The tail end of the Republican National Convention was the occasion of great discovery for conservative media outlets. The Oparowskis showed up!
Yes, Ted and Pat Oparowski, former residents of Massachusetts and possibly the best character witnesses that Mitt Romney could ever ask for. Or the best character witnesses for any presidential candidate in memory.
The Oparowskis, an elderly couple, appeared at the convention podium on Thursday to detail just how Romney had touched them. As the world now knows, the Oparowskis’ teenage son was suffering from cancer in the 1970s. Romney took an interest in the boy, visiting him, helping him to draft a will and delivering the eulogy at the child’s funeral. Watch the video above, if you haven’t already; it’s a moving story.
New and moving, to judge from some media reaction. Here’s what Fox News’s Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly said on air about it:
BAIER: You know, you mentioned that these other stories from families who knew Mitt Romney. Pat and Ted Oparowski, professional firefighter for 27 years, their son, David, 14 years old died of lymphoma. And Mitt Romney going to the house and being with that child. Tears in the hall pretty much all night.
You wonder what permeates out from a convention just judging by people’s reaction on Twitter and elsewhere. That could be one story.
KELLY: ...I hadn’t heard a lot of those stories before. I didn’t know about the little boy and how Mitt Romney went over and helped him do his will, and helped the family. And so Americans just like us already know Mitt Romney a whole lot better.
Those Americans are just catching up to readers of the New York Times. Because it was the New York Times that introduced many to the Oparowskis and their fondness for Romney. Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, in a piece titled “For Romney, a Role of Faith and Authority,” plumbed the candidate’s history as a lay leader of the Mormon church. Though Stolberg included some criticism of Romney’s work, it was on balance a positive account of a hard-working and caring man who did everything he could for his fellow worshipers. It “humanized” Romney nearly a year before the high-profile political convention whose central purpose was to do just that.
The lead of the story depicted Romney inspiring Bryce Clark, a troubled young Mormon who had abused drugs and alcohol. Clark told the New York Times this about Romney’s take on his predicament:
“He told me that, as human beings, our work isn’t measured by taking the sum of our good deeds and the sum of our bad deeds and seeing how things even out,” recalled Mr. Clark, now 37, sober and working as a filmmaker in Utah. “He said, ‘The only thing you need to think about is: Are you trying to improve, are you trying to do better? And if you are, then you’re a saint.’ ”
Stolberg also unfurled the Oparowski tale:
Ted Oparowski, a retired firefighter, and his wife, Pat, a secretary, still praise Mr. Romney for ministering to their 14-year-old son, David, who was dying of cancer three decades ago.
The boy, upon hearing that Mr. Romney was a lawyer, asked him to help draft a will, so that he might leave something to each of his friends. Mr. Romney pulled out a legal pad, and together they wrote one up. Later, he gave the eulogy at the boy’s funeral.
If Mr. Romney, who no longer holds an official church title, seems overly polished or wooden on the campaign trail, his defenders say that is just how he is, reserved yet caring. “He’s always been that way, that’s his demeanor,” Mrs. Oparowski said.
Though this priceless story of kindness came wrapped in a front-page story in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, the world of follow-up media appears to have missed it. A Nexis search for “Romney” and “Oparowski” for dates preceding the convention delivers nothing but Stolberg’s story. And the Oparowskis themselves, reached by phone on Labor Day, say that prior to the convention appearance, the only media interview they ever did was with Stolberg. “No, not at all,” says Ted Oparowski when asked if other media outlets came calling after the New York Times.
Television news, how do you live with yourself? Digging up subjects from a New York Times story, interviewing them and then claiming some kind of exclusive — that’s what you’re trained to do! Fox News, where were you?
Stolberg found the Oparowskis via muscle. She interviewed people from the Mormon Church who had interacted with Romney, and someone made a reference to them. “There was no help from the Romney campaign, or anybody else,” says Stolberg. “I just tracked them down and interviewed them.”
Despite the new information in the Stolberg story, it’s not the most famous Sunday New York Times front-page piece on the Romney family history. That award would go to “In Rarefied Sport, a View of the Romneys’ World,” a story about the family’s involvement in dressage, a form of horsie ballet. The equestrian story is routinely and short-sightedly referenced as an example of the paper’s bias against Romney.
Meanwhile, no one ever seems to acknowledge Stolberg’s piece, even though it foreshadowed a show-stopping act at the Republican National Convention. Perhaps Stolberg had the misfortune of penning a piece that failed to fit into the structure of complaint against the New York Times.
Yet at least some folks found it worth noting. “A lot of Mormons wrote to me after that story ran and thanked me for writing a honest portrayal of their faith,” she says.