June 4, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In today’s New York Times, Michael Shear and Ashley Parker report that Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency has gone “on the offensive”: “The past week, aides said, highlighted the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution.” Shear and Parker do not overtly endorse this view, though they let Romney campaign operatives repeat and elaborate on it often enough, and the reporters never specifically refute it. Much of their story reads like this string of paragraphs:
But the sense of optimism in Boston is palpable. Mr. Romney’s aides say the Obama campaign has been less disciplined than they expected, moving from one line of attack to another in May. By contrast, Mr. Romney has released a series of television ads that aim to answer the question: What would a Romney presidency be like?
Mr. Romney’s advisers believe the president’s efforts to attack their candidate’s business experience have been undermined by a series of Democratic defections from the approved party line. On Thursday, former President Bill Clinton became the latest Obama surrogate to go off message, proclaiming Mr. Romney’s business record to be “sterling.”
‘Their own guys are out there saying, actually, Romney has a really good record. Why would we do anything to get in the way?’ said Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s communications director.
As their primary example of “discipline, efficiency and execution,” the reporters cite a press conference which Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod held on the steps of the Massachusetts State House last Thursday. His purpose was to call attention to what he characterized as Romney’s poor economic record when he was governor of Massachusetts. Axelrod called his news conference in conjunction with a four-page memo (pdf) in which he laid out the Obama campaign’s case for why Romney had proved to be a bad steward of the economy. The presser also coincided with release of a four-minute online video featuring Massachusetts officials who described Romney’s broken gubernatorial campaign promises and his disastrous economic record, one of whom – former Mayor John Barrett of North Adams – Axelrod invited to speak at the Thursday press conference.
According to Sarah Boxer of CBS News, an accidental leak the night before tipped off the Romney campaign that Axelrod would be holding an unannounced presser. Shear and Parker report – deep in their story – that a Romney campaign crew was celebrating Romney’s clinching the nomination at Boston Beer Works when “they got wind that Mr. Axelrod was coming to their proverbial backyard…. There was, in the words of one adviser, a ‘spontaneous combustion’ to protest and heckle his visit – a spectacle the campaign said was a psychological victory that boosted morale and proved its willingness to battle the Obama campaign on any terms.” At the top of their story, Shear and Parker report,
At Mitt Romney’s Boston headquarters, there was pure glee. The campaign burst into full heckling mode – producing ‘Go Back to Chicago!’ signs, rounding up a bubble machine and finding a spacesuit costume (‘Astronomical debt!’). ‘If ever there was a hanging curve ball, it was the idea of trying to pull off an Obama event within a short walk from the Romney headquarters,’ said Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for the Romney campaign.
The result was widely reported. As Boxer wrote, “Axelrod’s remarks were largely drowned out by Romney staffers and volunteers chanting tirelessly throughout.” You can see video of the event here. Shear and Boxer write, near the top of their story, “Drowning out Mr. Axelrod’s news conference with loud boos – a tactic that could be seen as undignified – seemed to signal the kind of battle Mr. Romney’s team intends to wage over the next five months: one that takes no skirmish lightly and provides no easy opportunities for Mr. Obama to make his case.” You wouldn’t know it from reading the Times report, but the Romney supporters also constantly chanted and booed over three other speakers at the Axelrod presser. CBS’s Boxer reported that the Romney people got “nasty”:
By the time Axelrod, arrived, the crowds were equal in size, and screaming at each other. Chants ranged from nebulous – the Obama supporters at one point yelling ‘Fired up and Ready to go!’ while the Romney supporters moaned ‘Solyndraaaaaa’ – to nasty – with Obama’s supporters chanting ‘Forward!’ and Romney’s supporters responding ‘Off a cliff!’”
Meanwhile, “The Romney campaign had two spokesmen and multiple advance team members on hand, one of whom blew bubbles toward Axelrod as he spoke.”
Something else you wouldn’t know from reading Shear and Parker’s report: the Romney camp held its own rally prior to the Axelrod press conference but “organizers” did not bother to get a permit. (The Obama campaign had obtained a permit.) Shira Schoenberg of MassLive.org reported that, “A Department of Conservation and Recreation ranger, after consulting with Boston police, let the Republicans stay ‘in the interest of freedom of speech.’” Ironically, after receiving an extraordinary concession in deference to their First Amendment rights, the Romney supporters acted in such a way as to deny Axelrod and the other Obama supporters their free speech rights. I think it is perfectly appropriate to boo specific remarks a speaker makes or to try to drown out applause or cheers with boos, or to express disagreement by way of signs or other silent messaging, but to attempt to prevent people who are lawfully engaging in political discourse from being heard at all is bullying at best and probably illegal. I would like to know what Gov. Romney’s interpretation of the First Amendment is and whether or not he believes shouting down his opponents when they are speaking at a publicly-approved event is an appropriate application of First Amendment guarantees. I am sorry the New York Times reporters neither addressed this disconnect nor reported on the underlying First Amendment issue. Instead, they simply describe the Romney campaign’s efforts to shout down Obama’s advocates as “a tactic that could be seen as undignified.”
Having lightly covered the Axelrod shout-down, Shear and Parker move on to lightly cover another Romney campaign event that took place the same day:
In addition to quickly mobilizing to disrupt Mr. Axelrod’s news conference, the campaign also managed to keep a surprise visit by Mr. Romney to the headquarters of Solyndra – the failed solar-panel company that received millions of taxpayer dollars – secret until minutes before the event in Fremont, Calif.
In a blogpost published the day of the Solyndra stop, Parker elaborated on the Romney cloak-and-dagger act:
The stop at Solyndra was shrouded in secrecy. Mr. Romney’s campaign refused to release the location or details, but asked reporters to gather in the morning at a parking lot in Redwood City, Calif., to board a bus heading toward an undisclosed location. A Romney adviser explained that the campaign was worried that if Solyndra and the Obama administration knew where Mr. Romney was headed, they would do everything possible to try to prevent Mr. Romney from holding his event at the shuttered factory.
‘I think there are people who don’t want to see this event occur, don’t want to have questions asked about this particular investment,’ Mr. Romney said, when asked why the campaign had gone to such lengths to keep the event a mystery.
So what we learn here is that Romney – unlike Axelrod – is a pretty good stealth campaigner. Of course it’s worth noting – though Shear and Parker do not – that it’s a lot easier to hold a surprise press event when you have a busload of press in tow, as Romney has and Axelrod has not. But never mind. We do know this: the Romney campaign – and/or the candidate – seems a little paranoid. Could be that their abundance of secrecy is a reflection of their own schemes for launching dirty tricks and obstructionist stunts.
The Times reporters claim, parenthetically, that Romney’s Solyndra bomb “was little noticed, however, occurring as former President George W. Bush was at the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait.” It would appear that the Solyndra escapade was Romney’s attempt to upstage the former President – a man whose name he dare not speak. Unfortunately for Romney, the plan didn’t work out all that well because Bush’s remarks at the unveiling were pretty funny (video of full event here.)
Besides, the Times reporters are wrong when they write that Romney’s Solyndra remarks were “little noticed.” The Associated Press noticed. They fact-checked some of Romney’s remarks at the Solyndra plant, like this one: “An independent inspector general looked at this investment (Solyndra) and concluded that the administration had steered money to friends and family – to campaign contributors.” But the AP reported that the “Energy Department Inspector General … did not say that such claims had been proved, and there is no evidence he was including Solyndra in his comments. The testimony came nearly six months before the company declared bankruptcy. And there is no evidence that family members of top federal officials received any favors.” The AP found more agreement with some of Romney’s other remarks, but they concluded that, in general, “Mitt Romney … didn’t get the story completely straight when he accused the administration of favoring ‘cronies.’”
Jake Tapper of ABC News also noticed. He too fact-checked Romney’s remarks and related assertions by his campaign. Here are a few excerpts from Tapper’s fact-check:
Yesterday in California, Mitt Romney stood in front of the failed Solyndra factory and said ‘an independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the administration had steered money to friends and family, to campaign contributors.’ In a TV ad focused on Solyndra, the Romney campaign makes a similar claim, saying the ‘Inspector General said that contracts were steered to friends and family.’
This isn’t true.
The Romney campaign cites as “proof” a book excerpt in Newsweek/The Daily Beast, which states that the Department of Energy’s inspector general, Gregory Friedman ‘has testified that contracts have been steered to “friends and family.’”
That isn’t correct….
I asked the Romney campaign why the candidate is saying something that is not true…. Neither example [they cited] has anything to do with the claim Romney and his campaign are making, that the inspector general has testified the contracts have been steered to friends and family…. Friends and family benefiting is a charge that has yet to be proven – and it has certainly never been alleged by the Inspector General.
The charge is simply false.
FactCheck.org noticed, too. They headlined the Solyndra remarks and a related campaign video “Romney’s Solar Flareout,” and in a detailed analysis, they concluded that Romney “misrepresents Obama’s green-energy program using false and twisted facts.”
Michael Grunwald of Time – who has just completed a book on the stimulus – tears apart the Romney campaign’s “Solyndra-related nonsense” and their “stimulus-bashing campaign.” Anderson Cooper of CNN called the charges Romney made at Solyndra “not factually correct.” And Rachel Maddow of MSNBC called Romney’s charge “a lie” and wondered why the lie wasn’t a bigger story.
Meanwhile, Sam Stein of the Huffington Post wrote that when Romney ran for president in 2008,
His 2008 energy policy platform called for a ‘dramatic increase’ in ‘federal spending on research, development, and demonstration projects that hold promise for diversifying our energy supply.’ Among those projects were ‘bringing clean energy technology to market through commercialization of large-scale renewables.’ He was comfortable with this platform for good reason. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney handed out loans to firms in emerging technology fields, some of which ended up (like Solyndra) going bankrupt.
On Saturday, Greg Turner of the conservative Boston Herald wrote,
A Bay State solar panel developer that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor has gone belly up – a day after the GOP presidential hopeful ripped President Obama’s green-energy investments. Lowell-based Konarka Technologies announced late yesterday that it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate…. The demise of Konarka could become a hot topic on the campaign trail because Romney personally doled out a $1.5 million renewable energy subsidy to the Lowell startup in 2003, shortly after taking office on Beacon Hill.
Igor Volsky of Think Progress, a liberal Website, noted that “Konarka is the second Massachusetts solar company … to receive taxpayer dollars under Romney’s tenure and subsequently declare bankruptcy.”
Gee whiz, even the fairly clueless George Stephanopoulos of ABC News noticed, and a “This Week” panel discussion ensued.
So, yeah, Romney’s Solyndra escapade was “noticed.” Just not so much by the New York Times.
In her “Caucus” blogpost published last Thursday, Parker dutifully copied down a string of Romney’s accusations about Solyndra, made both at the shuttered factory and at other stops in California. In typical he-said/she-said fashion, Parker did not comment on the veracity of Romney’s remarks, but at the end of her post copied down a prepared statement by Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith, which read, in part,
The reality is that Solyndra received funding through a Department of Energy program created under the Bush administration – a program that has supported tens of thousands of jobs across the country and is moving forward with investments in innovative projects like the first nuclear plant built in the U.S. in decades and the world’s largest wind farm. In fact, both Republican and Democratic administrations advanced Solyndra’s application, and the company was widely praised as successful and innovative both before and after receiving the Department of Energy loan guarantee.
I find that he-said/she-said stuff to be acceptable for a blogpost written from the campaign trail, though I don’t know why Parker’s editors don’t put their own fact-checkers to work on remarks made by the presidential candidates and their official campaigns when on-the-ground reporters don’t have time to do it. After all, the New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson claimed in January, “… rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing … is a fundamental part of our job as journalists. We do it every day, in a variety of ways.”
The fact-checkers assigned to Shear and Parker’s story must have been out to lunch when they turned in their report. Shear and Parker evidently didn’t have the gumption to do any fact-checking either, or to even include references to other outlets’ previously published fact-checks.
Shear and Parker’s story leaves the reader with the impression the Romney campaign would like them to leave: that Romney is running an operation characterized by “discipline, efficiency and execution.” Yet the two main examples the reporters cite belie that notion rather than reinforce it. A band of loud, rowdy marauders harassing a spokesman for Romney’s opponent does not sound like “discipline” to me. Arranging for a press conference – even on short notice – without making any attempt to get permission or a permit prior to the event (a fact Shear and Parker do not report) doesn’t seem very “efficient,” either. Maybe the failure of discipline and efficiency can be accounted for by the fact that the campaign hatched their plan in a bar – not always the best venue for strategic decisions. Whisking the candidate into a “secret” event that conflicts with a high-profile White House appearance by the party’s former leader and past President seems like a questionable call to me, even if the Romney campaign’s hope was to upstage President Bush. As for “execution,” the only thing I can see that Romney killed at his Solyndra appearance was his last ounce of credibility. What a shame a New York Times reader would not know that from reading the paper of record, since the paper never records that Romney’s central argument, as Jake Tapper wrote, was “simply false.” A report supposed written to show Romney’s offensive game never hinted at exactly how offensive it really was.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com