CNN Hypes Dying Newsweek's Liberal Slam of Romney

Newsweek's print magazine has slid steeply toward irrelevance, but that didn't stop CNN from airing its latest hit piece on Romney's "wimp problem" on Monday. CNN devoted over 12 minutes of coverage on its morning shows to the attack disguised as a cover story and authored by a liberal journalist.

Early Start anchor John Berman hyped the "pretty brutal" portrait of Romney and even ventured to call former President George H.W. Bush a "wimp." Starting Point anchor Soledad O'Brien read aloud one of the nasty passages, giving the liberal screed even more attention.

"George H.W. Bush won, by the way. He may have been a wimp, but he won," Berman admitted, referring to another Newsweek "wimp" story in 1987 about a Republican presidential candidate. "[T]his was pretty brutal, and Mitt Romney didn't seem to like it too much when he was asked about it," he said of Monday's cover story on Romney.

O'Brien even revealed that the author, Newsweek special correspondent Michael Tomasky, is the editor of the "progressive quarterly publication" Democracy. CNN has no problem giving headlines to a liberal journalist's blatant attack on a Republican presidential candidate.

"[T]he heart of the piece centers on the positions that he takes, the way that he has pandered so consistently on important, important issues, issues on which we'd like to see our politicians have some kind of consistency, some kind of backbone," Tomasky slammed Romney for flip-flopping.

Nowhere did O'Brien or Tomasky discuss President Obama having flip-flopped on multiple issues. For instance, even CNN's Anderson Cooper has criticized the President's wavering opinion on same-sex marriage. An indictment of politicians in general was as specific as O'Brien got.

"If we had a dollar for every politician who's changed their position on an issue, we could just go ahead and both retire from our jobs," she quipped.

"Do you think that he [Romney] should worry about it?" O'Brien teed up Tomasky to defend the influence of media in the election. "Do you think when it comes to the election that this is going to potentially have a big – play a big role, potentially be a factor?"

O'Brien did press Tomasky on whether his piece was actually a personal attack on Romney and not just an expose of his weaknesses as a candidate. "Do you think you create a strong argument for the wimp factor, as opposed to a personal attack framed around the wimp factor?" she asked.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Starting Point on July 30 at 7:16 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

[7:16]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We told you earlier about Mitt Romney's trip to Poland. He'll arrive there today for the final leg of his overseas tour. His stop right before this in Israel is where he took a strong stance on Iran, appeared almost hawkish. Romney said Tehran must be prevented from having the ability to develop nuclear weapons. And his senior foreign policy aide suggested Romney would support a military strike by Israel against Iran.

But this morning, Newsweek magazine is calling Mitt Romney a "wimp" on the cover. "The Wimp Factor" is the cover title. Asks if he's too insecure to be president. The article was written by Michael Tomasky, and he's a special correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He's also the editor of Democracy, a journal of ideas, which is a progressive quarterly publication. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. Certainly appreciate it. What's your definition of a wimp?

MICHAEL TOMASKY, special correspondent, Newsweek: Well, as the second instructive word on the cover says, somebody who's insecure in the positions he takes, in the way he presents himself as a candidate. And I see this up and down. I saw it this weekend, actually. On the surface, the speech in Israel sounded like a real tough speech, and the headlines say tough talk and so on and so on. You just said it yourself.

But what the speech actually was, was him pandering to the right-wing base in America and in Israel and just saying every word that would absolutely please them and not a single syllable that would displease them. And that's what he does up and down on every major issue. We remember all of his flip-flops, half a dozen on the most important issues of our time, he's completely reversed position. What sort of person is that?

O'BRIEN: So you think the flip-flopping is sort of what defines somebody as a wimp. I want to read a little bit from your article. You say "The episode highlights what's really wrong with Romney. He's kind of lame, he's really annoying, he keeps saying these things, these incredibly off-key things, then he apologizes immediately with all of the sincerity of a hostage. Or maybe he doesn't. Sometimes he whines about the subsequent attacks on him. But one thing he never does, man-up, double down, take his lumps." That's from the article.

What your assessment doesn't focus on is, for a voter or a potential voter who'd be reading it, is not really about policy, not really how he was wimpy, if you think, in his political stance in Massachusetts, or in fighting to get health care in that state or wimpy in his business at Bain. Do you think you create a strong argument for the wimp factor, as opposed to a personal attack framed around the wimp factor?

TOMASKY: There are some personal quirks that he has that are highlighted in that paragraph you read. But farther down in the article, and the heart of the piece, and I say this in the piece, the heart of the piece centers on the positions that he takes, the way that he has pandered so consistently on important, important issues, issues on which we'd like to see our politicians have some kind of consistency, some kind of backbone. He's repeatedly just changed positions completely and pandered totally to the right wing. When Rush Limbaugh says jump, he says, how high? And I think it's a fair question to ask, is this the kind of person that we want to see in the White House?

O'BRIEN: He said this when he was asked what was his reaction to your story, he said this. I want to play a little bit.

(Video Clip)

ROMNEY: If I worried about what the media said I wouldn't get much sleep, and I'm able to sleep pretty well.

(End Video Clip)

O'BRIEN: Meaning he doesn't care about it at all. Do you think that he should worry about it? Do you think when it comes to the election that this is going to potentially have a big – play a big role, potentially be a factor?

TOMASKY: I'd like to say yes, I don't know. I can't control those things. The Obama campaign as we know, is not really highlighting anything like this. They are not really making his flip-flops, his character, an issue. They are talking about Bain and his financial history and so on. But they are not really making this aspect of his character an issue, which I think is probably a little bit of a mistake and I think could persuade swing voters that there's not that much to this guy. So I don't know about the impact, honestly.

O'BRIEN: In 1987 there was sort of a similar cover story, it was written by Margaret Warner, and she described President Bush trying to fight – it was called, I think, "Fighting the 'Wimp Factor'." And here's what Robert O'Brien said, he's a Romney campaign adviser. He said "Newsweek was beyond silly when it called former World War II naval aviator and savvy Texas oilman George H.W. Bush a 'wimp' on its cover in '87. The magazine returns to its same failed playbook now with its cover on Governor Romney. The fact is Mitt Romney is a steely nerved businessman who's turned around failed companies, the corruption-plagued 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and an almost-bankrupt Massachusetts." Essentially saying not only do you have it wrong, you have it completely wrong and you're picking some examples of wimpiness that they would take tremendous exception to.

TOMASKY: Well, of course they're going to, but first of all I did say in the article that George H.W. Bush was a war hero and that Newsweek was probably wrong in 1987. Mitt Romney, first of all, he's no war hero. He sat out the Vietnam War in France, he got student deferments, for those who are interested in that sort of thing. OK, a steely-minded businessman? Well, yeah, he saved some companies. He's -- Bain has also not saved some companies, as we know very well. Look, I want to return to the main point. He is wishy-washy on most of the most important issues of the day, on pro-life versus pro-choice. On immigration, he used to support a path to amnesty.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, but politicians, as you and I both know, right? If we had a dollar for every politician who's changed their position on an issue, we could just go ahead and both retire from our jobs.

TOMASKY: Soledad, one or two issues, sure. One or two issues. Not six. Not seven, not the most important issues, not every single one of the most important issues of our time.

O'BRIEN: We are out of time. Thanks for talking with us, Michael Tomasky. The article is called -- let's throw up the cover story, it's from Newsweek, which is "The Wimp Factor," and asking the question is Mitt Romney a wimp? We appreciate you being with us.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014