This time around, I have not traveled with either Romney or Obama, so what follows can be dismissed as armchair theorizing. But thinking back on the campaign, I cannot recall a single memorable story that appeared to flow from with-the-candidate reporting. And the rationale for stenographic coverage has long passed. Anything newsworthy that Romney or Obama says in public pops up on my Twitter feed (probably repeated 20 times) within a minute. Any campaign speech I want to watch can be seen via C-Span or downloaded from the web.
This dearth of depth from the candidates’ planes may reflect the message-discipline realities of the 2012 campaign—a controlled incumbent president being opposed by a buttoned-down challenger. If Romney is elected, we may yet see the fruits of the collective Air Mitt reporting during the run-up to the inauguration. Or come 2016, it may be finally time to rethink the verities of the Boys on the Bus approach to reporting that Timothy Crouse immortalized 40 years ago.
Did the Press Corps Do Enough To Follow the Money?
In this case, the answer is already known—and, sadly, it’s “no.” This is a hobbyhorse of mine, but I have been deeply disappointed in how little curiosity most of the media has shown in trying to figure out who (other than swing-state TV station owners) has gotten rich off the 2012 campaign-spending bacchanalia. One detail I would like to see: the 2013 building permits for the vacation homes of leading campaign consultants.
A conspicuous exception to the news blackout on buck-racking political operatives was a laudable Los Angeles Times story last week by Matea Gold, Maloy Moore, and Melanie Mason. Delving into the intricacies of campaign-finance reports, the three LAT reporters charted a staggering $134 million that the Romney campaign paid to firms with intimate ties to top campaign advisers. This money, by the way, is in addition to any fees that the campaign’s media firms may have collected as a commission on TV ad buys.
But rather than raising new questions about Romney’s purported managerial expertise, the exemplary Los Angeles Times story hardly entered the larger campaign conversation. You would think that it might have provoked some second-day follow-ups by other news organizations about whether Romney donors felt ripped off. Instead, it was as if scrutinizing the self-serving financial gamesmanship of campaign consultants was covered by some form of political omerta.
Actually, on reflection, as the news media begins to think about the lessons from its flawed 2012 campaign coverage, maybe the proper headline for this column should be: “NOW FOR THE HARD PART.”