Richie Rich Romney: How the Media Smeared Mitt As a Bullying, Dog-Hating Predatory Capitalist

[Excerpted from Collusion, by Brent Bozell and Tim Graham]

Have you ever noticed the media’s dirty trick about multimillionaires in politics? If you’re a Democrat named Kennedy or Rockefeller, who inherited millions, or have a habit of marrying women with millions (think John Kerry), or made your millions chasing ambulances (Edwards), it couldn’t possibly put a wrinkle in your populist image.

But if you’re a Republican with a gleam in your eye toward tax cuts and deregulation, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re Old Money or New Money or even No Money. You will be deemed an “economic royalist,” as Franklin Roosevelt put it.



When ABC anchor Diane Sawyer interviewed Mitt Romney on April 17, 2012, she casually announced “the Obama campaign is working overtime to paint the portrait of a man whose riches have put him out of touch.” She then offered Romney the Obama spin: “The speaking fees, the Cadillacs, the story out now that there’s an elevator for your cars in the new house you’re planning in La Jolla. Are you too rich to relate?” ( (() ((Collusion by Brent Bozell and Tim Graham is available online and in book stores.)

There’s an obvious answer that Romney did not give. “Diane, you make $12 million a year. The ritzy Manhattan penthouse, the wealthy movie director husband, the estate on Martha’s Vineyard. Does that make you too rich and elitist to relate to your audience?”

The Haircut Bully

In May, after the media had helped eliminate all Romney's conservative challengers, it was Romney's turn to be the object of an attack piece. With exquisite timing, The Washington Post suddenly found their latest "investigative" hit piece on Republicans.

Reporter Jason Horowitz penned a 5,400-word "expose," a bombshell.  on how Mitt Romney may have pinned a boy down and cut his hair in 1965. 1965. Nineteen sixty-five. That's almost a half- century ago. Even if every detail in this hit piece was accurate-and they weren't-how is it relevant? The same journalists that who couldn't find anything relevant in the mistresses Bill Clinton or John Edwards were "romancing" in the risky present of their presidential campaigns could somehow find something more compelling - a haircut -- in the yellowed past of Mitt Romney's high -school career. The Post carried several full pages of breathless prose under the big headline "Romney's pranks could go too far."

The Post reported that Romney's Cranbrook schoolmate John Lauber was "perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality," and that he screamed for help as a brutish Romney held him down and forcibly hacked off his hair. Another student, David Seed, told the Post he ran into Lauber three decades later at an airport and apologized for not doing more to help him. Seed claimed Lauber said, "It was horrible. . . . It's something I have thought about a lot since then." The paper recounted another incident in which Romney allegedly once shouted "atta girl" to a different student at the all-boys' school who, years later, came out as gay.

This story was neatly paired with President Obama announcing the end of his completely insincere opposition to gay marriage. Even centrist Post columnist Kathleen Parker could see the way the major media wanted this to unfold: "One, Barack Obama is an evolutionary, 21st-century hero who supports equality for all. Two, Mitt Romney is a gay-bashing bully mired in the previous century who also supports a war on women and, oh yeah, hates dogs."

So what did the alleged victim of the Romney rampage have to say? The family of John Lauber, who died of liver cancer in 2004, issued a statement saying "the portrayal of John is factually incorrect and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda." One sister said, "If he were still alive today, he would be furious" about the story.  Yet none of this slowed down the Post one bit, nor kept  everyone else in the national media from rushing to repeat the story.

ABC anchor Diane Sawyer hyperbolically found a firestorm in this tiny tale: "Five of Romney's former classmates have come forward to tell the same story, accusations creating a firestorm and Romney is forced to respond."  CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien called it a "pretty harrowing story" from the Post. "They talked to several people who recall with great detail and what sounds like a tremendous sense of guilt about that attack on this kid."

"Creating a firestorm." The media create it, and then announce it's created.

After readers complained, Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton touted this "scoop" as a "deeply reported story" that "holds up to scrutiny." They claimed the paper "received no specific complaint of inaccuracy from the Lauber family." Note the word-parsing. The Lauber family certainly did complain. But it wasn't a specific complaint, so it didn't count. Pexton then turned to national editor Kevin Merida, who insisted, "We stand by the story. It's a full portrait. It's the story of Mitt Romney's years at Cranbrook. . . . Our intention with this story and future stories about both Mitt Romney and President Obama is to give people the fullest possible portrait of the men who are running for president." 

Pexton did not explain to readers that Merida is no objective editor. He is a black journalist who wrote a critical biography of Clarence Thomas, called Supreme Discomfort, and penned captions for a coffee-table book for Obama-loving liberals titled Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs. He was named the Post's national editor during the Obama transition. When Washingtonian magazine asked him at the time how he would run the national desk, he said, "We're witnessing the rebirth of the country," he says. "We have to ask ourselves, 'What did we produce to help people understand the moment of great change?'"  It would be safe to assume he didn't want the "moment of great change" to be ended by a President Romney. After the election, Merida was promoted to managing editor, the number-two job.

This story was certainly not a "full portrait," as Merida claimed. It was a hit piece that helped liberal journalists, talkers, and bloggers assault Romney as someone who "tortured gay kids" for fun. Leftists like Joan Walsh of Salon.com had a field day. Her story was titled "Mitt the Prep-School Sadist."

Pexton admitted the Post timed this story precisely to echo on the day after President Obama's big pro-gay announcement. They actually waited a day longer than planned to let Obama have the front page to himself when he was being "historic." Merida told Pexton they didn't want the bully story clashing with the Thursday Obama-now-favors-gay-marriage story. In truth, they wanted each story to dominate the front page, not share it. So the Romney hit piece was published online late Thursday morning, and was splashed on the front page on Friday.

The "reader's advocate" agreed with this politicized news judgment, implying the Post rushed the piece a little once they heard Obama's "history" was coming. "Do I think The Post took advantage of the timing? Yes. Vice President Biden had telegraphed the president's position on gay marriage just days earlier," Pexton allowed. "If I were an editor I might have sped it up a little, too, to take advantage of the national discussion on gay marriage. Does that mean Post editors are timing stories with the White House? I hope not, and I doubt that is the case."

Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli eventually sent an outraged e-mail to Pexton (which was posted online) strongly denying any hint of collusion, declaring "there was no collusion or coordination between The Post and the White House over the Romney story. The notion is 'absurd   and the implication is outrageous,'" Brauchli relayed. Pexton added, "I believe him, and based on my time here in the past 14 months I have not seen this kind of collusion or coordination."

Merida made the amazing claim that the story had to be rushed because we're they are a "competitive news organization." But that never moved the Post to action when its investigators worked on the Clinton sex scandals. In 1994 the Post delayed for three months with the story of Paula Jones claiming sexual harassment, until Clinton hired a defense lawyer. They published the Juanita Broaddrick rape story only after the Clinton impeachment trial had concluded and the president's tenure was safe. They are experienced practitioners of politicized story timing.

The Post knows full well that they never did this kind of "investigation" of for Barack Obama in 2008. Take Obama's admissions of teenaged marijuana and cocaine use in his memoirs of teenaged marijuana and cocaine use. Did the Post send a reporter to find out from Obama's classmates how often he used illegal drugs, and where he purchased them? And did he in turn distribute them?

No. The Post tried to assert these troublesome admissions wouldn't matter. In a front-page story published on January 3, 2007, five weeks before he announced he was running, they rushed to the story-a year before the first primary election-and then they failed to investigate if Obama's memoirs were accurate.

Reporter Lois Romano's story was headlined "Effect of Obama's Candor Remains to Be Seen; Senator Admitted Trying Cocaine in a Memoir Written 11 Years Ago." It took Romano 24 paragraphs to include the actual passage from Dreams From My Father: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though,." he wrote.

"Presidential aspirants tend to write more sanitized books for use as campaign tools," Romano claimed. Then she dismissed it as a potential cause of damage: "Obama's partisan opponents and experts said it is too early to know whether the admissions will be a liability because the public seems to be enthusiastically embracing his openness at this point."

Do you think that if Romney had written in a memoir openly professing that he bullied kids in high school, the media would report "the public seems to be enthusiastically embracing his openness"?

As for the openness, it was very limited. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tried to spin it as a positive that Obama admitted cocaine use: "I believe what the country is looking for is someone who is open, honest and candid about themselves rather than someone who seems endlessly driven by polls or focus groups." The next sentence in the Romano story undercut the embracing-openness narrative: "Gibbs said yesterday that Obama was not available for an interview."

 

Romney and the Dog on the Roof

While stories like Obama's drug use were smothered in his first campaign for president and were considered forgotten in 2012, liberal journalists continued to embarrass Romney on old stories that emerged in his first presidential campaign. In 2007, Boston Globe reporter Neil Swidey reported that on a family vacation in 1983, Romney had put his Irish Setter, Seamus, in a car top carrier for a trip to Canada. The dog was apparently frightened enough to suffer from diarrhea, which rolled down the back window. Romney then pulled over to a gas station, cleaned the dog off with a hose, and put him back on top and drove on.

It was a profoundly nothing story, but that of course doesn't matter. The Obama people loved it this story, and would tweak Romney with it. On January 30, 2012, Obama strategist David Axelrod drew a wave of Internet attention when he tweeted a photo of Obama riding inside his car with his dog Bo with the caption, "How loving owners transport their dogs." CNN's Political Ticker blog wrote it up under the title "Axelrod's tweet worse than his bite."

Predictably, some liberal journalists descended into wretched excess. On the January 13, 2012 edition of the public-radio show On The Media, distributed across America by NPR, host Bob Garfield interviewed Swidey. "So back in 2007, you surely knew that this story would not be taken only at face value, that it would mutate," Garfield declared, "and it would be used as ammunition by those who would portray Mitt Romney as the Michael Vick of presidential candidates. It still wound up as your lede. You feel any compunction about that at this stage?"

The better question is why Garfield didn't have any compunction comparing Romney's alleged mistreatment of a pet with Michael Vick, who pled guilty to hanging or drowning six to eight dogs. Garfield's program boasts about its own civility on its website: "While maintaining the civility and fairness that are the hallmarks of public radio, OTM tackles sticky issues with a frankness and transparency that has built trust with listeners."  This would be true if your listeners were limited to liberals who loved this story like David Axelrod did.

No one embraced loved this story more feverishly than New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who served as the paper's editorial page editor for most of the Bush years. Collins worshipped Obama so much that she wrote a column just before Thanksgiving in 2008 with this request: "Thanksgiving is next week, and President Bush could make it a really special holiday by resigning. Seriously."  Like many other journalists, Collins was so desperately pro-Obama she wanted him inaugurated in November.

How obsessed as this woman with the silly dog story? Clay Waters of the TimesWatch blog counted that since her first 2007 column on the anecdote, headlined "Haunted by Seamus," Collins had mentioned "Crategate" in 28 columns from 2007 through November 2011. Waters found "Every column that mentioned Romney during that span has included the dog story."

The pattern continued from December 2011 through Election Day, with another 30 columns pounding away at the story. On January 3, Collins urged New Hampshire voters to write in the dog: "Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog's name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can't think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. Maybe we can start a boomlet. Makes as much sense as the Newt Gingrich moment."

Collins wrote a whole column on the subject headlined "Dogging Mitt Romney" on March 8. "People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose."

CBS and David Letterman liked this story, too, so Collins appeared with late night's most devoted Obama fan on March 20. Letterman told Collins he adored her obsession: "I so loved the fact that this happened to this guy, and I loved the fact that you more than any single journalist that I know, has promoted it. Tell us how you know about it." When she described it, Letterman added, "I mean, as silly as this all might be, I'm told that later upon arriving in Toronto, the dog left, hitchhiked back, he had somebody, took him over the border, and they never saw him again." Collins added to the joke: "He asked for amnesty."

Then Letterman grew angry and said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wanted to shut down his "Stupid Pet Tricks" segments. "Now why have haven't they been up Mitt's nose about the dog episode?," he demanded.

Letterman asked the Seamus-obsessive journalist if this was important.: "But am I on to something here about this suggests a greater wrinkle of the fabric than just something stupid he did on vacation?" Of course, she replied.: "I think pet transport is not a major issue probably in the campaign. But there is something about it, it's sort of like Imelda Marcos and the 2,700 shoes, it just kind of tweaks some feeling people have about Mitt Romney right now, that does make them kind of, you know, 'What was he thinking?'"

Letterman shot back: "Well, yeah, tweaked, but I'd like to see the guy arrested."

In April, Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller pulled out a story from Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, which told of his first months in Indonesia with new stepfather Lolo Soetoro. "With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chili peppers raw with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy)."

Romney misplaces dogs. Obama eats them. How can the former be news -- big news -- and the latter not be any news at all? To this argument, Collins lamely replied that "eating dog meat when you are a child in Indonesia is not the same thing as driving to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car when you are 36."  That's true. In one case, the dog is dead. Or as Treacher put it, "Say what you want about Romney, but at least he only put a dog on the roof of his car, not the roof of his mouth."

 

Romney Versus the "Complicit News Media"

The New York Times didn't just crusade for Obama on the editorial page. Two days after Collins appeared with Letterman, in the midst of 8.2 percent unemployment and four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices, the Times printed a front-page story headlined "Obama Seizes Chance to Score As an Everyman." The paper stooped to giving Obama and Axelrod credit for exploiting the Times along with the rest of the "news" media.

Political reporter Mark Leibovich proclaimed how "Mr. Obama's team has proven effective in exploiting each gaffe" Romney made. He reported that Axelrod's Seamus-mocking Twitter post came a few days after the president's re-election campaign created a "Pet Lovers for Obama" group on Facebook. Leibovich was also strangely impressed that Axelrod mocked Romney's clumsy claim that "the trees are the right height" in Michigan (Axelrod's tweet: "So Mitt wins Guam, where the Sea Hibiscus are just the right height!").

Leibovich even slavishly paid tribute to Axelrod on Twitter: "@davidaxelrod you ate your tweeties today, Axe. Impressed."

The story grew weird as Leibovich quoted "Romney loyalist" Mike Murphy complaining about pro-Obama bias: "How hard is it to cash a lottery ticket?" Leibovich wrote that Murphy "added that Mr. Obama had benefited from a complicit news media that loves to point out Mr. Romney's perceived screw-ups. This in turn makes the Romney campaign-and candidate-overly self-conscious, prompting more gaffes." Murphy said, "I think Governor Romney knows that he's now trying to feed a dog that's trained to bite him." The Times surely appreciated another chance to push Romney as hostile to dogs.

Leibovich's story and pictures all sold Obama as a man of the people, touting the president's NCAA basketball tourney talk and his hot-dog chomping at a game alongside British prime minister David Cameron: "It is the latest iteration of the Obama-Just-Folks offensive, and one that coincides-not by accident-with some particularly clumsy efforts by the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, to shed the stereotypical airs of a super-rich guy."

Inside, there were large photos of Obama at the basketball game with the prime minister. Only in media-elite circles is it considered a "just-folks offensive" to fly Air Force One to Kentucky with the British prime minister for a photo -op at a basketball game. Obama loves basketball! Who knew?

Leibovich forwarded Axelrod making fun of Romney's decision to avoid making NCAA picks. "They asked Mitt if he was filling out his brackets," Axelrod had tweeted, "and he said, 'No I have my accountants to do that.'" They also thoughtfully included a photo of Obama crouching down for a face-to-face meeting with his dog Bo.

The Times even made hay with Romney's Mormon devotion to avoiding alcohol abstinence. "While office seekers always strain to be the proverbial 'candidate you'd rather have a beer with'-and such contests will never favor a teetotaling Mormon-the president has been laying it on as thick as the Guinness he sipped at a Washington bar on St. Patrick's Day."

Then they turned to the wives: "Michelle Obama went on Late Show with David Letterman on Monday and reminded everyone she went shopping at Target last year (Mr. Letterman helpfully flashed a photo of the outing.).   It goes without saying that Target is not the kind of store one might envision, say, Ann Romney pulling up to in one of the Cadillacs that her husband says she drives. Or that the Obamas have been playing up their folksiness at a time when Mr. Romney has proven rather butterfingered with his common touch."

The Times failed to note that neither the Associated Press nor the White House would comment on how exactly it came to pass that AP photographer Charles Dharapak was the only news photographer present at the Target store just south of the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia, to capture Mrs. Obama's strange shopping excursion.

"All I can say is that it was the result of good source work on his part," AP spokesman Paul Colford said, declining to elaborate on the sources or the work involved. This was a brush-off, not an answer.

Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi explained what the Times ignored -- that conservative media had been "sniping" at Mrs. Obama "when she appeared at a fundraiser in New York wearing $40,000 worth of borrowed diamond jewelry," so the Target run looked like a political stunt, and one way to make it look less political was to get the AP involved. If the White House itself issued a photograph of the First Lady at Target, the media would be reluctant to spread it around. But if it emerged from the nation's preeminent wire service, then it's it would be "news." Farhi implied this stunt also required the corporate cooperation of Target, which usually refuses any attempt at news photographs inside its stores.

 

Ann and the Horse

Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, was the kind of aspiring First Lady that liberal journalists cannot fathom: the stay-at-home mom. Feminists say they believe in women making choices, but cannot understand why they would ever make the choice to stay home. Unless - aha! - they are the greedy rich.  Now, Michelle Obama could wear $42,000 in diamond bracelets or $500 sneakers from hip fashion designers, and draw a pass. It didn't hurt John Kerry to have a wife as wealthy as Teresa Heinz Kerry in 2004. They were liberals and therefore automatic heroines with a right to their wealth, and media swoons were mandatory. Ann Romney, like Cindy McCain in 2008, would be mocked for her money.

Fox News analyst Juan Williams displayed this contempt afters Mrs. Romney spoke at the Republican convention: She "looked to me like a corporate wife. . . . The stories she told about struggles-ah, it's hard for me to believe. I mean, she's a very rich woman. And I know that, and America knows that."

This hostility came through loud and clear when the media took exception to Mrs. Romney's affection for horses and her involvement in the Olympic equestrian competition known as dressage. This is clearly an enthusiasm for people of wealth, in political terms the very opposite of a populist chomping on pork rinds at the rodeo. Wealthy liberal anchormen and comedians and newspaper editors socked it to the Romneys without any reservation.

Leading the horse-whipping was The New York Times, which published a 2,300-word front-page Sunday story on May 26 by Trip Gabriel that reminded everyone that the Romneys are really, really rich. The headline was: "In Rarefied Sport, a View of the Romneys' World." The Republican nominee's wife was involved in dressage, "in which horses costing up to seven figures execute pirouettes and other dancelike moves for riders wearing tails and top hats." 

Just as with Gail Collins and David Letterman, liberal comedy and journalism worked in tandem. Trip Gabriel whacked Romney by quoting the fake-conservative comedian Stephen Colbert, who "ribbed the sport's fussy, elitist image." In a June 17 story, he quoted Colbert's attack: "The image of Romney as a privileged princeling ends today, because now Mitt is just your average blue-collar fan of dressage."

Gabriel warned, "As millions tune in to the Olympics in prime time this summer, just before Mr. Romney will be reintroducing himself to the nation at the Republican convention, viewers are likely to see 'up close and personal' segments on NBC about the Romneys and dressage, a sport of six-figure horses and $1,000 saddles. The Romneys declared a loss of $77,000 on their 2010 tax returns for the share in the care and feeding of Rafalca."

Gabriel wrote the Romneys didn't really want to talk about this because they "may also have been wary of the kind of fallout that came after Mr. Romney's mention of the 'couple of Cadillacs' his wife owned and the disclosure of plans for a car elevator in the family's $9 million beach house in California, which prompted criticism that Mr. Romney was out of touch with average Americans." He concluded by painting Mrs. Romney as "she mingled casually outside and in the V.I.P. tent, where the dress code included white pants for men and women, with various breeds of small dogs as popular accessories."

This Thurston Howell III routine not only came from the family newspaper handed down to Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr., and a reporter with the first name of "Trip." As a reader might suspect, Gabriel was actually born with the name Bertram Gabriel III in 1955, and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Middlebury College in Vermont, where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. His father, Bertram Gabriel Jr., was a real estate developer in Santa Fe, and before that was president of Gabriel Brothers Inc., a New York toy company.  Before covering politics for the Times, Gabriel was an editor for what The New Republic dismissed as the paper's "luxury porn" sections, the ones dedicated to the tastes of conspicuous consumers whose idea of a cheap timepiece is an $890 watch from Prada.

It's nice to know that the New York Times is looking out for the little guy.

The media staunchly resisted any attempt to humanize Romney. That wasn't "news," because it didn't help Obama. In both of his two campaigns for president, Mitt Romney told the heart-warming story of closing down Bain Capital in 1996 to hunt for the missing daughter of a co-worker, 14-year-old Melissa Gay, who disappeared after going to a "rave party" and was found the next day. That story even was published that year in The New York Times-although Mitt Romney's name wasn't mentioned, just Bain Capital.  

But her name hasn't been mentioned in the Times since then. Her name never came up in either election on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, or NBC. Republicans like Romney have to pay for advertisements to make themselves look human. The networks did that on a daily basis for Obama, free of charge.

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center