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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 05:59 PM ET, 10/13/2011

Romney inevitable: Washington Post goes for it, almost

Fifth 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.

Story: “GOP views Romney as ‘inevitable’ nominee

Outlet: Washington Post

Byline: Philip Rucker and Perry Bacon Jr.

Thrust:

Buoyed by a series of strong debate performances, Mitt Romney is suddenly attracting new support from major donors and elected officials, some of whom had resisted his previous entreaties, as people across the GOP grow more accepting of the presidential contender as the party’s standard-bearer.
“He’s viewed as an almost inevitable candidate,” said longtime strategist Ed Rollins, who until last month managed the campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), one of Romney’s opponents. “He’s the heavy favorite.”

Analysis: Note the “almost”! Rollins’s prediction leaves some daylight for an alternative scenario, something that may come in handy for him and the journalists who quoted him.

The Post’s treatment does something that you don’t see too often in the huge and growing collection of Romney-inevitability (RI) journalism. It allows dissonance to take root at the very top of the piece. Right after channeling the case for RI, The Post presents this passage:

The party establishment seems to be moving Romney’s way, even as a new national poll highlighted the volatility of the race. A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed the surging businessman Herman Cain numerically ahead of Romney for the first time, 27 percent to 23 percent, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry third, at 16 percent.

A knee-jerker might conclude that The Post is driving a tendentious story here, one that doesn’t jibe with the facts in its own story. Yet the piece returns to the matter of the topsy-turvy polling numbers, saying that the trading-places act of Cain and Perry could be “splintering the votes of conservatives who don’t like Romney, raising the prospect of Romney winning by plurality in such early-voting states as Iowa and South Carolina.” Fair enough.

A questionable reportorial moment arrives when an unnamed Romney adviser tells The Post that anybody who “gets caught up in the inevitability thing is making a huge mistake.” The reason offered for the grant of anonymity is that the adviser couldn’t discuss “campaign strategy” on the record. Well, that quote isn’t strategy; it’s PR.

A not-at-all questionable moment comes when The Post gets Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to say that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement of Romney “will cause some people to give Romney another look.”

Whatever the impression left by the story, it started out as an exploration, says Steven Ginsberg, who edits politics pieces at the paper.

“We didn’t set out to write an inevitability story. We wanted to see where the Republican establishment stood at this moment and what we found is what we reported: a sense that much of the establishment is getting behind Romney. That’s true right now irrespective of polls or whether he ultimately wins the nomination.”

By  |  05:59 PM ET, 10/13/2011

 
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