NewsBusters' Sheppard Debates Media Firestorm Over Gay Romney Adviser With CNN's Lemon

May 7th, 2012 11:34 AM

An openly gay adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney resigned last week, and the Obama-loving media interested in discussing anything but the poor economy jumped all over it.

NewsBusters associate editor Noel Sheppard discussed this with Don Lemon on CNN Newsroom Saturday (video follows with transcript and commentary):

DON LEMON, HOST: Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up? You've heard the rap against him, that his views on some very big issues have changed over time. So let's take gun control, for example, then and now.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they help protect us.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners. President Obama has not, I will. We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsman and those who seek to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not. I will.


LEMON: And you've heard even people in his own party saying he's going to flip-flop on health care and he also did it on the womans’ right to choose on abortion. So, and then there’s this: Romney’s foreign policy spokesman quit after just two weeks on the job. Richard Grenell was outspoken, he's openly gay, and he had posted some controversial tweets. So he had his critics within the party, right?

But Grenell’s quick exit spotlights a question that has shadowed Mitt Romney’s career: is there any cause or concern at Romney’s core? Is there anything at his core, any issue on which he will not budge?

So let's talk about that now with two conservatives. Welcome back Noel Sheppard, welcome back, NewsBusters, and Republican strategist Ana Navarro. Good to see both of you.

Alright, so, let me have it, and I'll let you have it. Yesterday Romney said his team encouraged Grenell to stay on the job. He told Fox News that he hires people quote “not based upon their ethnicity or sexual preference or gender but upon their capability." “We are very sorry to have him go.”

Okay, so ladies first, and I’m not being sexist. So, why not do this before he steps down, or however it happened behind the scenes? Who knows? Why not stand up for the guy before instead of after the fact, Ana?

After Navarro said her piece, Sheppard got his chance:

LEMON: Noel, go ahead, what do you think?

NOEL SHEPPARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR NEWSBUSTERS: Okay, here is what I think, and this might shock you or may not. I think about three weeks ago, Reuters/Ipsos did a poll asking for people's top priority in this election. And 53 percent said jobs and the economy, fourteen percent said health care, nine percent said family values. Nowhere in this mix was gay rights issues.

I think the reason why we're talking about this, and the reason why it has exploded on Mitt Romney is because the economy is terrible, the Obama administration, the Obama campaign don't want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about extraneous issues, and conceivably important ones, but not issues that the public are extraordinarily concerned with. Right now the public…

LEMON: Okay, Noel, go ahead, you can finish your thought, and I understand what you're saying. The public, the public, it's about jobs, I get that. But Noel, quite honestly, that's a talking point because Grenell, this wasn't about gay rights. This was about foreign policy. He just happened to be openly gay. And there were some things with tweets, but this wasn’t, he is not in the job for foreign policy to make an issue out of gay rights. That logic does not…

"He is not in the job for foreign policy to make an issue out of gay rights."

No, he wasn't. But that’s why the media were all over this including Lemon.

The segment began with Lemon addressing previous flipflops on issues by Romney. He then specifically made a point about Grenell being “openly gay” before saying, “But Grenell’s quick exit spotlights a question that has shadowed Mitt Romney’s career: is there any cause or concern at Romney’s core? Is there anything at his core, any issue on which he will not budge?"

The issue at hand here that Lemon wanted to address was gay rights and how it pertains to Romney.

What Sheppard did was expose that gay rights is not currently a pressing issue on the minds of voters, but that this is yet another thing Obama and his media minions would like to focus on to distract the public from what they really care about – the economy.

The discussion continued:

SHEPPARD: And I very much agree with that. And you know what? Foreign policy in that Reuters poll was down at five percent.

LEMON: But you're not explaining why he had, you’re not giving a good reason for why he had to step down, and that didn't have to do with gay rights. He wasn’t making it an issue.

That’s correct. It’s the media that made it a gay rights issue because they’d rather talk about anything other than how lousy the economy is.

Consider that this discussion took place the day after the Labor Department released horrible numbers about job creations in April. There were other terrible economic stats that emerged in the prior week involving real estate, durable goods, consumer spending, as well as the very disappointing first quarter GDP estimate.

Instead of discussing those issues Saturday night – issues that every poll including the one Sheppard referred to show are front and center on the minds of the American people – Lemon chose to address a social issue that although important doesn’t appear on most national priority surveys.

This of course is what the media have been doing all year beginning with the contraception issue in January to the student loan issue last month and now Romney’s gay adviser.

Everything is important to the media EXCEPT the state of the economy.

Sheppard continued:

SHEPPARD: I don't think that this issue was handled well by Romney, although what we know about this is Romney wanted him to come back. Romney was not interested in him leaving. Apparently this man resigned of his own volition. So how is that Romney’s fault that someone resigned because he was potentially feeling uncomfortable about his position? And Romney has come out and said, “I’d like…”

LEMON: I understand that, but we have to run for time purposes. We’re very heavy here. But the thing is is that, yes, why would, my question was, is there anything he won't -- is there anything he won't, you know, not back down about? And, and why not step up for the guy, stand up for the guy beforehand instead of after? That’s a question I asked Ana and that’s the one I ask you.

Actually, Romney stood up for the guy by hiring him. How else could he have stood up for him “beforehand?”

Should Romney have held a press conference addressing an issue that hadn’t happened yet and told people that if his new adviser gets into a Twitter fight with detractors and then deletes a bunch of tweets he’ll support him for doing so?

This whole media firestorm over this matter has been completely disingenuous – surprise, surprise – for this involved Grenell and not Romney.

It was Grenell's decision to resign. There’s absolutely no evidence that he did so due to pressure from either Romney or the campaign.

Quite the contrary, Romney said Friday he wanted Grenell to come back.

So exactly what more could Romney do to satisfy media hell-bent on discussing anything other than the poor state of the economy?

Obviously, nothing.

When Sheppard got his chance to respond to Lemon’s question, he did his best to explain this:

SHEPPARD: The reality is that both of the presidential candidates at this point, Romney and Obama, have flip-flopped on their position with regard to gay rights, in particular same-sex marriage.

LEMON: Right. Absolutely.

SHEPPARD: We know that Obama in 1996 when he was a state senator was for same-sex marriage, and in 2008, he changed. Well, in 1994, when Romney was --

LEMON: Noel, you're right. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. This is not about gay rights.

This is not about gay rights? Of course this is about gay rights. That’s what the entire media firestorm has been about since Grenell resigned and why Lemon brought the matter up.

Would anybody have cared if a straight white guy left the Romney campaign after getting into a Twitter fight with detractors over his position on national security for example?

Of course not.

This fits the Obama campaign’s zeal to paint Romney as an extreme right-winger on social issues, and his obedient media assisted in disseminating the misinformation much as they have since they out of nowhere began asking Republican presidential candidates in January about their position on birth control roughly two weeks before the White House issued a new contraception edict.

Now a little over three months later they all pounced on this matter to try to make Romney appear as a homophobe who's opposed to gay rights issues, and despite this being the clear implication in Lemon’s introduction, he was now claiming, “This is not about gay rights”:

LEMON: What I'm saying is why not stand up for the guy beforehand? Even Rick Santorum…

SHEPPARD: He did. He said he would hire him back.

LEMON: Okay, good. But even Rick Santorum stood up for his friend who people outed who was a gay friend. I had a conversation with him. It appears from some people from the outside looking in that Mitt Romney didn't stand up for someone that he hired and someone he had respect for and then after the fact he’s back-pedaling.

As you can see, this clearly WAS about gay rights issues despite Lemon's protests to the contrary: "But even Rick Santorum stood up for his friend who people outed who was a gay friend."

And no matter what Romney did, he wasn't going to be able to satisfy his media detractors:

SHEPPARD: But he's already come out and said that he’d hire him back, that he’d like him back. So what more can he do?

Indeed, as for the Obama-loving media looking to turn everything that happens in the Romney campaign to an advantage for the current White House resident they want desperately to get reelected, the answer is nothing.

Would that be the case if Obama were the Republican seeking reelection and Romney the Democratic challenger?

Just look back at 1992 for your answer.

Back then, all the media wanted to talk about - with the obvious approval of the Clinton campaign - WAS the economy.

Keep in mind that at this same point 20 years ago, the Commerce Department had just announced the GDP expanded a staggering 4.5 percent in the first quarter. This was up from the fourth quarter's 1.6 percent.

As such, the economy was starting to explode.

Unfortunately, this hadn't translated into a hiring boom yet as unemployment was still at 7.4 percent.

But added together, the economy when Clinton tried to unseat a White House resident was far better than what we have today.

The Commerce Department reported two Fridays ago that GDP dropped to a disappointing 2.2 percent in the first quarter down from the fourth quarter's 3.0 percent growth. And unemployment is still above 8 percent.

Yet compared to 20 years ago when the media only wanted to talk about the supposedly bad economy irrespective of the boom that was starting before their very eyes, today's press only want to talk about social issues despite the economy being in far worse shape.

Why do you think that is?