So here I am, waiting patiently for the vaunted Mitt Romney for President campaign to begin.
Have I missed it? The only evidence so far is a series of ads on You Tube, each one I’m told, better than the last, and all adding up to the devastating indictment that, gee, Barack Obama is a nice guy but he’s just in over his head, and how about that bad economy, and what this country really needs, instead of a good five-cent cigar, is a corporate turnaround executive.
I’m told that the big push is just around the corner, that Mitt’s schedule is consumed with fund-raisers for the nonce, but fasten your seatbelts because over the course of the last month of the campaign, it’s gonna be a doozy.
And then, if all else fails, there are always the debates.
So here’s my rude question: if the Romney campaign falls in the forest and no media are around to cover it, does it make a sound? Because a paid-advertising campaign just isn’t going to cut it. And some point — and very soon — Mitt Romney is going to have to deal with and engage the media, or else run the risk of becoming a hologram of his own candidacy.
There’s no way any Republican is going to get a fair shake from the press corps as currently constituted. The abandonment of American journalism’s former allegiance to objectivity in favor of a more European-style partisanship — on both the news and the editorial pages — and the current Baby Boomer ascendancy in the upper reaches of the newsrooms and the networks mean that liberalism is the default mode and that conservative principles will be necessarily viewed as aberrational.
Well, as President Kennedy famously observed, life isn’t fair. Republicans can lament the media’s antipathy all they want, but that’s not goig to change anything; the only way to deal with it is to confront it head-on. And that means Mitt’s going to have to venture into the lion’s den (not just once but repeatedly) and force the reporters to pay attention to his candidacy, so it can get off YouTube and into the homes of the voting public.
That means playing smart. The Gotcha brigade will be on triple overtime, just waiting for Mitt to stumble, while assiduously blocking any news likely to make Obama unhappy. Everything will be spun to put Romney in the worst possible light, while leaving Barry basking in the media’s warm glow of adoration. But so what? Surveys show that the American public hates the media and discounts their motives.
Mitt needs to be on TV, leading, as if he already were president. He’s tried it before, as when he headed for New Orleans after Hurricane Isaac, forcing Obama to play catch up — although this CBS News story is a good indication of the kind of coverage he needs to prepare for. But the dirty little secret of the media, as any journalist will tell you, is that people don’t parse stories the way the pros do. CBS may have thought it could wound Romney in New Orleans by making him look stupid and thus creating a new talking point/meme for the MSNBC crew. But to 99 percent of the public, the story was simply: Romney in New Orleans, Obama not.
In short, Romney needs to show some gumption and take his campaign to the people — and that means taking the media head on. Newt Gingrich showed that a little pushback can do wonders for a candidate’s popularity, especially with the conservative base (which Romney should not take for granted), and an occasional flash of temper in response to a particularly stupid question would not be unwelcome.
More important, Romney needs to learn that, when confronted by a media horde, you don’t have to answer any of their questions. You say what you want to communicate; the media serves your purpose just by showing up. Believe me, should the press corps start to sense that Romney might win this thing, the tone of their questions is going to change in a hurry, as the courtiers begin jockeying for position and currying favor with a new administration. Running from them, in other words, will not cut it — turning and facing them will.
So go ahead, Mitt: use the media and treat them with the exact amount of respect they deserve. For another dirty little secret, especially of the Washington press corps, is that deep down they know they’re losers — well paid non-entities with notebooks and cameras whose entire existence is predicated on the prior existence of politicians, and who in their fantasies see themselves as cut out for better things: writing deep-think books, like Bob Woodward, or becoming the next Aaron Sorkin. And they take out their revenge on people like you.
Show ‘em who’s boss. If you’re elected president you’re going to have to do it anyway, so you might as well start now.