The front of Thursday's New York Times Home section (!) features a large story targeting Mitt Romney that makes the paper's notorious front-page investigation into Ann Romney's troubling horse habit look as significant as Watergate by comparison.
Political reporter Michael Barbaro invaded the Home section and devoted a staggering 1,800-word investigation to the fact that Romney's liberal neighbors in La Jolla, California don't approve of his presence or his politics: "The Candidate Next Door." The text box: "On a cul-de-sac in La Jolla, residents are not happy about their new neighbor's renovation plans – or his entourage."
A liberal gay couple trying to organize an Obama fundraiser earned not one but two photos: "THE OPPOSITION – Mr. Romney's neighbors, Randy Clark right, and his partner, Tom Maddox, object to the expansion – and to the candidate's stance on same-sex marriage."
The couple got another photo and caption on the jump page with their political opposition to Romney masked as neighborhood concern: "CONCERNED: Randy Clark, right and Tom Maddox are among those who say they want to protect the tight-knit neighborhood." (From Republicans, apparently.)
On Dunemere Drive, it seems as if just about everyone has a gripe against the owners of No. 311.
The elderly woman next door complains that her car is constantly boxed into her driveway. A few houses over, a gay couple grumbles that their beloved ocean views are in jeopardy. And down the street, a widow grouses that her children’s favorite dog-walking route has been disrupted.
Bellyaching over the arrival of an irritating new neighbor is a suburban cliché, as elemental to the life on America’s Wisteria Lanes as fastidiously edged lawns and Sunday afternoon barbecues.
But here in La Jolla, a wealthy coast-hugging enclave of San Diego, the ordinary resident at the end of the block is no ordinary neighbor.
He is Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, when he was just a well-heeled civilian in search of a quiet beach house, Mr. Romney paid $12 million for a three-bedroom Spanish-style villa with unobstructed views of the Pacific and a rich history: Maureen O’Connor, the former mayor of San Diego, once lived there, and Richard Gere had used it as a vacation rental.
Little did Mr. Romney know that his efforts to quadruple the size of his house would collide with a bid for the White House, foisting the unpredictable dramas of home renovation and presidential politics onto a community that prides itself on low-key California neighborliness.
So now, after overcoming the distrust of social conservatives and evangelical voters to clinch the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney must win over another constituency, one that his campaign team never anticipated, polled or targeted: disaffected neighbors.
Somehow Barbaro makes his neighbors's liberal intolerance Romney's problem.
But many of the residents of this exclusive tract in La Jolla say they are rankled by what they see from their decks and patios as the Romneys’ blindness to their impact on the neighborhood. And personal politics is fueling their frustration as much as anything else, several days of interviews with about a dozen residents suggest.
It turns out that Mr. Romney -- who has likened President Obama’s policies to socialism, called for cutting back on federal funding to PBS and wants to outlaw same-sex marriage -- has moved into a neighborhood that evokes “Modern Family” far more than “All in the Family.” (There are six gay households within a three-block radius of his house, neighbors said.)
Four doors up the street from the Romneys is the home of Randy Clark and Tom Maddox, a gay couple who meet regularly with other residents worried by the candidate’s renovation plans.
Mr. Clark, an accountant, is trying to organize a campaign fund-raiser at his home for President Obama and hopes to bump into Mr. Romney on the street, so he can explain, “in a neighborly way,” why he thinks his relationship with Mr. Maddox deserves the same rights and status as the marriage between Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann.
A few houses up on Dunemere are Michael Duddy and his partner, James Geiger, who make no secret of their discomfort with some of Mr. Romney’s politics. Chatting with Mr. Maddox and Mr. Clark a few weekends ago, Mr. Geiger playfully proposed hanging a gay-pride flag from the Italian stone pine tree in his yard “so that Romney’s motorcade has to drive under it.”
Despite attempts to blend in, though, the Romneys retain all the inconspicuousness of a neon billboard these days. Their comings and goings are heralded by sudden spasms of security: Secret Service agents fan out across the street. S.U.V.’s move into place. Traffic is stopped. A motorcade arrives. And whenever Mr. Romney is at home, a giant S.U.V. is parked diagonally across the entry to the cul-de-sac at the bottom of Dunemere, blocking all incoming traffic.
Obama blocks traffic whenever he attends a fundraiser in New York City, though you wouldn't know it from the Times's coverage.
Ken Shepherd at NewsBusters found that even an MSNBC panel of liberal journalists "thinks the New York Times has gone too far with its Romney-bashing." The lone Times defender on NOW with Alex Wagner was Times reporter Jodi Kantor. Shepherd found that even The Nation contributor literally called bull on the Times's story:
"Can I call bull on this?" Nation magazine contributor Ari Melber asked. "What they've done here is taken a campaign reporter who covers the campaign with a really thin, silly story, and then put it in the home section."
"This is an attempt, to draw connections, implicit or otherwise, between his personal wealth and his candidacy.... If they want to do it, they should do it either in the opinion section or in a news story about whether his wealth matters," Melber noted, adding that to his mind, it's not a substantial story anyway because, "I don't really care how much money Mitt Romney has."