Gosh, will Mitt Romney and the traveling press corps ever get their relationship right? Work out their kinks? Build a happy home together? Or are they destined to have some sort of epic, Brontëan affair on a windswept moor in which they lash one another forever and ever with resentment?
I don't know or care, really, but it remains amusing to behold.
The big story out of Romneyville this week is of course Romney aide Rick Gorka's admonishment of the passel of question-shouting reporters at Poland's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: "Kiss my ass, this is a holy site for the Polish people." In a David Mamet play, that would have been a laugh line. And I give Gorka credit for coming to that breaking point absolutely honestly -- the precipitating event was the Washington Post's Philip Rucker shouting, inanely, into space, "What about your gaffes?" I hope to one day ask Rucker precisely what he expected to receive as an answer to that.
Of course, what followed from there was the press corps generically defending themselves by telling the Romney camp that their aloofness had by then forced them into a desperate, defensive crouch. The Associated Press' Kasie Hunt summed up their frustrations on Twitter: "Romney trip by the numbers: Three foreign countries, and three questions from the traveling press." And the Romney campaign has since then seemingly accepted some responsibilty for their poor rapport with the corps, promising to "provide more press briefings and heightened access to the candidate in the coming days, and to make changes to the travel pool that will make it more media friendly." (This is getting somewhat repetitive.)
But Romney's staff apparently has a bit of unfinished business with the aforementioned Kasie Hunt, and it's apparently fallen to The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz to referee this holdover dispute from Romney's foreign travels:
Mitt Romney was stunned when a top aide showed him an Associated Press story in which his comments about Palestinian culture were portrayed as aggressive and denounced as racist.
“I’ve said this many times,” said Romney, who had just arrived in Poland on Monday after making the comments in Israel. “How did this happen?”
It happened like this: Mitt Romney gave a speech in Jerusalem in which he said, "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things." He made oblique cultural comparisons between Israel and the Palestinian territories, alongside a comparison of similarly geo-adjacent nations, including the United States and Mexico, as well as Chile and Ecuador.
Hunt filed a story on the speech. For whatever reason, Hunt did not at the time seem to believe she was sitting on anything that was destined to blow up, marking the story as "non-urgent." As Kurtz goes on to explain, she was the only reporter to allude to the "culture" comments. Perhaps significantly, she did not include the comparisons to Mexico, the United States, Chile, and Ecuador.
Meanwhile, another AP reporter worked Hunt's original story and obtained a quote from an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, lighting up Romney for making a "racist" statement. Kurtz says that this is "the nub of the dispute" -- Hunt's story didn't include the stuff about Mexico, Ecuador, et al., and the Romney camp believes that this sets everything in a context that immunizes Romney from criticism from the Palestinians.
Why they think that is something of a mystery! It seems to me that getting a reaction from Palestinian officials about Romney's cultural comparison is a fairly predictable thing for a reporter to do.
Also predictable: Palestinian officials reacting angrily. It's not clear why one should expect an aide to Abbas to say, "Oh, he was comparing our arrangement to Chile and Ecuador? In that case, I'll totally let this slide." Kurtz reports that Hunt's boss at AP, Sally Buzbee, saw "the addition of Israel and the Palestinians to the usual litany that made Romney’s remarks news," and that "it could easily be viewed as provocative for Romney to have made the statement in Jerusalem."
The Romney camp's outrage over this story is more predicated on the tick-tock of the story's developments, and not on its merits. It's not clear that Romney has a case on the merits, given the fact that he wrote a piece for the National Review, essentially allocuting to the fact that he absolutely did intend to make precisely the cultural comparison that's so aggrieved the Palestinians. But it's also not clear that Team Romney has a case on the timing, either.
But the case they make is this: The original Hunt story lacked the desired context, and was nevertheless presented to the aforementioned Abbas aide -- Saeb Erekat -- for his critique. With Erekat's brushback in hand, the AP ran their story. Thus, Romney's staff is ticked off because the AP never went back to them for a response.
It's not entirely clear why they feel they were entitled to a call from the AP. After all, what the AP did, essentially, was listen to a speech and then solicit a reaction to it. But let's accept that the crux here is that the AP could not properly inform Erekat about all the Mexico and Ecuador stuff, which they think, for some reason, would have mollified him. Here's where their case against Hunt, as Kurtz reports it, breaks down:
Hunt made no attempt to seek comment from Romney press aides, either on the ground or during a subsequent 4 1/2-hour flight to Poland, where [Stuart] Stevens sat near reporters for part of the trip. Buzbee’s explanation? Hunt “didn’t know whether it was going to cause a big flurry or not.”
When they landed, Hunt saw on her BlackBerry that another AP reporter had gotten a sharp reaction from Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Erekat accused Romney of having made “a racist statement.” The controversy exploded at that point.
I'm really struggling to figure out what Hunt should have done. Let's recall that she's filed what she believes to be a "non-urgent" story on a Romney speech. Back at home, her editors discover a fault line. They follow up, and get a reaction while she's in the air. She learns about what's happened when she hits the tarmac in Poland. Presumably, at this point she needed to ... I don't know ... jump in the Associated Press' time machine, or something, to trouble Stuart Stevens about it while everyone was in the air.
Kurtz's adjudications of this contretemps leave something to be desired, as well. Here's how he calls the ball:
If Erekat was reacting to a partial account from the AP that omitted the other countries and made Romney seem to single out the Palestinians, the wire service clearly played a role in the ensuing uproar.
I know I keep repeating myself, but I'm still really mystified why anyone -- anyone in the world! -- thinks that Palestinian officials, who are party to one of the most enduring geo-political conflicts on the planet, would have given Romney a pass if only they'd known he was linking up the Israel-Palestine cultural comparison with a bunch of other nation-pairs -- none of which, by the way, are involved in an enduring geo-political conflict that colors the comparison. This whole matter of Saeb Erekat not getting the skinny on this seems to be a pointless bit of arm-waving.
And if the original remarks were newsworthy enough to report, they were newsworthy enough to seek immediate comment from the Romney camp.
How does that work? "Mr. Romney, hi, I'm Kasie Hunt from the Associated Press. I just wanted an immediate comment on this question: those words you said in that speech ... can you confirm that you said them?"
But it's okay, because Kurtz ultimately does not plan on making up his mind on the matter:
At the same time, whatever his team’s complaints about journalistic process, Romney himself touched off the firestorm with a public speech observed by reporters—a speech he undoubtedly thought would appeal to Jewish voters back home.
Well, hey, that's nice, but it was just a couple of paragraphs ago that you said that the Associated Press "clearly played a role in the ensuing uproar." Now we know that this role involved doing nothing more than reporting on a "firestorm" that "Romney himself touched off" when he gave a "public speech" that was "observed by reporters." (It's worth pointing out that The Daily Beast's Daniel Stone has provided his readers with what amounts to the same story, availing himself of the same Associated Press reporting.)
In the end, Kurtz just suggests that maybe the Romney camp can do more to provide access to the traveling press and give them an outlet to ask questions, instead of frustrating them with a freeze-out. I don't understand why it was necessary to provide this forensic investigation of an AP story to arrive at this conclusion.
Let's hope it was illuminating for somebody, I guess!
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At the Daytona 500 race, Mitt Romney's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/mitt-romney-nascar-team-owners_n_1303029.html" target="_hplink">attempt to connect with voters went awry</a> when he admitted that he didn't follow racing as closely as "some of the most ardent fans." "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners," he added. At the same event, he told a group of fans wearing plastic ponchos, "I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks." Romney later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/mitt-romney-garbage-bag-rain-gear_n_1313499.html" target="_hplink">defended the comment</a>, saying, "Look, I have worn a garbage bag for rain gear myself."
Loving The Height Of Michigan's Trees
Romney campaigned through Michigan ahead of the state's GOP primary in March, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-michigan-trees_n_1299937.html" target="_hplink">frequently making mention</a> of its foliage. <blockquote>Mitt Romney's last few Michigan stump speeches have included an unusual plank -- his appreciation for the apparently perfect height of the state's trees. "I love this state," he told an audience Tuesday. "The trees are the right height." On Friday afternoon, Romney reprised the comment, saying, "This feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height."</blockquote> Of course, those comments were just the latest examples of Romney professing his love for the Wolverine State's trees. For more, read the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-michigan-trees_n_1299937.html" target="_hplink">rest of the story</a>.
Romney Likes Grits, Y'all
At a March stump speech in Mississippi, Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-i-like-grits-learning-to-say-yall_n_1334935.html?ref=elections-2012" target="_hplink">explained to primary voters</a> that he had been making attempts to solidify his Southern credentials. <blockquote>Campaigning in Mississippi on Wednesday, Mitt Romney attempted to win over local voters by invoking a beloved regional delicacy. The former Massachusetts governor said during a speech in Pascagoula, Miss., that he is turning into an "unofficial Southerner." He also joked, "I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me."</blockquote>
Romney tried to connect with a Michigan crowd by providing 35 dozen paczkis, Polish jelly doughnuts traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, with flavors including strawberry, rose-hip and prune. But as <em>The Washington Post</em> reports, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/two-michigan-rallies-reveal-romney-santorum-flaws/2012/02/21/gIQA5Sz9ZR_print.html" target="_hplink">the gesture went awry</a>: <blockquote>The Comeback Kid walked out smiling, wearing a button-down shirt and jeans. And immediately messed something up. "By the way, how was the paczkis this morning? Yeah, yeah! That was very good," Romney said. His message: We are not so different, you and I. We have both just eaten the same food! But then Romney began talking about the powdered sugar on the paczki. There was no powdered sugar. The doughnuts were glazed and bare. "Reminded me of what's going on outside," Romney said, comparing the falling snow to a doughnut that people had not eaten. (Had he not really eaten one of the paczki, after all? Had Romney's campaign given the naked doughnuts to the crowd, while Romney was eating upgraded, sugar-dusted ones backstage?)</blockquote> Passing out baked goods is apparently something of a Romney hallmark, per this pool report of his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/21/sc-primary-mitt-romney-ha_n_1220447.html" target="_hplink">foisting Panera on reporters</a> during a flight.
A Couple Of Cadillacs
Mitt Romney tried to woo voters in Michigan when he off-handedly listed the American cars he and his wife owned, but may have instead ended up painting himself as out of touch. "I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles," Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink">said during an economic policy address</a>. "I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually. I used to have a Dodge pickup truck, so I used to have all three covered." Ann Romney's SRXs, retail new for $35,485 to $54,525.
During a December debate, Mitt Romney tried to make a point by challenging rival Rick Perry to a bet over the content of his book, "No Apology." "You've raised that before, Rick, and you're simply wrong," Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/10/mitt-romneys-10000-bet-rick-perry_n_1141387.html" target="_hplink">said</a>. "Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks?" He may have been right, but it was the dollar amount that raised eyebrows. $10,000 is <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/WestWingReport/status/145696946579972097" target="_hplink">three months' salary</a> for many Americans.
During the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/new-hampshire-primary-romney-rivals-final-appeals_n_1193570.html" target="_hplink">told an audience</a> at a campaign stop that he understood the fear of being fired, and that "there were a couple of times when I was worried I was going to get pink-slipped." Then-opponent Rick Perry mocked the statement, saying, "I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips - whether he'd have enough of them to hand out."
Oh, My Goodness!
At a campaign stop this spring in Derry, New Hampshire, Mitt Romney pulled a gag that raised eyebrows. While posing for a photo with his arms around the waitresses at Mary Ann's Diner, Romney suddenly jumped forward, acting as if someone had pinched his hind quarters."Oh, my goodness gracious!" he exclaimed. The GOP presidential candidate later said he was "just teasing" and the gag is "kind of fun to do."
Chrome For The Hollandaise
During a Granite State visit, Mitt Romney stopped off at Blake's Restaurant in Manchester. On the way out he met with the diner's owner <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2011/06/14/mitt_romney_vs_diners.html" target="_hplink">and cracked this egg</a>: <blockquote>I saw a young man over there with eggs benedict. He had the eggs benedict with a hollandaise sauce and the eggs, there. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce and hubcaps. Because there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise!</blockquote> <em>Get it!?</em> The owner laughed politely.
Corporations Are People
At an August rally in Iowa, Mitt Romney attempted to school a heckler by telling him that "corporations are people." "Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are," Romney said, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/mitt-romney-heckled-iowa_n_924426.html" target="_hplink">answering a question about entitlement reform</a>. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend."
Know Each Other?
Trying to make small talk with patrons at a New Hampshire diner, Romney asked a married couple sitting in a booth together, "You know each other?" Other Romney conversation nonstarters, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-day-of-awkwardness-with-mitt-romney/2011/06/14/AGApq6UH_story.html" target="_hplink">via The <em>Washington Post</em></a>: <blockquote>To a man wearing a "Joe Gauci Landscaping" T-shirt: "You do some landscaping work?" To two older women who just came from the gym: "Are your knees, hips doing okay?" ... Romney seemed to be auditing one man: "What's happened to your financials the last couple of years?"</blockquote>
'I'm Also Unemployed'
On the campaign trail in Florida, Romney and a small group of voters discussed unemployment and how to find a job in the struggling economy. The GOP presidential candidate worth more than $200 million chimed in, "I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed." The crowd laughed and asked if he was on LinkedIn. "I'm networking," Romney said, "I have my sight on a particular job."
Who Let The Dogs Out?
In the now-infamous video from Romney's 2008 presidential bid, Mitt is seen meeting with voters at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Florida. After nervously approaching a crowd of youngsters and awkwardly weaving his arm into the huddle, he randomly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/01/22/mitt-romney-who-let-the-d_n_82486.html" target="_hplink">blurted out</a>, "Who let the dogs out? Whoo Whoo!" For the full effect, watch the YouTube video above.
Anyone Over 100?
At a town hall event at a senior center in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney asked the elderly audience if anyone was over 100 years old. The exchange, <a href="http://dailycaller.com/2011/08/25/romneys-awkward-senior-moment/" target="_hplink">via the Daily Caller</a>: <blockquote>"Anybody here over 100 years old?" Romney asked. Crickets. "Not yet, but we're getting there, right? We're on our way," continued Romney. "We're hopefully going to get there soon." "Well, not so soon. We hope to get there safe and sound."</blockquote>
Airplane Scuffle With LMFAO Rapper
In February 2010, Mitt Romney got into a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/15/mitt-romney-threatened-on-plane_n_463322.html" target="_hplink">scuffle on an airplane</a> traveling back from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A Romney spokesman initially told reporters that a passenger became "physically violent" after Romney asked him to move his seat upright for takeoff. Rapper "Sky Blu from the group LMFAO later identified himself as the passenger, saying Romney loudly told him several times to straighten his seat. When Romney reached forward and grabbed Blu's shoulder, the rapper knocked Romney's hand away. <a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1632218/lmfaos-sky-blu-was-other-man-mitt-romneys-plane-fight.jhtml" target="_hplink">From MTV</a>: <blockquote>If Romney had asked nicely, Blu said he might have put his seat up, but since he was so rude ... Well, next thing you know, Blu said Romney reached out and put his hand on his shoulder and asked him again to put his seat up. </blockquote> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/18/mitt-romneys-fight-with-a_n_468407.html" target="_hplink">Blu said</a>, "And I didn't take it any further than that. I just wanted the man not to touch me; that's it."
At a campaign stop in Colorado, Romney mingled with patrons at a Mexican joint in Denver. From <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/romney-sharpens-attack-on-dodd-frank-financial-regulations/2011/06/20/AGPbUwdH_story.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Washington Post</em></a>: <blockquote>At one table, a boy offered Romney a $1 bill that he had folded origami-style for good luck. The candidate happily accepted it, but then rifled through his wallet looking for money to give the boy in return. Romney had a $100 bill, but evidently did not want to give that away. An aide handed him a $1 bill, but Romney said that wasn't enough. Then, deep inside his leather billfold, Romney found a $5 bill. "We'll give you an Abraham Lincoln back," he said, handing it to the boy.</blockquote>
Mingling with voters at a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mitt-romney-reaches-out-but-often-lacks-common-touch/2011/10/21/gIQAkUVc7L_story.html?hpid=z3" target="_hplink">campaign stop in Iowa</a>, Romney ordered a plate of fried chicken, corn and baked beans. While chatting with the market's owner, Romney, ever the business executive, curiously referred to the meal as a "product."
Politicians Get Recognized
<a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59002.html#ixzz1biat38lC" target="_hplink">Courtesy of Politico</a>, this video shows Romney trying his hand at comedy during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Romney talks to the crowd about how his four years in politics compare to his 25 years in the private sector, and how politicians get recognized in public. <blockquote>I was in the Newark airport, flying to Boston, and I was reading my newspaper and I heard someone shriek and I looked up and she was pointing at me. She had on a cowboy hat, cowboy boots; she was a Chinese exchange student. I knew she wasn't Texan because she had her jeans tucked into her boots. She pointed at me and she said, 'You're John Kerry!" And I said, "I sure am."</blockquote> For the full act, and the audience non-response, check out the video above.
Aloof Plane Flight
Mitt Romney displayed some particularly aloof behavior when a passenger sitting next to him on a fight to Boston tried to strike up conversation, <em>The New York Times</em> reported Nov. 6. <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/in-flight-romney-is-aloof-with-fellow-passengers/" target="_hplink">From the <em>Times</em></a>: <blockquote>According to Ms. McClanahan, about an hour into the flight -- which Mr. Romney mostly spent reading <em>USA Today</em> and using an iPad while wearing headphones -- she told him her idea for improving the American health care system: slashing overhead costs by switching to an electronic billing system. "He looked at me blankly and said, 'I understand,' then put his iPad headphones in and kept reading," she said.</blockquote> When another passenger asked Romney for a restarauant recommendation in Boston, he told her "I can't give you any .. You'll have to ask someone else," according to the article.
For 15 years Mitt Romney ran the private equity group Bain Capital. The successful financial company earned him millions. <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2007/dec/16/nation/na-mittbain16" target="_hplink">An <em>Los Angeles Times</em> article</a> about Romney's career at Bain painted a picture of the businessman under strain. "In tense meetings, he sometimes perspired so heavily it became an office joke. Or he nervously flapped his tie and said, "Oooohhh, what do we do now?" former colleagues told the paper.
When Romney entered the 2008 presidential race, he released a <a href="http://www.myspace.com/video/mittromney/the-decision/16602414" target="_hplink">13-minute video </a>of his family aimed at humanizing him. The video, titled "The Decision," went viral, but not for the reasons Romney wanted. The short film is narrated mostly by his wife Anne Romney, who comes across as charming, personable and engaging, while the rest of the scene gives off a cloying whiff of privilege, cloister and artificiality. Mitt sits down with his family to discuss the pros and cons of running for president, although Anne had already admitted that the decision had basically been made earlier, undermining the conceit of the filmed family gathering. Mitt, apparently unable to behave informally even with his family, whips out a white legal pad to take notes on his family's discussion. "Let me ask: How do you minimize the downsides?" the business executive asks his sons and daughters. Tagg Romney, who suggests he runs, has one warning for his pop: "The country may think of you as a laughing stock."