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MSM and Campaign 2008: Part 421 Of The Globe’s Anti-Romney Campaign

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The Boston Globe’s Scott Helman is back with the latest intstallment in the “Get Mitt” campaign.

In today’s episode, Scott recycles the myth of  Republican voter resentment over changes in Romney’s positions between 1994 and today, and then goes on to warn readers that Romney’s  “big swing to the right” doesn’t include stem cell research.

First, Hellman’s assertion that Romney has made a “big swing to the right” is simply agenda journalism at its worst.  Romney has not made a “big swing to the right” on the war, tax policy, same sex marriage, growth of government, or many other core issues important in Republican primaries.  His views on life have evolved from 1994, but he governed as a pro-life governor and was recently endorsed by Jim Bopp –a fact fundamental to the story of Romney’s appeal to social conservatives but not mentioned in this Globe article– which may be the most significant endorsement any Republican candidate could have received from the right-to-life grassroots as Bopp, general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee has deep ties to the pro-life community of activists across the country and great influence among them.

Next, Hellman’s article fails to contrast Romney’s views with those of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, thus obscuring the crucial fact that among the big three, Romney holds the position most closely connected to that of the Bush Adminstration: opposed to expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research but rhetorically unopposed to non-federally-funded research on those embryonic stem cells otherwise about to be destroyed.  Senator McCain supports expanded federal funding. So does Mayor Giuliani.  It is possible that anti-stem cell research activists may throw votes away on second tier candidates with a rhetorical position more closely aligned to theirs, but the number of such voters seems likely to be very very small.  In fact Romney has already established himself as the most conservative of the big three on all of the social issues.

So why the constant attacks from the Globe? The MSM generally, and the Globe specifically, know the “flip-flop” meme well, and hated its effective deployment against John Kerry.  (Remember the $87 billion and the wind-surfing ad?)  MSMers eager to help Hillary or Obama along into the White House are testing out memes to deploy from now until November, 2008, and the “big swing to the right” is seen as the most effective bit of anti-Romney agitprop that isn’t in the category that includes the repellent anti-Mormon bigotry of Jacob Weisberg.  (I have not seen any of that in Hellman’s work, though his anti-Romney bias is well established.) Supporters of the other would-be nominees are also pushing the flip-flop meme, although I suspect that as the campaign advances and Romney’s numbers continue to build the anti-Mormon temptation will become too great to resist for the surrogates of the candidates who are falling or failing to catch on.

Romney does have some significant vulnerabilities, which I detail in the book.  But weakness with the social conservatives for the reasons stated by Scott are not among them.  Indeed, as I have written before, the enmity of the Globe and its parent New York Times is a very good indicator of reliability in the eyes of social conservatives.  Who are you going to trust if you are a pro-life voter, after all?  The general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, or the MSM? 

I interviewed Romney on Friday, (transcript here), and the conversation included brief exchanges on Bopp, the willingness of the former Massachusetts governor to debate early and often, and his discussion of tax free savings and CAFE standards from his Detroit speech.  Each of these four subjects is an interesting development in campaign 2008, and Hellman has in fact covered the CAFE issue in depth in a very good article.  The Bopp endorsement appears briefly in a profile Hellman penned of Romney advisor Peter Flaherty. But in each instance, just as in today’s story, Hellman is handicapping the campaign as he “reports,” but not doing so within the context of what Giuliani and McCain are saying or doing on the same issues or with the same constituencies.

This is a deep flaw that the Globe is either unaware of or indifferent to, as are most in the MSM.  The campaigns among the Republicans and the Democrats are about the choice voters will have to make among serious candidates.Interesting MSM reporting –and the sort of reporting that will attract as opposed to repell readers– will cover the campaign with the wide lens at all times.  “Analysis” will not get jumbled up with reporting.  And the reporting won’t include nonsense like “big swing to the right” simply because it fits the agenda of the paper, the editor, or the reporter.

The analysis of the campaigns will be driven by center-right opinion journalists, but MSM does have the advantage of being able to report in great detail the events of the campaign, and do so in real time.  Why the old media hasn’t figured out that here is an area they can exploit to increase readership as opposed to distort to drive them away  remains a mystery.  Hundreds of reporters at their disposal, a wide-open presidential campaign in a new media environment, changing primary calenders and already-unleashed  giant fundraising machines, and the MSM is treating it like every other presidential campaign they have ever covered, attempting to manage the stories, spin their content, and shape the debate.  Sail versus steam, again. 

Just the facts, please, just the facts.  Lots of them, every day from each of the campaigns.  What a concept. 

UPDATE:  One observation on the Romney interview: He was aware of the Lowry critique of his speech at the NRO convention, and of the Edwards’ bloggers meltdown.  Romney, and I suspect every other serious candidate, must be getting briefed if not daily at least often on the virtual campaign and what is being said about whom by whom.  This marks a huge change from 2004, and one that undermines again the MSM’s old position of market dominance when it comes to news and candidates’ response to news cycles.


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