Accuracy in Media

With the first legitimate event of the 2012 Republican presidential primary just days away in Iowa, the Associated Press today offered a clear example of hatchet jobs to come for the candidates. Mitt Romney was given an early example of what the AP means by “journalism with voice.”

I previously raised concerns over a leaked memo from AP Managing Editor Mike Oreskes two weeks ago. Charging all journalists to use the said “voice,” he did not offer any examples but, rather very contradictory directions (emphasis added):

“We’re going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation. This does not mean that we’re sacrificing any of our deep commitment to unbiased, fair journalism. It does not mean that we’re venturing into opinion, either. It does mean that we need to be looking for ways to be more distinctive and stand out in the field — something our customers need and want. The why and the how of the news are as crucial as the who, what, when and where.”

The AP offered a very clear example this morning for how these directions will be executed.

As if the title, “Romney tries to come across as man of the people” wasn’t bad enough, it only got worse from there. But in so doing, they reveal a clear playbook as to how the Associated Press will be framing the Romney campaign in 2012.

Step 1: Paint Romney as filthy rich; like his daddy before him. What better way to fan the flames of class warfare than to paint the Republican frontrunner as the quintessential political aristocrat of one-percenter roots? The AP led with (emphasis added):

“Mitt Romney reminisced before a noontime crowd about the long car trips his family took when he was a boy. ‘My dad made Ramblers, so we had one,’ the Republican presidential hopeful said…In fact, Romney’s father didn’t just make cars. He was chairman and president of American Motors, the company that made Ramblers, and a highly successful businessman before he entered politics. It’s a detail the son omitted as he sought to establish a bond with Iowans he hopes will support him in next week’s presidential caucuses.”

Toward the end of the piece, another wealth jab that now opens the Romney wardrobe and Christmas list to criticism:

“As he stood at the cash register at a Concord, N.H., toy store, picking up a few gifts for charity, a patron asked him what he gave his family for Christmas. Earlier in the day, he had bought his wife a $285 North Face jacket as a gift, he said…For his sons? ‘We sent them checks,’ said Romney, a multimillionaire. ‘Cash is always good’.”

Some may remember just how effective the smears were against the Palin family wardrobe in 2008; a standard not held to Michelle Obama.

Step 2: Suggest to readers that either Romney is too smart, or Republicans are too dumb to understand him. Not only is Romney rich and therefore uncaring, but he cannot speak the language and empathize with the common man. The AP cited Romney’s comments company relocation affecting employee commutes:

“Sometimes it’s counterintuitive,’ replied Romney, a former businessman, explaining that businesses often invent new, more efficient ways to compete…The term is called productivity. Output per person,’ he said. ‘Our productivity equals our income’.”

Anyone with a Business 101 course under their belt or basic sense gained from commercial employment can understand what that statement means, and therefore why the question was properly answered. To argue otherwise is an insult to the general intelligence of the electorate. But the AP does not stop there, suggesting that he can also be too smart and systematically-minded to be “sympathetic.”

“When one retired firefighter in New Hampshire said he was drawing a reduced Social Security check because he also had a state pension, the former Massachusetts governor was less than sympathetic. ‘If there’s a competition for who will give you the most free stuff, go vote for that guy.’ When the man said he wasn’t asking for any handouts, Romney said, ‘You knew what you were getting into. … I wish you well, but I’m not going to promise you more bucks’.”

Regardless of the approach, Romney will be made to look unfit to chat up a voter on Main Street. It also would be helpful to know the context of that exchange and the tone of the question.

Step 3: Always remind the reader that he’s a Mormon. Forget the fact that “Mormon” is the incorrect description, or that LDS Church is the fifth largest in the United States. Use any opportunity to drive the Obama campaign concept that Mormonism is “weird.” Extra points if you can wrap the reminder in some sort of a compliment:

“He’s not always distant. At an earlier stop in New Hampshire, Romney explained how he lived on a careful budget as a Mormon missionary, using crude toilets and living in modest apartments. He also talked about his time as a lay pastor in Boston’s Mormon church, when he says he counseled struggling families.”

Remember, he only used a crude, French toilet because he’s a Latter-Day Saint. Weird, right?

The 2012 Election has all the makings of what will probably be the nastiest campaign in human memory. Race, religion and even hair will all be fair game. You can at least thank the Associated Press for telegraphing how its writers will frame the candidacy of one Mitt Romney.

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