Reporters Gang Up on Romney? That's No Conspiracy, It's Being 'Strategic With Your Colleagues'

On CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, host Howard Kurtz granted the media mantra that Mitt Romney was quick to politicize the Mideast embassy attacks, and added, “But for the next, what, 36, 48, 72 hours, the press made him the issue. Was that fair?” Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said, “Well, yes...what happened here was quite legitimate.”

Kurtz also talked about whether it looked "a little unsavory" for reporters to be plotting on an open mic how they would all make sure Romney was asked if he "regretted" attacking Obama. New Yorker political writer Ryan Lizza tried to claim it wasn't "conspiring," it was being "a little bit strategic with your colleagues" and should be done more often:  [See video below.  MP3 audio here.]

KURTZ: Well, before I go back to Amy, what about that clip -- we showed some of it. A lot of people said reporters conspiring about which questions to ask and how to ask it before Romney's brief press conference? Does that look a little unsavory?

LIZZA: I don't think that's conspiring. If you're sitting there with your colleagues beforehand, you know, I actually think reporters should do that a little more. Most of the time, at press conferences, you know, everyone is their own island. They've got their own question in their head and it's really easy for the president or White House spokesman to sort of play people off each other because they know you're not going to follow up. So, being a little bit strategic with your colleagues in the press, to me that's not -- it's not technically conspiring. But it's nothing -- I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

KURTZ: But it looks --

LIZZA: You're trying to get this guy on the record, you're trying to ask tough questions. If you talk to your colleagues about that, what's wrong with that?

Earth to Lizza: What's wrong with that is that there's no evidence that reporters have pounded Obama at a press conference with a wave of repetitive attack questions. If that's the summit of professionalism, then the press has failed for years with Obama. The discussion continued:

KURTZ: I understand that. But there were only a few questions that Romney took at that appearance in Florida. But, Amy, to a lot of people, it looked like the press was determined to make the storyline Mitt Romney responds to his criticism of the criticism of the administration.

AMY HOLMES: Right. And I think it was very instructive for American consumers of the news to see how the news sausage is made and exactly how the press gaggle works in those situations. I mean, I was sort of happy frankly as a woman to see Jan Crawford as the ringleader of the boys in the Washington press corps. It was sort of fun for me but --

KURTZ: Jan Crawford of CBS News.

HOLMES: Exactly.

KURTZ: It was an NBC reporter, an NPR reporter. What about --

HOLMES: Right. I think it was the one question that was asked over and over from a certain perspective, and not enlarging the story, not advancing the story, and learning more about Mitt Romney.

Lizza did pause during the show to remark on Al Sharpton hitting Romney for exploiting tragedy:

LIZZA: I don't mean to be flip but I have to chuckle a little bit when I see Al Sharpton say that he can't believe someone would jump on a tragedy for political purposes... [Laughs]

KURTZ: Given his long history?

LIZZA: I mean, Al Sharpton is doing a good job as a broadcaster. But let's remember where Al Sharpton comes from.

Kurtz had run this clip of Sharpton opening his MSNBC show: "Tonight's lead, disgraceful. Mitt Romney's crass effort to use the tragedy in the Middle East to score political points."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis