It’s hard to say what was the point of NPR’s coverage of Mitt Romney’s visit to the Iowa State Fair. We learned he was tanned and relaxed in a blue golf shirt, and that he opposed raising taxes in order to balance the federal budget. That opened what the reporter called “a testy exchange with liberal activists in the crowd.” We don’t know how many or which ones, or why they were labeled “liberal.” Some of them, whoever they represented, didn’t like what the former governor had to say. Perhaps some conservatives don’t either.
One man in the crowd shouted the word “corporations.” To which the candidate replied: “Corporations are people, my friend. We could raise taxes on—of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?” Romney asked. “Into their pockets,” a man responded. “Whose pockets? Whose pockets? Peoples’ pockets. OK. Human beings, my friend.” Was Romney equating human beings with corporations? It’s not clear from NPR’s story that anyone in the press pinned him down, so why should it be unusual for someone in the crowd to ask the question?
The NPR story did not dwell on whether corporations were men or beasts, but instead reported that the exchange was “out of character for the normally polite crowds sitting on hay bales listening to the stump speeches.” Scene setting in the Heartland, I guess. Listeners next heard from the Evans family—Ron and Linda—who apologized for the behavior of their fellow Iowans. “We’re not all that way. I mean, that is obnoxious,” said Linda. Ron, a retired doctor, was impressed with how Romney took the heat. Did the Evanses agree that corporations are people? And if they did, why? Some substance here might have given a flavor of what those in the crowd other than liberal activists really thought about the subject at hand.
The story went downhill from there, with the flavor provided by commentary on the food served up at the fair. The reporter got in a political comment, noting that the Democrats were “quick to portray Romney as defending the wealthy at the expense of the middle class” and while they were doing that, the ex-governor was eating pork on a stick. Mickey Nelson, a fairgoer, told NPR listeners “everything tastes better on a stick.” The newest fair delicacy wasn’t pork, but fried butter on a stick, sampled by NPR’s national political correspondent, Don Gonyea. “Tastes like a cinnamon pastry,” he told listeners. The NPR reporter said there must be a political lesson in the cinnamon butter. Gonyea agreed. “You can go too far with an idea.”
Was NPR saying Romney overstepped when he declared corporations were people? The piece might have been more useful as political commentary had reporters done their job with some tough questioning, and left to the food critics reviews of the fried butter and pork on a stick.
For the record: A commenter on the NPR site did some Googling and found that some of the liberal activists mentioned in the report were part of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an organization that focuses on quality of life issues.Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: corporations, Don Gonyea, fried butter, Iowa State Fair, Mitt Romney, NPR