Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney channeled a pining, old newspaperman in a speech today, thanking the press for its coverage but claiming he missed the days of two or more sources for a story.
In 2008, the coverage might have been what I said in a speech. These days, it's about my jeans, or what I ate for lunch, he said in a speech to the American Society of News Editors and Newspaper Association of America Luncheon in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
I miss the days of two or more sources for a story, when at least one source was actually named, he said, adding that he would like to see more editors behind bloggers and new media outlets exercising quality control.
Right off the bat, Romney joked that reporters were always out to critique politicians, telling the audience of reporters that they are biased against us. He said that If LBJ were to walk on water, the headline would be 'he can't swim.'
Romney, the GOP front-runner, is believed by most in the mass media to be the inevitable Republican nominee in the 2012 race for the White House. In his speech, he didn't necessarily lambast the media, but he certainly lectured them. Journalism is integral to the function of democracy, and I thank you for that, he said.
But his comments, whether one agrees with them or not, may make him seem grandfatherly and dated to a press corps that has embraced the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, publishing an increasing number of quickly dashed off and snarky posts designed to go viral, in addition to longer, in-depth pieces.
Romney's plea for higher new media editorial standards contrasted greatly with the opinion of President Barack Obama, who drew laughs at the event by joking about the jeans and lunch stories in a much more light-hearted tone.
It's a pleasure to speak to all of you and to have a microphone I can see, he said, referencing the time a hot mic caught him telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more flexibility on some issues after the next election than he does presently.
Feel free to transmit any of this to Vladimir if you see him, Obama said. Clearly, we're in the beginning months of another long, lively election year. There will be gaffes and minor controversies. There will be hot mics and 'Etch-a Sketch moments,' he said.
You will cover every word that we say, and we will complain vociferously about the unflattering words that you write, unless, of course, you're writing about the other guy -- in which case, good job.
Romney also declined to take a position on the shield law, which would protect reporters from having to divulge confidential sources. He said he hadn't given it enough thought and would have to hear from people in the industry to make a decision.
Is there ever a time when you think a confidential source would be revealed or should be revealed? Romney said. If the answer's 'no,' I'd like to understand why that is the case and what the alternative is.
(Readers will note that the two sources listed here are named.)
UPDATE: Below is the full transcript of Romney's comments on media (thank you Politico)
In just the few years since my last campaign, the changes in your industry are striking. Then, I looked to Drudge or FOX or CNN online to see what stories were developing. Hours after a speech, it was being dissected on the Internet. Now, it's Twitter, and instantaneous reaction. In 2008, the coverage was about what I said in my speech. These days, it's about what brand of jeans I am wearing and what I ate for lunch.
Most people in my position are convinced that you are biased against us. We identify with LBJ's famous quip that if he were to walk on water, your headline would read: 'President Can't Swim.'
Some people thus welcome the tumult in your industry, heralding the new voices and the unfiltered or supposedly unbiased sources. Frankly, in some of the new media, I find myself missing the presence of editors to exercise quality control. I miss the days of two or more sources for a story -- when at least one source was actually named.
How your industry will change, I cannot predict. I subscribe to Yogi Berra's dictum: 'Forecasting is very difficult, especially when it involves the future.'
But I do know this: You will continue to find ways to provide the American people with reliable information that is vital to our lives and to our nation. And I am confident that the press will remain free. But further, I salute this organization and your various institutions in your effort to make it not only free, but also responsible, accurate, relevant and integral to the functioning of our democracy.