Reporters from the national press covering the Mitt Romney campaign kicked up a ruckus on Wednesday when the Republican’s staff attempted to keep them away from a rope line where they might have heard or seen the candidate say or do something dumb. The incident inspired a feature in the New York Times in which the GOP standard-bearer came off looking like a fragile hothouse flower desperately in need of protection from a press corps that could unveil his inadequacies. This might not be worth much of the public’s time, but criticism on this score shouldn’t be put down as unfair. If Romney can’t be relied upon not to commit a gaffe when interacting with the public at unscripted appearances — something that justified his staff’s worries — then he deserves to be called to account for it. However, if this is worth carrying on about when it concerns Romney then we are entitled to ask why isn’t it newsworthy when his opponents play the same game?
That’s the question some political observers are asking today after members of the Obama campaign made sure to keep reporters away from Vice President Biden when he was working a rope line, an incident that failed to get a mention in the Times. But as much as the lack of interest in the Democrats’ desire to protect the even more gaffe-prone Biden is the fact that no one seems to recall that when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, his control freak staff rarely allowed reporters anywhere near him when he was on the hustings.
In 2008, the contrast between John McCain’s media-friendly ways and Obama’s less open policies only got noticed when the Republican’s staff tried to change things and restrict access to their all-too loquacious candidate. But no one ever seemed to think there was much amiss about Obama’s practices in which highly choreographed events consisted of appearances with an ever-present teleprompter and little or no press access to the candidate. That many of those covering him — and their editors — might have been as seduced by the historic nature of his run and by his “hope” and “change” mantra is a given.
The point is, if Obama’s lack of openness to the press was not an issue in 2008, it’s not clear why Romney’s staff’s attempts to restrict access to their man should be worthy of much comment today. It is doubly absurd when you consider that it is virtually impossible to cover President Obama in the same way you can Romney because of security considerations.
The election won’t be decided on the issue of which presidential — or vice presidential — candidate is more open to the press on the rope line. But this minor kerfuffle and the staggering hypocrisy with which it was covered is another reminder that Romney’s greatest disadvantage in his effort to prevent the president’s re-election is not his tendency toward gaffes but a biased mainstream media always willing to judge and condemn by a standard they won’t apply to his opponents.