Boston Globe Political Intel
By Glen Johnson
December 1, 2011
Jon Huntsman today released a web video that strained his courtly reputation, saying Romney’s agitated response to questions during a Fox News Channel interview on Tuesday showed he was “Scared Mittless.”
It also offered a “Mittstant Replay” of one of the interview’s pivotal segments, interspersed with video segments that seemed to contradict the rebuttals Romney offered during the conversation.
It was a melding of a mainstream media moment with new wave digital technology and distribution channels.
“After watching Mitt evade, distort, and eventually blame Bret (Baier’s) questions, it’s no wonder he is ‘Scared Mittless’ of the press. When you are on both sides of every issue, it makes it hard to answer tough questions,” said an emailed statement from campaign spokesman Tim Miller. “More importantly, can Republican voters trust Mitt Romney to beat Barack Obama when he can’t even defend his own record?”
The Romney campaign offered no immediate response.
The interview and fallout from both Democrats and Republicans - via emails, statements, and web videos from both - pierces a carefully crafted media strategy in which the Romney campaign has controlled the candidate’s exposure to uncontrolled press interactions.
Since losing his first bid for the presidency in 2008, Romney has worked assiduously to create the basis from which he would mount his second campaign for the White House.
Romney also developed a penchant for the op-ed column, preferring an unfiltered medium in which he could articulate his views without follow-up questions.
Nonetheless, Romney has not appeared on a Sunday talk show since, as Gail Collins put it in today’s New York Times, “‘The Hurt Locker’ beat ‘Avatar’ for best picture.”
Even when he has gone on TV or radio, it’s generally been with supportive hosts, such as Sean Hannity or Hugh Hewitt.
It’s also been on chosen networks, most particularly Fox News Channel, the choice of the conservative thinkers Romney is trying to attract to his campaign.
Yet on Tuesday in Florida, Romney was hardly anything but coddled by a Fox News anchor, Bret Baier of “Special Report.”
And their tense exchanges about abortion, health care, gay rights, and immigration focused on perhaps Romney’s greatest campaign vulnerability: his history of flip-flopping, or at least adjusting his zeal, on major political issues.
Afterward, Baier said that Romney complained to him that the interview “was overly aggressive,” and later came out again from his holding room and said “he didn’t like the interview and thought it was uncalled for.”
By that time, it was too late.
The video had been broadcast and recorded onto the video editing decks both at Romney’s campaign headquarters - and those of his rivals and critics.
The careful control of message via book, op-ed, and chosen outlet had been lost to one of the perils of politics and great measuring sticks for would-be presidents: the unscripted moment.