Local Wisconsin reporters say that as the national media begins to scrutinize Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) life and career following his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate, they may overlook details such as his inside-the-Beltway focus, the high level of unemployment in his hometown, and his family connection to the natural gas industry.
In the early stages of such reviews, news outlets are often dependent on the campaigns themselves, prior national coverage of the candidate, and even Wikipedia for insight and can miss the kind of information local reporters who have covered the vice presidential selection for years may know best.
Media Matters went to some of those local reporters in Wisconsin and asked for their take on the information voters, and reporters, need most but may miss as they look at Ryan's career.
One issue most journalists raised was that Ryan left Wisconsin at a young age and climbed the political ladder in Washington. One local scribe compared him to Dick Cheney in that regard, stating both men rose to the top by focusing on D.C. connections and not in home state political circles.
"The way to understand him is he is Dick Cheney, he is a guy who went to Washington as soon as he could, rooted himself in the establishment, got himself elected as soon as he could and became a major player," said John Nichols, an associate editor at the Capital Times in Madison. "He is Dick Cheney with very good hair."
Other Wisconsin news people who have covered Ryan describe him as likeable and accessible to reporters, but something of an unknown even to local voters who re-elect him regularly despite his hometown being hit by hard economic times.
Scott Angus, editor of The Janesville Gazette, the daily newspaper in Ryan's hometown, described Ryan's fellow residents as having mixed views on their representative.
"The people of Janesville are probably as divided about Paul Ryan as the rest of the country," Angus said Saturday, hours after Ryan was announced as Romney's choice. "A lot of people would view [Ryan's opinions] as pretty conservative and pretty far to the right and that does not sit well with a lot of people in his district."
Angus, a 21-year editor of the paper, added, "He has lived here, but he has not worked here much, he has been in Washington working on his career path. I think a lot of people are surprised because he has always said his plans were not to rise to national office. He never had any elected office until he was elected to Congress."
But Janesville's recent past is also important, several reporters said, citing the town's difficult economic situation, sparked by the closure of a General Motors plant in 2009.
"Their unemployment rate is double digits," said Jeff Flynt, a news reporter at WTAQ Radio in Green Bay. "For a state that is trying to turn around the business aspects of the state the fact that Janesville unemployment continues to be pretty high and you have a guy who is known pretty well nationally and has not found a way to help the plant or put something in its place, that may catch" the national media's attention.
Outlining the growing controversy about the timeline of Mitt Romney's Bain Capital career, CNN's Jim Acosta recently asked the candidate if he believed he was "being swift-boated in this campaign." Later that same evening, reporting on Anderson Cooper 360, CNN's Tom Forman forged a tighter connection, suggesting "Republican analysts fear Mitt Romney could become the second politician from Massachusetts swift boated out of the presidency."
Here's how Forman describe the Swift Boat affair [emphasis added]:
FORMAN: He's talking about the Swift Boat campaign, in which President Bush's challenger John Kerry was demonized over what his campaign considered an attribute. His decorated service as a soldier in Vietnam. The Swift Boat ads, backed by a group of pro-Bush veterans, questioned the Democratic challenger's conduct in the war, his anti-war activities later and his patriotism.
Kerry was slow to respond and never very effective in refuting their claims even though his critics offered little in the way of proof. He lost the election of course. And for many Democrats, swift-boating became a catch-all term for any unfair, untrue, personal assault on a candidate.
Trying to tie contemporary questions about Romney's Bain past with an infamous GOP smear campaign is an exercise in false equivalency. "The Swift Boat campaign was completely a lie," Esquires' Charles Pierce recently reminded readers. "Nothing the Swifties said about John Kerry was true." And yet, despite the cavernous gap between the Swift Boat affair and the ongoing Bain story, the comparison continues to gain currency.
The conservative Washington Examiner editorial page on Monday lamented the "Swift-Baining of Mitt Romney." What had the Obama campaign done that was so unfair to the Republican candidate? It had "seized on reports by liberal websites Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo -- and later by the Boston Globe -- citing Securities and Exchange Commission filings that listed Romney as the CEO of Bain after he was said to have left for the Olympics."
Quoting news outlets that cite government documents regarding Romney's employment record now constitutes a smear campaign?
Let's stipulate this fact going forward: A candidate having his résumé or biography examined during the course of a presidential campaign does not constitute being "swift boated." Enthusiastic "vetting" of candidates' backgrounds is a routine aspect of general elections.
The distinguishing feature of a Swift Boat smear campaign, of course, was that virtually every single war-era allegation made against Kerry's military service proved to be false, leaving the assumption that the entire point of the coordinated, deep-pocketed attack was to purposefully spread as manly lies as possible. And not just small fibs, but truly unconscionable lies about a serviceman's record during the unpopular Vietnam War.
On CBS Sunday morning, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer gave a free pass to Mitt Romney's on his changed position on whether an individual mandate should be part of federal health insurance reform.
Schieffer's interview was the first Sunday morning interview Romney has done this campaign cycle with a show other than Fox News Sunday.
Schieffer asked Romney to respond to the assertion that the federal Affordable Care Act enacted by Obama is essentially the same as the plan that Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Romney responded that he believed an individual mandate at the federal level is "unconstitutional."
However, in a 2009 USA Today op-ed, Romney advocated for a federal individual mandate, expressly stating that the federal government follow his Massachusetts law as a model, a fact Schieffer did not bring up.
As TPM explained:
In July 2009, Mitt Romney called on President Obama to require Americans to buy insurance as part of his health care plan, using "tax penalties" as a backstop -- in other words, the individual mandate that Republicans virulently oppose.
In a USA Today op-ed titled "Mr. President, what's the rush?," which is also available on MittRomneyCentral.com, Romney urged Obama to "learn a thing or two about health care reform" from his Massachusetts plan that contained the same policy, and touted it as effective.
"First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance," Romney wrote. "Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages 'free riders' to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others."
The revelation could damage the GOP presidential frontrunner, who has been attacked by conservatives for enacting a similar law as "Obamacare," but has defended himself by saying such an approach is acceptable on a state level, not a federal level.
Watch the interview from CBS's Face the Nation:
When a distant Obama controversy was resurrected last week by the president's most fervent media foes, the New York Times noted how Mitt Romney's campaign distanced itself from the debate, and from the president's extreme critics.
The Times reported [emphasis added]:
On Thursday, the Drudge Report posted a link on its Web site to a report that sought to revive the long-discredited assertion that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States.
The Romney campaign has kept a considerable distance from the anti-Obama fringe. It only turns off moderate and independent voters, while stirring up Mr. Obama's base.
But has the GOP campaign really kept its distance? It's true that with last week's resurrection of the long-debunked conspiracy theory about Obama's true birthplace, the Romney campaign showed no interest in embracing the story.
In general though, the Republican Party's presumptive nominee has gone out of his way to embrace the anti-Obama fringe, in the form of today's right-wing media complex. The Romney campaign has built strong ties with Fox News, The Drudge Report, and with an array of far, far-right websites that traffic in every imaginable type of anti-Obama hysteria, and do it on a daily basis.
Indeed, the Romney campaign seems determined to wage a general election campaign battle alongside the anti-Obama fringe, in a way that Sen. John McCain did not four years ago.
Recall that earlier this month the Huffington Post reported that in effort to reach out to right-wing bloggers and online journalists, Romney met with dozens of conservative writers for two hours during an on off-the-record gathering in Washington, D.C. The bull session centered around ways the bloggers and writers could help Romney's campaign with its messaging, and how they could most effectively distribute opposition research on Obama.
In other words, the Romney campaign deputized the right-wing blogosphere. And yes, the bloggers whom Romney so graciously met with represent a Who's Who of the anti-Obama fringe. Among those assembled for the Romney meeting were representatives from American Spectator, Human Events, RedState, Townhall, Powerline and PJ Media, among others.
Here's a sample of their recent work:
Sean Hannity hosted presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney for a 16 minute interview last night but failed to ask about comments in which Romney claimed "a lot of the credit" for saving the auto industry. Hannity did, however, find time to ask: "Do you believe that this President has failed in his time in office?"
During a WEWS-TV interview, Romney said "I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy. And finally, when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back."
Romney's claim generated many headlines because in a 2008 New York Times op-ed, Romney argued that a government bailout for auto companies would "virtually [guarantee]" the demise of the auto industry, and that a "managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs."
Contrary to Romney's advice, the federal government did provide assistance, and economists and a key person who was part of the negotiations say that without assistance from the federal government, a bankruptcy of the auto industry would have likely resulted in liquidation, due to the lack of available private financing.
Even Fox Business' Lou Dobbs has highlighted the controversy. But not Hannity. Instead Hannity's viewers were treated to questions like this:
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent lost his cool during his first televised interview following the firestorm that surrounded his infamous claim that he would "be dead or in jail" if the president is reelected. During a May 4 appearance on CBS This Morning, Nugent took umbrage with interviewer Jeff Glor's suggestion that Nugent will have a hard time attracting moderate voters for Mitt Romney:
TED NUGENT: I'm an extremely loving, passionate man, and people who investigate me honestly, without the baggage of political correctness, ascertain the conclusion that I'm a damned nice guy, and if you can find a screening process more powerful than that, I'll suck your d--k.
Nugent then turned to a female CBS producer and said, "Or I'll f--k you, how's that sound?" CBS' video bleeped out some of Nugent's words at the end of his tirade, but they were transcribed by TMZ.com.
CBS reported that "Nugent's wife told him after the interview ended that Nugent owed an apology to the producer. And Nugent did. He also called Glor Thursday and said that, after the interview, he was rushed to the emergency room and had a kidney stone removed." Just earlier this week, Nugent appeared on NRA News to suggest that he could play a role in convincing moderates to not vote for President Obama this fall:
CAM EDWARDS, HOST: I think between now and November, I think you would agree, that the most important thing that anybody listening could possibly seek to do is to make sure that on election day we elect somebody other than Barack Obama.
TED NUGENT: Correct. And so -- I know it's that middle ground, it's the moderates. We've already got the Second Amendment community. I hope we have the hunting community and conservation community. I hope we have the most productive community in America. But I will learn from, maybe the greatest articulator and believable and revered man in the history of individual freedoms, and that's Charlton Heston. And I know that's quite a leap going from the "Motor City Madman" to the supreme eloquence of Charlton Heston, but officially on Cam & Company right now today May 2, 2012, I vow to my fellow patriots that I will work hard to be as efficient and effective for that middle ground to understand the right to keep and bear arms and to gut the abuses in our federal agencies, including Fish and Wildlife and EPA and FDA and USDA etcetera etcetera ad nauseam. I will try to be more -- I hate the word moderate -- but effective to the moderates because they're the voting block we need to access.
Nugent's appearance on CBS was not, of course, the first time that the "Motor City Madman" had a rather immoderate meltdown.
With the competitive race for the Republican nomination effectively over, the runners-up are expressing their hurt feelings with how they were treated by the press. Traditionally, those barbs have been directed at the so-called liberal media for the way reporters and pundits covered conservatives. This year though, the GOP complaints are raining down on Fox News, with both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich taking shots at their former employer for what the candidates consider to be the channel's unfair and unbalanced primary coverage.
Fox News is biased! So claimed Gingrich this week:
During a meeting with 18 Delaware Tea Party leaders here on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich lambasted FOX News Channel, accusing the cable network of having been in the tank for Mitt Romney from the beginning of the Republican presidential fight.
And so claimed Santorum last month:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused Fox News of "shilling" for GOP front-runner Mitt Romney during a contentious interview Tuesday on the "Kilmeade and Friends" radio show.
"He's had a 10-to-1 money advantage," Santorum said of Romney. "He's had all the organizational advantages. He has Fox News shilling for him every day, no offense Brian, but I see it. And yet, he can't seal the deal because he just doesn't have the goods to be able to motivate the Republican base to win this election."
Like a classroom filled with favorites used to being the center of the teacher's interest, the GOP candidates this season, flattered nonstop for years on Fox, suddenly found themselves competing for the channel's attention and fighting for kingmaker Roger Ailes' affection. Was it inevitable that the incestuous primary process played out on Fox would produce hurt feelings and bruised ego? Yes. Was the spectacle yet another reminder that Fox News has transformed itself into a purely political entity? It was.
With signs that the Republican nominating process may take much longer, and become much more contentious, than once thought, fault lines are beginning to appear within the conservative media, which has traditionally been very disciplined in their messaging.
What's confusing though, is watching conservative bloggers, who traditionally bash the press for being unfair to Republicans, suddenly claiming the press is being too nice (too fair?) to certain GOP hopefuls.
Last week, Andrew Breitbart's editorial panel at Big Journalism, claiming to have spotted a long-term press conspiracy, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Mitt Romney a free ride prior to his possible nomination:
John McCain's Romney oppo file makes its way to the Internet. Will the media now begin to talk about some of the troubling things in Romney's record, or will they "Obama him" and allow a candidate to skate through the primary with little vetting -- except what the candidates can push through before they're jumped on and called "mean?" The media doesn't want to vet Romney now; they're holding their fire in the event he becomes the nominee, after which they will unload.
This week, conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who has been forceful in her support of Romney, lashed out at the mainstream media for giving Newt Gingrich a free ride while supposedly "grilling" Romney with "enthusiasm":
The key question for tonight's debate is whether the NBC moderators will serve up more hanging curveballs over the plate for Newt Gingrich to bash out of the park or whether they will actually scrutinize him with the same enthusiasm they have shown in grilling Mitt Romney.
There's something surreal in watching conservatives complain the press is being too nice to a Republican candidate during primary season.
From the August 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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First, the bad news.
Last week there was an eruption of dopey chatter about the type of blue jeans Republican Mitt Romney wears. Why? Because according to a Los Angeles Times report, Romney was spotted, "sporting skinny Gap jeans bought for him by his wife." (Revealing personality detail!)
The good news is that since that initial bout of interest, the story hasn't really gained much traction.
Why is that good news?
It's not because I necessarily care about Romney's standing in the press. It's just that having survived the travesty that was Al Gore's Beltway media treatment during the 2000 campaign, I break out into allergic reactions when I hear, or read, pundits going on about how "inauthentic" Candidate X or Y is. And I start running for the exits when the pundits point to the candidates' wardrobe as supposed proof of that crucial lack of authenticity.
Gore, of course, got gored for wearing cloths that were the wrong "tone," and the wrong type of shirts, and the wrong everything because Gore was "inauthentic" and had to fake his way through life. (That's why he's such an exaggerator!) At least that's what dishonest, Gore-bashing pundits insisted throughout the 2000 campaign.
Most of that kind of Gore commentary was insanely snide and virtually all of it was pointless, which is why I hope if Romney runs for the White House we don't see a return of that kind of press nonsense.
For the record, the Los Angles Times article that started the Romney skinny jeans meme was a mess. The newspaper actually put the jeans mention in the sub-headline as well as the lede of the article. Inside the Times newsroom, Romney's jeans were presented as the most important part of the candidate profile.
From the January 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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In a Washington Post op-ed, Mitt Romney makes false and misleading assertions to claim that the strategic missile reduction treaty with Russia "jeopardizes our missile defense system." In fact, the head of the Missile Defense Agency testified that "the new START treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program."
From the March 7 edition of Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday:
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From The Hill:
Mitt Romney isn't a Senator. He's never been a Senator. He isn't even in elected office anymore. How he could fillibuster is anyone's guess.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer did not challenge Mitt Romney's false suggestion that during the Republican presidential primary campaign he had not attacked Sen. John McCain's lack of accomplishment "in the world of business." In fact, during the primary campaign, CNN had aired a clip of Romney saying, "I think, at a time like this, it makes sense to have a president who's actually had a job in the real economy."