The Washington Post

Politico’s media criticism, No. 4

Fourth in a series of articles on Politico’s story “To GOP, Blatant Bias in Vetting.”

The media’s enterprise journalism on Mitt Romney has been consistently negative. Or, at least, that’s the message that Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen pass along in their article about the bias in vetting the presidential candidates. Here’s some language from the story:

Republicans cry “bias” so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh — or Haley Barbour.

And the imbalance can do slow, low-grade but unmistakable damage to Romney: Swing voters are just getting to know him. And coverage suggesting he is mean or extravagant can soak in, even though voters who took the time to weigh the details might dismiss the storyline.

Factual stuff there. Stories saying Romney is mean and extravagant can indeed “soak in,” as Politico itself noted in connection to a tough article about Romney. But you know something? Coverage saying Romney is nice and thrifty can also soak in.

And if you look around a bit, you’ll find that the nice-and-thrifty coverage exists in big, enterprising, front-page copy. Produced by The Washington Post and the New York Times, no less.

Want nice? Click on this November 2011 Post article by Michael Leahy. It goes detailed on young Mitt Romney’s loving and respectful relationship with father George Romney, whom Mitt Romney calls the “real deal.” The piece ends on this note:

Four years ago, when he cast his Massachusetts health-care plan as an exercise in common sense and personal responsibility, Romney proudly told his listeners that his father would have backed it. But his references to Massachusetts health care, and to the famously moderate Romney, are fewer this time. He still says, with no small emotion, that he learned critical decision-making skills from his father. He still says, “He’s the real deal.” Except nowadays, he is careful to add: “But we were different on some things.” He thinks his father would understand.

And if Politico thinks the media portray Romney as extravagant, surely it missed this New York Times barnburner of a story: “Two Romneys: Wealthy Man, Thrifty Habits.” If the headline doesn’t resonate, the central anecdote just may.

Soon after Mitt Romney handed out eye-popping bonuses to top performers at his private equity firm in the early 1990s, a young employee invited him to ride in his brand-new toy — a $90,000 Porsche 911 Carrera.

Mr. Romney was entranced by the sleek, supercharged vehicle: at the end of a spin around downtown Boston, he turned to the employee, Marc Wolpow, and marveled, “Boy, I really wish I could have one of these things.”

Mr. Wolpow was dumbfounded. “You could have 12 of them,” he recalled thinking to himself.

Guess what else Romney did? He bolted from a social get-together at his summer home in Cape Cod to put on a bathing suit and help his son find a cheap anchor that the kid had dumped into the sea and had given up on finding.

Also in the New York Times, a flattering portrait emerged of Romney as a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu. More: An October takeout on Romney as a lay leader of the Mormon church rolls out touching anecdotes of a guy who took time to care for his people. Here’s one:

Ted Oparowski, a retired firefighter, and his wife, Pat, a secretary, still praise Mr. Romney for ministering to their 14-year-old son, David, who was dying of cancer three decades ago.

The boy, upon hearing that Mr. Romney was a lawyer, asked him to help draft a will, so that he might leave something to each of his friends. Mr. Romney pulled out a legal pad, and together they wrote one up. Later, he gave the eulogy at the boy’s funeral.

Those paragraphs had me prancing around my house, raving to another individual about Romney’s core goodness.

The stories from The Post and the Times bring texture to the life of a possible future president and trouble to the thesis of VandeHei and Allen. What they reflect is a strong and deep-seated bias in the media — bias, that is, toward beating the competition to fresh angles and anecdotage about a fellow who’s been on the political scene for years.

VandeHei declined to comment for this post.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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