Mitt Romney’s speech to the American Society of News Editors was as much an indictment of the media as it was of President Obama. At times his sentiments were expressed bluntly:
Most people in my position are convinced that you are biased against us. We identify with LBJ’s famous quip that if he were to walk on water, your headline would read: “President Can’t Swim.”
Some people thus welcome the tumult in your industry, heralding the new voices and the unfiltered or supposedly unbiased sources. Frankly, in some of the new media, I find myself missing the presence of editors to exercise quality control. I miss the days of two or more sources for a story – when at least one source was actually named.
At other times he challenged the press to do its job:
President Obama’s comments to President Medvedev are deeply troubling. That incident calls his candor into serious question. He does not want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press. By flexibility, he means that “what the American public doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” He is intent on hiding. You and I will have to do the seeking.
Barack Obama’s exchange with the Russian President raises all kinds of serious questions: What exactly does President Obama intend to do differently once he is no longer accountable to the voters? Why does “flexibility” with foreign leaders require less accountability to the American people? And, on what other issues will he state his true position only after the election is over?
In other words, why aren’t you guys asking him what he is up to? It is a good question, the answer to which will become clear over time. Will the press do any “seeking” where Obama is concerned or will they simply act as scribes, taking down and regurgitating his talking points?
Romney also called out Obama’s favorite gambit:
But instead of answering those vital questions, President Obama came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making – and criticized policies no one is proposing. It’s one of his favorite strategies – setting up straw men to distract from his record.
He dubbed Obama’s strategy the ”hide and seek” campaign, a game that Obama only wins if the media eschew their independence and passively record the president’s rhetoric.
The media spend endless time trying to determine if Romney can “bond” with voters or if he’ll have to change his positions. These speculative, highly subjective exercises take up space and time in the media universe, and detract from basic reporting: What did Obama promise, what did he deliver and what is he promising to do if he gets a second term? (The media don’t spend too much time debating whether his rhetorical decline, cool personality and thin skin will make it impossible for him to connect with voters.)
Romney and his advisers are grown-ups and realize the mainstream media aren’t likely to be as confrontational with the president as they are with him. But Romney can do the next best thing: Point out the president’s lack of fiscal seriousness and make the case that Obama’s message is nearly entirely negative for a reason. Rep. Paul Ryan’s detailed fact-checking and rebuttal of Obama’s exaggerated claims is the sort of work that the Romney campaign will need to take on day in and day out. Whether the media does its job or not, Romney’s campaign better do its job, which involve both demonstrating the meagerness of Obama’s record and presenting a credible alternative.