CBS Spotlights Democratic Attack on Romney as 'Too French'

On Wednesday's Early Show, CBS somehow thought a Democratic super PAC's cynical ad aimed at discouraging Republican primary voters from voting for Mitt Romney was newsworthy. Correspondent Chip Reid outlined that Romney's French-speaking ability might be "political poison," and cited how French fries were renamed "freedom fries" in 2003 and how John Kerry was accused of looking French in 2004 [audio clips available here; video below the jump].

Fill-in anchor Rebecca Jarvis stated in the introduction to Reid's report that "something from Mitt Romney's past is coming back to haunt him...Apparently, he speaks French." Co-anchor Jeff Glor added that "apparently, speaking French is not a plus when you're running for president."

The correspondent explained that "we've been hearing a lot about super PACs recently. They can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it any way they see fit. And now, one Democratic super PAC has decided to spend some of its money attacking Mitt Romney for speaking French." After playing a clip from the ad, which highlighted a video clip where the former Massachusetts governor spoke French in his role as head of the Olympic host committee in 2002, Reid continued that the ad "was paid for by a Democratic political action committee, in hopes that Republican primary voters will see him as too French."



The CBS journalist then detailed why speaking the Romance language is apparently "political poison":

REID: It's not the first time association with France has been political poison. In 2003, the French fries in House of Representatives cafeterias were renamed 'freedom fries,' to protest French opposition to the Iraq war. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, some Republicans accused John Kerry of looking French to portray him as elite, effete, and out of touch.

Near the end of the segment, Reid cracked a joke which referenced Romney's infamous attempted wager with competitor Rick Perry: "Jeff and Rebecca, I'll bet you $10,000 Mitt Romney will continue to speak French because one-quarter of the population in the all-important primary state of New Hampshire is of French or French Canadian ancestry." Moments later, Glor responded to the 2004 accusation raised against Senator Kerry: "How do you accuse someone of looking French?" Jarvis replied, "It's crazy- crazy talk."

The full transcript of Chip Reid's report from Wednesday's Early Show, which ran 44 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour:

REBECCA JARVIS: Something from Mitt Romney's past is coming back to haunt him this morning. Apparently, he speaks French- fluently, because he lived in France in the 1960s.

JEFF GLOR: You don't want to show off again now, do you?

JARVIS: No, no, I don't. But actually, if this is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

GLOR: There you- wow! There you go. Apparently, speaking French is not a plus when you're running for president.

National correspondent Chip Reid is in Washington with more on that. Bonjour, sir.

Chip Reid, CBS News Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgCHIP REID: Jeff and Rebecca, I'm going to do this in English if that is okay with you-

GLOR: (laughs) Yes, please-

REID: You know, we've been hearing a lot about super PACs recently. They can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it any way they see fit. And now, one Democratic super PAC has decided to spend some of its money attacking Mitt Romney for speaking French.

[CBS News Graphic: "Political Poison: How 'Looking French' Can Kill A Campaign"]

REID (voice-over): To many, Paris is the city of love. But on this side of the Atlantic, the romance has faded., at least when it comes to American politics, where speaking French is taboo.

MITT ROMNEY, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (in French, from American LP political ad): Bonjour, I'm Mitt Romney-

REID: This ad showing Mitt Romney speaking French ten years ago was paid for by a Democratic political action committee, in hopes that Republican primary voters will see him as too French. It's not the first time association with France has been political poison. In 2003, the French fries in House of Representatives cafeterias were renamed 'freedom fries,' to protest French opposition to the Iraq war. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, some Republicans accused John Kerry of looking French to portray him as elite, effete, and out of touch. (clip of John Kerry speaking French)

REID (on-camera): The French say all that bashing is unfair, arguing that there might not even be a United States of America if it hadn't been for help from the French during the Revolutionary War. This park is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who played a crucial role in the war, and it sits on some of the best real estate in Washington, right across from the White House.

REID (voice-over): Romney, for his part, isn't hiding his fluent French. This week in New Hampshire, he spoke with a French Canadian barber.

ROMNEY:  Speak French?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, I do, very well. Do you?

ROMNEY: Yeah- not as well as you do.

REID: Romney learned the language when he was in France as a Mormon missionary. (clip of Mitt Romney speaking French) Olivier Knox, a French reporter who covers American politics, says he doesn't think the France bashing works, but he also doesn't expect it to stop.


OLIVIER KNOX, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: There's really very little downside politically or socially to attacking France, whether you're a late night comic or the producer of an attack video for a primary campaign. There's simply isn't the kind of pushback from a French lobby, or even much from French officials, if you do that.
    
REID (live): Now, if you're wondering why Mitt Romney was speaking French on TV a decade ago, he was the lead of the U.S. organizing committee for the Olympics, and he did a lot of foreign TV interviews. And Jeff and Rebecca, I'll bet you $10,000 Mitt Romney will continue to speak French because one-quarter of the population in the all-important primary state of New Hampshire is of French or French Canadian ancestry.

GLOR: How did about that?

JARVIS: There you go!

GLOR: Strategery (Glor and Jarvis laugh) Thank you, Chip- good stuff-

REID: You bet.

GLOR: Appreciate it.

JARVIS: Merci, Chip.

REID: Merci-

GLOR: How do you accuse someone of looking French?

JARVIS: It's crazy- (Glor laughs) crazy talk.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center