First in a series of at least two blog posts.
Several media organizations have decided they’ve seen enough. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is now the “inevitable” claimant of his party’s nomination. In this series of at least two blog posts, the Erik Wemple Blogger will evaluate various acts of journalism in service of Romney Inevitability.
Headline: Is Mitt Romney Inevitable?
Outlet: ABC News’s The Note
Byline: Shushannah Walshe
It’s clear he’s strong and currently the one to beat, but analysts and experts in the early states as well as campaign operatives that have experienced the tricky inevitability label before say not so fast, there is a long campaign ahead.
Even the Romney camp itself is trying to temper the “sure thing” label with a senior adviser telling ABC News the end is not near.
“We don’t expect this to end soon,” the adviser said. “We are ready to fight until summer.”
Analysis: The story notes that a senior Obama aide dismissed Romney as a “flip flopper.” Picking up on the theme, this piece flip-flops its way through the Romney drama. At one point it says that claims of inevitability have a way of proving wrong. The next, it kind of signs on to the premise:
Another sign that Romney is solidifying as the GOP nominee? The Obama team is focusing on him. On a Wednesday conference call senior Obama strategist David Axelrod criticized Romney’s comments in Tuesday night’s Bloomberg Television/Washington Post debate where he called President Obama’s proposed payroll tax cut extension a “little band aid” for dealing with a big economic problem.
The ambivalence starts with the headline, which comes in the form of a question: “Is Mitt Romney Inevitable?” News outlets should get an allotment of three interrogatory headlines per year — if you want to exceed the limit, you’ll have to pay the government a fee. Question headlines are crutches for reporters and editors who want to flirt with something provocative without actually having to assert it. (Disclosure: I have used a disturbing number of these disturbing formulations and will endeavor to reform myself.)
This ABC story comes up with a verdict, and that is that Romney is a strong favorite, not quite yet inevitable. So why not put something like that in the headline instead of this cheesy approach?
A bigger point: The story quotes a political operative as saying that a campaign should seek a “goldilocks balance” concerning inevitability. Apparently you want the “just right” amount of inevitability. Yet through this discussion, the story fails to mention “porridge,” one of the great words of all time. If a source mentions Goldilocks, then you’ve got to find a way to sneak “porridge” into the narrative.
On the reportorial front, ABC news brings it. Tons of quotes and input from the campaigns and from people who know the topic — a tribute to the bush-beating ways of Shushannah Walshe plus a team of contributors consisting of John Berman, Emily Friedman, Arlette Saenz and Devin Dwyer.
Via good reporting comes some good analysis. I like this paragraph in particular:
[Former Clinton aide Phil] Singer pointed out that it’s not just the Clinton campaign that Romney can learn from, but also the 2009 Michael Bloomberg mayoral re-election campaign when he came in only five points ahead of his opponent although he poured $100 million of his own money into the race and had a fairly strong lead in polling. Singer warned that “if you create this perception of inevitability you run the risk of seeing a more lackluster turnout than you would need for a favorable result.”
Prognosis: The ABC story has certain advantages over its rivals in the quest for the Romney Inevitability Nomination. But it’s way too early in the contest to say.