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."
Reports on CNN's American Morning and its Political Ticker blog quoted former Gov. Mitt Romney praising Sen. John McCain's "credentials on fiscal issues," but neither report noted that "questioning McCain's economic credentials was the centerpiece" of Romney's campaign during the Republican presidential primary in Florida.
NBC News' David Gregory let Sen. John McCain claim that Mitt Romney "disparage[d] the service and courage of an American hero" when he stated that Bob Dole is "probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me," a reference to a letter Dole wrote to Rush Limbaugh defending McCain. That night, Gregory also uncritically aired McCain's attack on Romney on NBC's Nightly News. But Romney made no comments disparaging Dole's military "service and courage" in his response to Dole's letter, as the full context of Romney's remarks make clear.
Discussing Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson's 2008 predictions, Bill O'Reilly stated on his Fox News show that the "secular-progressive far left says, look, all these people are crazy; all believers are nuts. They're dangerous people. ... Mitt Romney is a dangerous Mormon." However, polling data indicate that white evangelical Protestants are the most likely to be bothered by Romney's religion, and that conservatives are less willing than liberals to vote for a Mormon.
A Des Moines Register article reported that Mitt Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists," quoting Romney asserting that President Bush "has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling." But the article simply ignored the central issue in the debate: whether the government should have to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on communications involving people in the United States.
On Meet the Press, Mitt Romney claimed Hillary Clinton "put politics ahead of people" because "she was one of 28 [senators] to vote against alternative methods" of stem cell research. In fact, while Clinton voted against legislation that would have provided funding for alternative research measures, but restricted embryonic stem cell research, she voted for a bill that contained provisions providing for research relating to "alternative method technologies" and also expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research. Romney also touted a recent "breakthrough" on "alternative methods of creating stem cells without having to create new embryos" while failing to note that the senior American scientist involved in the "breakthrough" has emphasized the need to continue embryonic stem cell research. Meet the Press host Tim Russert did not challenge Romney on his claims.
On NBC's Today, David Gregory stated that, in his speech, Mitt Romney "urged voters to reject a religious test for his candidacy," then aired clips of Romney saying, "I will serve no one religion," and "[a] person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." Similarly, Matt Lauer did not challenge Romney's claim that he "do[es]n't believe that the people in this country are going to choose a person based upon their faith or what church they go to." Neither Gregory nor Lauer noted that Romney has asserted, on several occasions, that Americans "want a person of faith to lead them."
On the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric asked Mitt Romney "why he didn't spend more time explaining the tenets of his Mormon faith in his speech last week." Romney replied: "I can't imagine doing that in a speech as you're running for president. ... [T]hat would really open the door to the kind of religious test where people would listen and say, 'OK, do I believe that?' " He later stated that "[n]o religious test should ever be required for qualification for office in these United States." But Couric did not note that Romney has repeatedly asserted that Americans "want a person of faith to lead them."