Avoiding the Media  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December 2011/January 2012

Avoiding the Media   

Romney’s strategy may well blow up on him. Mon., December 5, 2011

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


Back in March 2008, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination named Barack Obama fled rather than answer pointed questions from the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet and other reporters. Which inspired the political blog the Hotline to wonder, "If he can't face Lynn Sweet, how can he face Al-Qaeda?"

I was reminded of the Hotline's quip when I read about the reaction of the forces of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney when they learned that New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg had been granted behind-the-scenes access to a Fox News Channel candidate forum Saturday night.

Wrote Rutenberg, "Spotting the reporter, Mr. Romney's aides sprang into action, asking where he worked and what he was doing there, and then insisting that he not physically approach Mr. Romney before or after he was questioned on television..."

If he can't face Jim Rutenberg, how is Romney going to face Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama?

The episode came only days after Romney, during a rare media interview, was clearly rattled by the probing questioning of Fox's Brett Baier.

Unlike during his unsuccessful quest for the nomination four years ago, Romney has made himself very scarce indeed this time around as far as the press is concerned. He has done few individual interviews, he has avoided the Sunday talkfests and he has even declined to speak to reporters doing major pieces on him.

Robert Draper's cover story in yesterday's New York Times Sunday magazine was no exception. When it came to questions about Romney's economic views, the campaign made available a surrogate who couldn't answer many of the questions rather than the candidate himself.

Romney's hide-and-seek approach seemed to be working for him for quite awhile. He stayed in the public eye thanks to the myriad GOP debates, in which he has generally performed quite well. And he benefitted from the fact that even though he has often been the Republican "frontrunner," his opponents have rarely tried to rough him up. Challenger after challenger moved to the top in the polls, then imploded. But now Gingrich is soaring, and the battle-scarred veteran may prove to be a more enduring threat.

And now Romney may be paying a price for the coddling by his fellow candidates and his avoidance of the press. His thin-skinned reaction to legitimate questions by Baier represented a real dent in his image of unflappability.

And it's only going to get tougher as the Republican race morphs into a one-on-one showdown with Gingrich and, should he survive that, a gloves-off confrontation with Obama. His lack of combat experience could prove to be a real problem.

It may be, to use that great Talleyrand line, the ignore-the-media gambit turns out to be not only a disgrace, but also a mistake.

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