly the man our industry needs.

I'm from the mainstream media, and I approved this message.

Email Dana Milbank of The Washington Post at danamilbank@washpost.com.

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