Mitt Romney's week-long international trip resulted in unrelentingly negative coverage from the big three broadcast networks, a stark change from the glowing press awarded to then-candidate Barack Obama's world tour in 2008. While Obama was treated like a rock star (from the Associated Press: "It's not only Obama's youth, eloquence and energy that have stolen hearts across the Atlantic...."), Romney endured a focus on gaffes and the trivial.
MRC analysts examined all 21 ABC, CBS and NBC evening news stories about Romney's trip to London, Israel and Poland between July 25 and July 31. Virtually all of these stories (18, or 86%) emphasized Romney's "diplomatic blunders," from his "golden gaffe" at the Olympic games to "missteps" that offended the Palestinians.
The first of these "gaffes" was the former GOP governor asserting that security problems in London are not "encouraging." (This unsurprising point had previously been made by many in the media.)
Journalists pounced. On July 26, guest World News guest anchor Josh Elliott mocked, "Now to the war of words underway tonight in London, what's being called Mitt Romney's golden gaffe."
The comments came from an interview with NBC anchor Brian Williams. Initially, Nightly News didn't report the relatively innocuous remark, excluding it from a taped interview that ran on July 25. However, by July 26, Williams had caught up with a British tabloid press angry at "Mitt the Twit." The anchor opened the show by trumpeting, "[Romney's statement] erupted today in public and now the question is, how did a Romney campaign overseas trip end up offending so many people here in London?"
That same night, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley also led with Romney's comments about the Olympic games. He insisted, after just one day of a week-long tour, that the trip was getting attention "for all the wrong reasons" and deemed the former governor's remarks "a diplomatic blunder."
As the trip continued, so did the negative spin from the evening newscasts. Despite pressing economic and foreign policy problems facing the world, both ABC and CBS on July 27 highlighted trifling details such as Romney's motorcade in London getting stuck in traffic. (A snafu that partially validated the candidate's warning about the Olympics.) On CBS, Mark Phillips cast this as "another bad moment."
On July 29, Evening News correspondent Jeff Glor joined the pig pile: "After a rough first stop on his seven-day overseas trip, Mitt Romney was hoping Israel would go better than Britain. The day was not error-free." The "error" amounted to focusing on just how strong the Republican's language would be on Israel's defense against Iran.
Over seven days, Romney netted 53 minutes worth of stories from the three networks. In comparison, Obama's 2008 tour through the Middle East and Europe resulted in 92 minutes for eight days. (The tour resulted in news segments that encompassed full reports and anchor briefs.)
In July of 2008, Barack Obama's international tour took him to Israel where, in an attempt to show toughness over Iran, the then-senator incorrectly told reporters that he was a member of the Senate Banking committee. (Obama erroneously referred to "his" committee's calls for divestment from Iran.) There was no outcry and no reporting of "errors" or "gaffes," at least on the three broadcast evening newscasts.
Obama's 2008 foreign tour, unlike Romney's 2012 version, received glowing coverage.
When the Democrat arrived in Berlin to speak, Brian Williams could hardly contain himself. On the July 24, 2008 Nightly News, he trumpeted, "...The man from Chicago, Illinois, the first ever African-American running as presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, brought throngs of people into the center of Berlin, streaming into this city, surging to get close to him, to hear his message."
On the same program, Andrea Mitchell was beside herself, marveling at the large crowds: "It's hard to figure out what the comparison is. What do you compare this with?"
Then-CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric couched the visit in the most favorable terms, hyping, "Barack Obama extends the hand of friendship to Europe."
At the end of Romney's tour, Brian Williams summed up the week as concluding "with controversy, some hurt feelings, and some raw tempers." NBC reporter Peter Alexander highlighted a Romney aide who swore at journalists for screaming questions just after the candidate left the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Alexander lectured that the trip was "at times marred by missteps" and that "Romney offend[ed] his Olympic hosts and Palestinian leaders."
While Romney's trip resulted in his most substantial coverage since wrapping up the Republican primary, the stories were overwhelmingly negative. Contrasted with the fawning coverage Barack Obama received four years ago, the network's rough coverage of Romney's trip stands as yet another reminder of the media's double standard when it comes to Barack Obama and any conservative candidate who might get in his way.
[Thanks to MRC intern Jeffrey Meyer for assistance.]