Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens during the third presidential debate withUS President Barack Obama on October 22, 2012 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Obama and Romney battled over foreign policy in their last debate of a White House race that is deadlocked with two weeks to go. The rivals faced a final chance to land a decisive blow in front of millions of television viewers, before a last-ditch dash for votes in a bitter campaign that has exposed the sharp political divide splitting America in two. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL REYNOLDS - POOLMICHAEL REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:50AM
With less than two weeks before the election, Mitt Romney enjoys considerable momentum thanks to the debates that showed him to be a responsible, sensible problem-solver with a reasonable economic agenda to address the weakest economic recovery in modern history and get millions of unemployed back to work.
The election is far from decided, but there’s little doubt Romney triumphed in the debates and President Barack Obama suffered a setback. Taken together, the three debates were seen by likely voters, 49 to 41 percent, as having been won by Romney, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll. That was due in large part to Romney’s commanding performance in the first encounter. But even in the two later forums, which Obama was said to have won on debating points, polls showed voters thought Romney better on the economy — by a 2-to-1 ratio in one survey — and equal to the president on who is qualified to be commander in chief.
So dramatic has been the outcome of seeing an “unfiltered” Romney that it poses an uncomfortable question for the agenda-setting newspapers and big television networks: How is it that Americans saw a Romney in the debates who could rarely if ever be found in the months of news coverage by the influential mainstream media organizations?
Over the years I’ve been challenged time and again by right-leaning friends with their assertions of a left-wing bias in the press. As someone who spent most of my career in hard news gathering — as a reporter for UPI, a writer for U.S. News & World Report and metropolitan editor for the Chicago Sun-Times — before turning to opinion writing, I never felt uncomfortable parrying these accusations.
Yes, I acknowledged a liberal consensus among most reporters and editors, but not all. More important, I saw in my day in, day out experience journalists striving to do their jobs of delivering the news in a straight-forward manner adhering to the principles of fairness and objectivity. And trumping any liberal inclination was an instinctive itch to hit the front page with a big delectable yarn — no matter whose blood ends up on the floor. Bill Clinton and former governors Eliot Spitzer of New York and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois are testimonials to that.
I think this dedication to the job is still true, certainly in the rough-and-tumble Chicago journalism tradition. There is one “but” to that. And that would be the mega media bullhorns of New York and Washington.
Rather than news coverage portraying Romney as a man in full, investigative reporters have pored over arcane financial transactions, delved into Ann Romney’s love of horse dressage sport and revealed an alleged bullying incident from Romney’s days in — high school! It was all trees and no forest. And it, well, tracked Obama campaign ads of Romney as a heartless, vulture capitalist.
Sometimes humor is the quickest way to truth. One of the biggest laughs at the recent Al Smith dinner of New York’s elites — a traditional light-hearted break in the presidential season attended by both candidates — came when Romney quipped about the different roles of a candidate and the press: “My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.”
The question to the agenda-setting East Coast media remains: How is it Americans saw in the debates a Romney who rarely if ever showed up in their news coverage?