By Joe Conason
If Mitt Romney’s purpose in traveling abroad this summer was to prove his credentials as a potential world leader, the verdict is mixed at best. Neither his tendency to utter bizarre insults nor his shallow, ideological approach to policy inspired much confidence, although he managed to garner support from Israel’s right-wing prime minister and an eccentric former leader in Poland. (Our allies in the United Kingdom may never want to hear from him again.)
On the trip’s final leg, the world saw the most unattractive side of the Romney campaign, when the traveling press secretary loudly told reporters to “kiss my ass” and “shove it,” in a display of the attitude that trickles down from the top.
Contempt toward the press is an important aspect of this attitude. For most of the campaign so far, Romney has pursued a media strategy that has become increasingly typical of Republican presidential candidates: Speak with Fox News, and avoid the rest of the national press corps. That is because Fox journalists (an oxymoron?) are far less likely to ask questions that the candidate doesn’t wish to answer, such as the inquiries shouted at Romney in Warsaw on Tuesday.
Why were they shouting at him? Because during the entire trip, he had essentially refused to engage with reporters at all.
According to a CNN transcript, American reporters were calling out questions in frustration as Romney walked away at a public plaza near Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when press secretary Rick Gorka confronted them.
CNN: “Gov. Romney, are you concerned about some of the mishaps of your trip?”
NYT: “Gov. Romney do you have a statement for the Palestinians?”
Washington Post: “What about your gaffes?”
NYT: “Gov. Romney, do you feel that your gaffes have overshadowed your foreign trip?”
CNN: “Gov. Romney, just a few questions, sir. You haven’t taken but three questions on this trip from the press!”
Gorka: “Show some respect.”
NYT: “We haven’t had another chance to ask a question ...”
Gorka: “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”
Within moments, Gorka told Jonathan Martin, a reporter for Politico, to “shove it.”
Although Gorka called reporters later to apologize, his blustering attitude revealed the Romney campaign’s fury over the negative fallout from the trip—and its arrogance toward the press, which it regards as an obstacle to its ambitions.
The emerging truth about the man who will soon accept the Republican presidential nomination is that—like Sarah Palin—his handlers cannot trust him to cope with unscripted questions. That was particularly true on this trip, where his plenteous gaffes would only have multiplied if anyone had been able to ask a tough question.
And as with Palin, the difficult task faced by the Republican campaign is to protect Romney from the press scrutiny that is so essential to our process, and so damaging to his prospects.
Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.
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