My goodness but the Romney campaign is getting touchy about its party’s choice of a candidate to run for Missouri’s United States Senate seat. Todd Akin, who has been good enough to win six elections to Congress from the Second Congressional District of Missouri, seems to be a tar baby that the Mitt Romney campaign doesn’t even want to talk about. At least sometimes.
Last night, putative running mate Paul Ryan dropped in on Springfield and raised a reported $1.2 million. The campaign would not make him available for any media interviews, apparently not wishing to let any reporters question him about his political relationship with Mr. Akin of Missouri that he apparently had not found at all objectionable. Until last Monday.
Okay, so Ryan ducked and ran albeit with bulging pockets. Romney is playing a different game and we think it is appropriate to post a notice that it’s not a game the Missourinet will play. Not that we’d be invited into Romney Stadium to play it, mind you. And we’re aware that what we are about to discuss here today might represent isolated incidents. But they deserve attention.
We got a note from Bob Hague, the news director of the Wisconsin Radio Network, the other day. The WRN is one of the five networks in the Learfield family. He told us that the news director of Madison, Wisconsin’s WTDY, Dylan Brogan, had run afoul of a Romney campaign staffer when Brogan went to cover Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who was going to talk about Romney’s plan for the middle-class. The Romney’s Wisconsin communications director, Ben Sparks, refused to let Brogan into the room where Johnson was going to speak. He threatened to have Madison police remove him if he didn’t go quietly.
It seems that the provocative morning talk show host on WTDY had been involved in a protest against Romney in another city and therefore Brogan was “guilty by association” and was forbidden from covering Johnson’s speech.
The Missourinet’s former managing editor, Brent Martin–who now runs our Nebraska Radio Network–wonders if Romney’s people do the same thing with reporters from newspapers that have run editorials critical of Romney.
We were asked what we would do in similar circumstances. “Come down on them like a ton of bricks,” we responded. And we would hope that our press colleagues would see what was going on and start grilling the Sparks equivalent here rather severely. Frankly, we said, the story of Sparks’ overt censorship might be bigger than any story about Johnson’s speech because it blatantly illustrates the means by which many candidates (not just Romney’s people) will go to control messages. Certainly, we noted, the first question anybody should have asked Johnson when he finished his speech was how he could justify Sparks’ high-handed actions. We don’t know if anybody did. But in similar circumstances several years ago when Governor Holden’s communications director tried to bar a television reporter from a Holden news conference, the first question we asked Holden was, “Whose cockamamie idea was this?” Holden said he wasn’t aware of the issue. The communications director admitted she was. It didn’t happen again.
The incident in Madison isn’t the only time Romney has tried to avoid talking about Akin’s continued presence in the picture. Shaun Boyd of KCNC-TV in Denver was asked not to question Romney about abortion or Akin during an interview with Romney and then was told Romney would not talk about Akin. The internet site Talking Points Memo interviewed Boyd, who had resisted the Romney staffer’s demand, only to be told “He’s said all he’s going to say about it.”
The policy does not seem to be consistent. Some other stations have reported no problems of this sort. But the incidents in Madison and in Denver illustrate a heavy-handedness that candidates or their handlers sometimes exhibit. We’ve seen it before from both parties. It seems to become more of an issue when the office is higher on the political food chain.
Just so it’s on the record: When the Missourinet is interviewing a candidate at any level, no issue is off the table. No limits on questions are allowed. No request for a list of questions before the interview will be honored.
As we get closer to election day, we expect to be getting calls from various campaigns asking if we want to interview the candidates or their wifes or children or uncles and aunts. The answer to wives, children, aunts and uncles is “no.” The answer about the candidate might be “yes.” But we will play by our rules.
There’s a squirm factor in all of us regardless of our position in life. There’s something we don’t want to talk about. But if you seek the spotlight you better beware of what the spotlight illuminates or who else near you it shines on. And you better have the courage to answer questions about what it shows.