Gang of Four

Everybody hates Mitt?

Add another piece to the ever-expanding “journalism loves a good fight story” file: today’s much-buzzed-about New York Times article, “Romney Leads in Ill Will Among G.O.P. Candidates.”

Yeah. That headline pretty much says it all. The piece it announces provides a scintillating look at how the field of GOP candidates, cool kids-versus-Steve Urkel style, don’t like Mitt Romney—apparently correcting the fact that, “with so much attention recently on the sniping between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, the almost visceral scorn directed at Mr. Romney by his rivals has been overshadowed.” Well—overshadowed no longer! The record-correcting piece is based on an informal Romney-likeability poll…of the three major candidates, and their advisers, against whom Romney is running. It’s fascinating stuff, full of pertinent information and incisive analysis that, in these crucial days leading up to the Florida primary, will shed light on the kind of president Romney would make.


Here’s its lead:

At the end of the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this month, when the Democrats joined the candidates on stage, Mitt Romney found himself momentarily alone as his counterparts mingled, looking around a bit stiffly for a companion.

The moment was emblematic of a broader reality that has helped shape the Republican contest and could take center stage again on Thursday at a debate in Florida. Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked.

Such information is “emblematic of a broader reality,” to be sure—in journalism. The “broader reality,” specifically, of fight-obsessed campaign coverage, which has both increased and intensified in recent weeks: Hillary-versus-Barack, Bill Clinton-versus-everyone, etc. Such coverage is partially accurate, of course—candidates are running against each other, after all. But there’s something especially perverse (and glib and petty and point-missing) about a 916-word piece that details and analyzes the unlikeability of a particular candidate; that, with vaguely veiled disdain of its own, details “the almost visceral scorn” the other candidates and their advisers hold for Romney; that documents their desire to “gang tackle” him (and, as “pugilistic” Huckabee adviser Ed Rollins says, to knock his teeth out); that announces John McCain’s none-too-subtle likening of him to a “dirty pig.”

Romney’s fellow GOP candidates may well dislike him—and they may well have reason to—but for the Times to make it a campaign issue is unseemly. It implicates the Times in all the squabbling—and, worse, it makes it seem as though the paper endorses the aversion, however tacitly. It’s mean, in every sense of the word.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.