It's not easy to get one-on-one time with Mitt Romney.
Unless you're Fox News or a conservative blog, obtaining an exclusive interview with the Republican presidential hopeful doesn't happen often.
Just last week, the Romney camp physically prevented reporters from reaching the rope line to ask him questions (although a Romney spokesperson later said it was an error).
The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone notes that although the major news networks had hoped that the GOP hopeful would be more willing to do sit-downs once the general election kicked off than he was beforehand, Romney continues to flock to Fox News for interviews, where he is rarely challenged (with the exception of a tough interview with Bret Baier and another by Megyn Kelly).
The Romney campaign has been skillful at keeping the press at arm's length -- to the point that the candidate has not yet appeared on a Sunday morning news talk show this election cycle except for one mostly bland December interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace.
But the few times big-name journalists have scored interviews with the former Massachusetts governor, they've lobbed him softball questions and have failed to press him with follow-up questions -- or tough questions at all -- when he gives general, canned responses.
When Romney agreed to talk with Time magazine's Mark Halperin for a sit-down interview, it was truly a rare moment. Unfortunately, Romney managed to avoid being specific on any of his policy issues throughout the interview.
There were only two headline-making news bites that came out of the interview. In the first, Romney was directly asked about his experience at Bain Capital -- for the first time since the Obama campaign turned it into a major talking point two weeks ago.
Talking heads have repeatedly wondered if heading a private equity firm indeed gives one special insight into -- or the wrong lessons about -- the economy, and they have speculated about what Romney may or may not have learned. Halperin had the opportunity to get that information directly from the source:
Question: The president says that your experience at Bain Capital will be central in this election. He says it does not qualify you to be a job creator as president. ... What specific skills or policies did you learn at Bain that would help you create an environment where jobs would be created?
Romney answers the question with a meandering rant that begins with, Well, that's a bit like saying, what have you learned in life that would help you lead? At the end of his circumloquacious response, Romney finally says, For instance, I know how to read a balance sheet.
Halperin responds by pointing out that a lot of Americans know how to read a balance sheet, and he goes on to grill Romney further -- still, Romney gets away with evading the question with a vague answer that he's given before, promising to use his private sector experience to decrease the cost of energy without really explaining how:
Romney: So, when, at Bain Capital, we started a new steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, the cost of energy was a very important factor to the success of that enterprise. When the president is making it harder to mine coal, to use coal, to take advantage of our gas resources, to make it harder to get our oil resources -- all those things combine to make our cost of energy higher than it needs to be, and it drives away enterprises from this country. It sends it to places that have lower-cost energy. I understand the impact of those kinds of factors on job creation. I will have a very different policy.
Halperin then asks him if he welcomes scrutiny of his business record -- and Romney again evades an answer:
Romney: Mark, what I can tell you is this. The fact is that I spent 25 years in the private sector. And that obviously teaches you something that you don't learn if you haven't spent any time in the private sector. If you were to say to me, tell me what you learned from your schooling that would help you be a president, it's like, well, how do I begin going through a list like that?
The second bit of news that came out of the Halperin interview was about the unemployment rate. Romney promised that by the end of his first term in office, the rate would be reduced from the current 8.1 percent rate to 6 percent.
Although it sounded like a new and bold statement, it really wasn't; Romney had made the same promise a few months ago in Las Vegas, and the Congressional Budget Office wrote in a January report that the unemployment rate was on its way to 5.5 percent by 2017. The Obama campaign tried to spin it as an attempt by Romney to move the goal posts from 4 percent unemployment to 6 percent, but further analysis found that he never actually promised that the rate would reach that low after just four years.
The only other major interview Romney has done since he began campaigning for the 2012 Republican nomination was one with Diane Sawyer in mid-April.
Instead of asking him about policy, Sawyer spent most of the time asking him about the frivolous news stories that go viral on Twitter: The questions were about whether or not he would perform on Saturday Night Live, his car elevator in La Jolla, and the controversy about Seamus the dog, his former family dog.
Avoiding serious media scrutiny may not, however, turn out to be a boon for the Romney campaign. If Romney doesn't appear on a Sunday morning talk show -- or any other political talk show -- and answer serious, hard-hitting questions that would force him to explain his positions to a probing journalist, American voters may never get a chance to be informed enough about him come November.