Even by the standards of engagement between presidential candidates and the news media, Mitt Romney made some extreme remarks yesterday. Referring to an ABC News report regarding his search for a vice president, Romney blasted: “The story was entirely false.”
Jonathan Karl’s scoop debuted early Tuesday morning on ABCNews.go.com and hit the airwaves on “Good Morning America.” The details were juicy enough to top Mike Allen’s Playbook: The Romney campaign, according to Karl’s sources, hadn’t asked Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to turn over documents and materials required for vice-presidential vetting. The key paragraph:
Although it is possible that Rubio may yet be asked to go through the vetting process, it has been nearly two months since Romney named his long-time aide Beth Myers to run his vice presidential search. The fact that Rubio has not been asked to turn over any documents by now is a strong indication that he is not on Romney’s short list of potential running mates.
That Romney veep-screening officials weren’t scouring towers of Rubio documents was big news, for reasons that Karl points out: “Not only is he young, charismatic and wildly popular with conservatives, but he could also help Republicans win a key state (Florida) and make inroads with Hispanics.”
Sourcing for ABC’s contention came from “knowledgeable Republican sources.” The night before the piece ran, Karl attempted to add to that list, by contacting the Romney people themselves. The reporter tells me that he briefed the campaign on the details of what he was ready to publish. Yet the Romney campaign declined to comment, as did Rubio.
The piece’s landing filled all the journalistic check-boxes. Social media kibbitzed about it, outlets aggregated it and Romney was forced to respond to it in a TV interview, with Fox News’s Sean Hannity. The candidate responded:
I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on. And I’m not going to comment on the process, of course. But I can tell you this. Only Beth Myers and I know who’s being vetted.
Now there’s a trend for you: Candidate is presented with some reporting by a news outlet. Candidate declines to comment. Outlet runs the story. Candidate later turns up on the broadcast of another outlet either denying or minimizing the allegations. (See Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations and Romney bullying story).
Romney’s non-denial to Hannity smells a lot like confirmation. Pair that reaction with the lack of pushback from the candidate’s campaign staffers — Karl tells me that he didn’t field a correction request or any objections from them all day long. As Politico tells us today, that’s an eternity in the modern campaign world.
Nor is this a Romney-ABC showdown, given that both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal cited sources corroborating Karl’s reporting. An “outside Romney adviser” provided the confirmation to the Post and a “friend” of Rubio’s helped the Journal. Man, Romney’s got to get these people to shut up.
Against this evidentiary tide, the candidate addressed the topic last night with reporters on the campaign trail in Michigan. He started out by bashing ABC’s sources and went from there:
“I can’t imagine who such people are. But I can tell you this: They know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation process. There are only two people in this country who know who are being vetted and who are not, and that’s Beth Myers and myself. And I know Beth well. She doesn’t talk to anybody. The story was entirely false.”
Coupled with the slam against ABC was the news that the Romney campaign was indeed vetting Rubio for vice presidential consideration — a bizarre disclosure. When’s the last time a presidential candidate went on the record to declare that one specific individual is under consideration for vice president. Beschloss?
Tucked into Romney’s statement is an odd take on the reality of vetting. Information on the process is not and cannot be limited to the candidate and a single aide. At some point, it must encompass the people who are actually being vetted, an eventuality that opens the whole event to a circle of folks who aren’t controlled by the Romney campaign. It’s that very dynamic — that the selection of a vice president per force becomes a group project — that will furnish plenty of fun veep-related stories over the summer.
The Romney campaign hasn’t responded to my questions on its handling of the ABC story. That’s unfortunate, because when a candidate slimes a reporter in the manner of Romney, he should have to provide some documentation. E-mails or other correspondence showing that the Romney campaign had requested documents from Rubio prior to June 19 would suffice.
Says Karl of the episode: “If Mitt Romney says he is vetting Marco Rubio, then of course he is vetting Marco Rubio. But my sources had told me that at least before yesterday, Rubio had not been asked to turn over any documents. Regardless of whether Rubio had been in the vetting process before yesterday, he is now. Of course I take Gov. Romney at his word on this.”In a blog post yesterday evening, Karl suggested that Romney’s sudden attack on the media may have had something to do with politics.