A huge media story blew up yesterday around the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney: Shaun Boyd, a reporter for Denver CBS affiliate KCNC-TV, said on-air that the campaign had barred her from asking the candidate any questions about abortion or Todd Akin. When asked how such conditions had arisen, the Romney campaign issued few words: “This is not how we operate. The matter is being addressed,” said a Romney campaign source.
By late afternoon, some evidence had surfaced in support of that claim. The Huffington Post, for example, reported that other local TV stations which wrangled exclusives with Romney didn’t labor under such stipulations.
And in a wide-ranging interview late Thursday night, Boyd provided further substantiation for the campaign’s claims. Boyd says that the conditions were the work of a state-level Romney staffer in Colorado and that, from all indications, that staffer was acting independently of official Romney campaign guidance.
“I can verify that this is not something that came from the national campaign staff,” says Boyd, though she’d assumed that it had. She declined to provide the name of the staffer. The Romney campaign declined to elaborate on its previous statement.
In her exchanges with the conditions-imposing staffer, Boyd tried appealing to common sense. After learning that she couldn’t ask questions about the sensitive topics, Boyd responded, “Everybody’s talking about this, and I can’t talk about it? It’s going to look weird...It’s not going to look good for you.” Too, Boyd wasn’t intending to ask per se about abortion but rather about how Romney had asked Akin to give up his Senate campaign and had been defied.
The primary miscalculation of the staffer, suggests Boyd, was in supposing that the insistence on conditions would remain bottled up. “When the stipulation was made, I think the staffer didn’t think I’d tell everybody,” she says. The stipulation wasn’t communicated off the record, says Boyd, who announced to the whole world at the very beginning of her story that she’d been prevented from discussing abortion and Akin.
After the incident went national, Boyd spoke with a national campaign staffer, who asked why Boyd hadn’t appealed the matter to them. She said she responded that she didn’t think such an approach would get her anywhere.
The Denver reporter also shed some light on why the Obama people had an early start on launching the story nationally: She told them. Before the interview aired on KCNC-TV, Boyd called the Obama campaign and told them she’d be looking for response to Romney’s assertions in the interview. The Obama staffer asked what questions she’d be posing with respect to Akin; she responded that she wasn’t allowed to broach the topic. The Obama campaign promoted the story later on Thursday.
Boyd has been in broadcast journalism for 20 years and gave serious consideration to the handling of the staffer’s extreme conditions. She and her colleagues decided to go ahead with the interview because there were “other issues important to Coloradans” aside from the prohibited topics.
There’s no telling why the Romney staffer thought she could slide in these conditions without a loud and stinky backfire. Nor is there any telling why Obama aides go about planting questions/suggesting topics with local TV reporters. A guess will have to suffice: The campaigns view these people as media bumpkins, bottom-feeders who’ll feel so blessed to address national political leaders that they’ll swallow humiliating stipulations. “If that’s the case, it’s insulting . . . because I don’t think anyone in this town perceives me as a pushover reporter,” says Boyd.
What Boyd has shown is that a savvy news outfit can grudgingly accept nonsense conditions and fulfill journalism imperatives. It’s called full disclosure.