Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Romney Won't Get a Gore-Like "Liar" Rep

Various liberals have been arguing that Mitt Romney is an unusually dishonest politician, and wondering when and whether he'll wind up developing a reputation for it. David S. Bernstein (my brother), a veteran Romney-watcher, made the case that the press is starting to catch on; Greg Sargent is not as optimistic; and Paul Waldman just asks: "When Do Reporters Start Calling Mitt Romney a Liar?

My guess? They're going to have to wait a long time. Partially, it's because I think that to some extent the things they identify (the "apology tour", for example) are really Republican, rather than Romney, inventions. As long as there are birthers out there, it's harder for Romney to look all that truth-challenged. Partly, it's because he's running for president against noted snake-oil salesman and serial fabulist Newt Gingrich. Don't get me started.

But the main thing is that I think the press really has limited capacity for these kinds of stereotypes, and they've already cast Romney for his: he's Richie Rich. And of course, his constant gaffes in support of that image, from the $10K bet to his friends who own NASCAR and NFL teams, just help nail it down.

So Romney isn't going to be cast as Pinocchio, pretty much whatever he does.

We know that these sorts of media-created images effect the way candidates are covered; in 2000, the same exact misstatement would have been covered as an example of George W. Bush's (supposed) stupidity or Al Gore's (supposed) dishonesty. What I'm curious about, however, is how this all plays out with how reporters do the work of covering candidates. Other than finding examples of Gore's "lies" that they could turn into stories, did reporters covering Al Gore in 2000 actually act more suspicious of everything he said? Or was that mostly just for show? You can see where I'm going here -- could Romney develop a reputation for casual  dishonesty among the press corps, even if it's not the way they portray him? I don't really know the answer to that one, but I'd like to know.


  1. Media-created images can do more than just shape the press coverage of US presidential candidates. According to Juan Cole, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said that if Israel ever had a fair election (by which he meant one in which all the Palestinians could vote) then the Tel Aviv regime would be wiped off the map. This was reported in the press as: Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the map. Before you know it, this becomes Ahmadinejad's standard identifier ("Mahmoud Admadinejad, who wants to wipe Israel off the map, held a press conference today."). As such it gets repeated so many times that people think he says it on a daily basis. Now you have political leaders insisting that we have to go to war with Iran because their crazy leader wants to wipe Israel off the map and so is obviously capable of anything. And apparently its all because of sloppy wording, lazy reporting, and a failure to question even the most important assertions. And--I'll go out on a limb here--I think war is a pretty weighty decision. This doesn't necessarily mean that Ahmadinejad's the statesman of the year, but neither is there any real reason to assume he'd nuke Israel or anyone else if he had the chance.

    So, tell me, did Al Gore ever actually say he invented the Internet?

  2. Wow! A Romney/Bachmann ticket.

  3. Scott Monje:

    So, tell me, did Al Gore ever actually say he invented the Internet?


    'On March 9, [1999] Gore had been interviewed for a special, week-night broadcast of Late Edition, CNN’s Sunday morning talk program. . . . Gore was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, regular host of Late Edition. . . . Gore offered a list of his accomplishments during his sixteen years in Congress. . . . "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."'

  4. I'm perfectly fine with Romney not developing an overarching, single reputation as a "liar." All I think most people on the left-liberal side of things would like is for reporters to even marginally more regularly highlight or note how some repeated claims that he makes and highlights in his campaigning are, in fact, lies/falsehood/misleading.

    I think your strongest point is probably the fact that many of his lies have become boilerplate Republican talking points, not especially characteristic elements of Romney's character. Thus many major media outlets will cling to their weird notion of balance, which is not based on truth/reality, but rather on withholding the most basic judgment about anything that has become politicized/partisanized.

  5. David,

    Thank you (although it's the most rambling post I'be tried to read in quite some time).

    You know, this reminds me of another case in which no one bothers to check the facts. That's Alaska's "bridge to nowhere." Everyone accepts that someone was trying to build a bridge to nowhere with government money. Have you ever heard anyone ask why? People often mention that it led to an island that had virtually no inhabitants. That's true. What they usually fail to mention is that the island is taken up with an airport. I believe it's the third-largest airport in the state, and it's on an island with no bridge.

  6. There's a fairly detailed account of the press's depiction of Gore as a liar, based largely on the acceptance of distortions and quotes taken out of context, in the April 2000 issue of the Washington Monthly. The Columbia Journalism Review (Sep-Oct 2000) discusses the press's pro-Bush, anti-Gore bias at the time.


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