The Romney Video: What Could Have Prevented It

Mitt Romney is defending his remarks in the now infamous “47 percent” video as inelegantly stated, but his campaign’s hasty press conference last night does not mark the end of it. Mother Jones released more footage this morning, and plans to release the entirety later today.

The baffling question is why Romney felt so free as to deliver such remarks in the first place, given is campaign’s propensity for caution, dozens of other examples of politicians caught saying embarrassing things on tape, and the general sentiment among campaigns that in the digital age cameras and recording devices are everywhere. It’s not even like it’s a new concept: George Allen was burned by the YouTube “macaca” video at a campaign event in 2006; and Barack Obama was hurt by the impolitic “clinging” to guns and religion remarks at a campaign fundraiser in 2008.

For some time now there has been a push-pull among presidential campaigns and the media over how much access should be given to fundraisers. The Obama campaign opened up most of theirs to at least some limited media coverage in 2008; the Romney campaign started granting access in the spring.

But as was the case with Romney’s May 17 event, campaigns do not grant access to some of the most candid moments, the Q&As, when the high dollar donors press candidates on issues that they are most concerned about. This can run the gamut from the very trivial to the very obvious, and the questions often say more about the person asking the question than it does the way that the politician answers them. Last fall, when Obama attended a dinner in West Hollywood for high-dollar donors, sources say comedian and entrepreneur Byron Allen asked him a rather pointed and critical question of why his administration hadn’t done more to stop media consolidation, while Danny DeVito’s query went on so long that observers remember it more as a speech.At a Silicon Valley fundraiser around the same time, Lady Gaga asked Obama a question about school bullying. The press wasn’t there, but word sure leaked out quickly.

But campaigns still seem to operate under the notion that what gets said at Q&As won’t leave the room, as if donors or anyone willing to pay $50,000 or so a ticket is under any obligation not to spill the beans. Donors sometimes have to check cell phones and cameras at the door — an even more awkward request given the sums of money they are paying to be there — but as we see with the Romney video, it’s not difficult to still get some kind of device in. The idea is that for the huge sums donors are paying to get in, they are also gaining access to the candidate giving more candid comments, although the idea that none of what gets said will ever get out still seems a bit naive given that they are often speaking before dozens of people.

Had some kind of press been allowed in, or even donors free to record or photograph at their will, it’s safe to assume that Romney’s remarks would have been at the very least, more elegantly stated. Transparency can be a burden but also a saving grace.

Update: Via Daily Dish is this Romney quote, from the New York Times in 2007: “Running for president in the YouTube era, you realize you have to be
very judicious in what you say,” Mr. Romney said. “You have to be
careful with your humor. You have to recognize that anytime you’re
running for the presidency of the United States, you’re on.”

 

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