The good news, I suppose, for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is that he's won the endorsement of the Detroit Free Press. The bad news is that it is a very, very reluctant endorsement. That presents something of a challenge for the Romney campaign, which apparently prefers to edit the endorsements it receives to its liking, and then hide behind journalistic rules that it makes up and pretends are important to follow.
Let's begin with today's endorsement from the Free Press, which is titled "Mitt Romney is best -- but we urge him to recapture collaborative spirit." The basic idea here is that the Free Press has taken stock of the current GOP field, and responded by saying, "Uhm, I guess we like Romney, kinda?"
This endorsement should be a slam dunk for Mitt Romney.
His record and history — his term as governor of Massachusetts, his rescue of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, even his time as a venture capitalist and management consultant — make him far more qualified to represent the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential race than the other candidates.
His personal background, as a native Detroiter and the youngest son of a successful and popular governor here, also makes him an obvious pick for Michigan’s largest news organization.
But for the past 12 months, Romney has been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests. He has made gestures toward economic and social radicalism, and eschewed the common sense of cooperative governing that made him a success in Massachusetts.
Of paramount concern to the editors of the Free Press is Romney's position on the government intervention in the auto industry, which is widely understood to have been successful. Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder -- who is Romney's most important in-state endorser -- takes issue with Romney over his position on the matter.
And Romney hasn't been too clear on what his problem with it is -- the op-eds he's penned suggest his chief problem (besides the fact that President Barack Obama might get credit for saving the auto industry) is that the government was involved at all. Romney seems to have thought that GM and Chrysler should have been subjected to a managed bankruptcy. But absent taxpayer intervention, there was nobody to fund such a bankruptcy, and so without the government stepping in with its "bailout," the likely result would have been liquidation, layoffs, and chaos up and down the retail chain.
In fact, it sure looks like at one point, Romney was fully supportive of Obama's efforts (following those of his predecessor, President George W. Bush), until he got ripped for it. Then he changed his tune to something more discordant.
Regardless, it remains a problem for Romney in Michigan, where members of the GOP base he needs to turn out for the Michigan Primary don't feel the same way about the auto industry intervention as the state's voters as a whole. So the Free Press, as you might expect, bloodies Romney up a little bit:
Romney was also dead wrong when he opposed government bailouts for the auto industry (Michigan’s most vital economic engine) in late 2008. And he has since adopted a recalcitrant and, at times, revisionist defense of his position in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bailouts he opposed were necessary.
No doubt, much of Romney’s shifting owes to the nature of the GOP primary, which has been dominated by the party’s furthest right elements. To compete with stauncher conservatives of lesser achievement and stature, Romney has essentially played down to their level. He is chest-beating and straining to prove his ideological bona fides (recently, he called himself “severely” conservative), rather than focusing on the nuanced, sophisticated strength of his record.
The editors go on to state their lack of affection for Romney's competitors, and applaud his "past leadership" -- which boils down to the accomplishments Romney touted four years ago that he has to treat gingerly now. The editors note Romney's position-switching, calling it "troubling," before going on to speculate about who "the real Romney" might be.
The Romney campaign will have a much harder time pulling out the parts of this endorsement that it will want to tout than it did when the Free Press' sister paper, the Detroit News, published its own, less reluctant endorsement. (Both papers are owned by Gannett, but present themselves as ideological rivals, with the Free Press leaning left and the Detroit News leaning right) But even the Detroit News had its reservations:
We disagree with Romney on a point vital to Michigan — his opposition to the bailout of the domestic automobile industry. Romney advocated for a more traditional bankruptcy process, while we believe the bridge loans provided by the federal government in the fall of 2008 were absolutely essential to the survival of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. The issue isn't a differentiator in the GOP primary, since the entire field opposed the rescue effort.
The Romney camp, in passing along news of this endorsement to supporters, was careful to excise that paragraph (among others), which did not sit well with the folks at the Detroit News. As Evan McMorris-Santoro reported yesterday:
“We’re not pleased,” Detroit News Editorial Page editor Nolan Finley told me. “We would have preferred the campaign link to the electronic version of the editorial at DetNews.com so that readers could see the complete version. If they were going to simply present excerpts, as sometimes happens, they should’ve identified them as excerpts.”
The Romney camp’s version of the editorial — which removed a paragraph that criticized Romney for his opposition to the auto bailout — included elipses in the places where the criticism was removed. Finley said they weren’t enough.
“I don’t think that’s entirely appropriate,” he said. “Readers have no way of knowing what’s missing and are clearly being led to believe that this is the editorial as written by the Detroit News.”
Finley said the paper has contacted the Romney campaign “and expressed our displeasure.”
Naturally, I'm hardly surprised that the Romney campaign cut out the caveats and stuck to the bright side in its own press release on the endorsement. Why would anyone expect the candidate to disseminate criticism? That said, the Romney camp's excuse for doing it is pretty laughable. According to Jim Romenesko:
A Romney campaign spokesperson called me after getting Finley’s call and said that “because of copyright laws, we’re required when sending something out that it’s less than half the original article.”
Romenesko asked for copyright experts to "chime in" and copyright experts basically said, "Ha ha, no, that's a load." Maria Amante sent Romnesko the relevant regulations:
According to the US Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html#permission
How much of someone else’s work can I use without getting permission?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.
McMorris-Santoro cited First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams:
Abrams said that excuse was essentially total crap. Though a newspaper maybe could sue a campaign for reprinting their work in its entirety, it never happens (candidates and committees routinely blast out full copies of articles to reporters. The standard Romney’s campaign cited is non-existent, Abrams said.
“The short answer is the 50% doesn’t come from anywhere,” Abrams said. “And saying that they had to cut out what they did for copyright reasons is wholly unpersuasive.”
(One of the reasons that the Detroit News might think twice about actually suing Romney's campaign over this is because the paper has been on the other side of complaints over editing recently. The Michigan Education Association complains here that an editorial they submitted to the paper was also edited in such a way to allow for their critique of Romney, on the "auto bailouts" to be lessened.)
At any rate, the takeaway here is that if some political campaign sends you word of some endorsement they're touting, maybe go and find the endorsement and read the whole thing, because chances are that political campaign is lying to you.
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