Liberals keep playing the same media trick

JACK KELLY

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Conservatives are a lot like Charlie Brown; we keep believing Lucy when she promises to hold the football. This is partly why we lose so often, even though, according to Gallup's 2011 poll of more than 10,000 participants, we outnumber liberals roughly 2-to-1.

UCLA professor Tim Groseclose says he has developed a formula for measuring the "political quotient" of the news, which indicates media bias gives Democrats an advantage in most elections.

Conservatives rail against media bias. But we keep falling for it. Then we exacerbate the problem by rushing to harsh judgments of our allies.

In an email to a friend, I said I hoped Mitt Romney would "stuff senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom in a canvas sack and toss it into the ocean." I was reacting to news accounts headlined: "Romney agrees with Obama: health care mandate is not a tax."

This was a gross distortion of Mr. Fehrnstrom's response to a question by MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd on July 2.

"The governor has consistently described the mandate in Massachusetts as a penalty," Mr. Fehrnstrom said. "Let's take a step back and look at what the president has said about Obamacare. In order to get it past the Congress, he insisted, publicly and to the members of Congress, that the mandate was not a tax. After it passed the Congress, he sent his Solicitor General up to the Supreme Court to argue that it was a tax."

Mr. Romney agrees with the four dissenters on the Supreme Court that Obamacare is unconstitutional, period, and cannot be justified under either the Commerce Clause or the power to tax, Mr. Fehrnstrom went on to say. But that isn't what was reported.

I know liberal journalists distort things, but I didn't bother to watch the clip myself before popping off. I had a lot of company.

Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal took the distortion an order of magnitude further in a story headlined: "Romney campaign declares a truce on Obamacare." That is the opposite of the truth. Repeal of Obamacare is an issue second only to the economy, Team Romney emphasized to all who asked about the Kraushaar story.

Few conservatives did. Radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, among others, didn't check with the Romney campaign before blasting him on the air.

Mr. Romney is "slowly squandering an historic opportunity," said the editors of the Wall Street Journal in a savage editorial. "Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he's running?" asked Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.

Mr. Romney needs a stronger, more coherent message on Obamacare -- he needs to say how he plans to fix the economy and to talk about other issues, Mr. Kristol said in the editorial.

I agree. But just because Mr. Romney hadn't done all these things by the first week in July doesn't mean, necessarily, that he is "overconfident," or "playing it safe." I suspect Team Romney has planned all along to do what his critics ask -- but closer to the election when voters pay more attention.

Mr. Romney was not my first choice for the GOP nomination, nor my 10th. But I've been pleasantly surprised by how swiftly and effectively Team Romney counterpunches, and how the candidate stays on message despite Team Obama's efforts to distract him from it. Events are well organized, and he's raising a ton of money.

The Romney campaign hasn't been perfect. None ever is. Mr. Fehrnstrom had no business going on MSNBC, which only has a handful of viewers, most of whom would vote for Stalin before they would vote for a Republican. But, so far, it has been better than most recent GOP presidential campaigns.

I'd like to see Mr. Romney add more conservatives to his inner circle. But calls for a staff shake-up are premature.

Mr. Romney is more likely to heed our advice if we attack the journalists who distort his message rather than him. At least, we should check the facts before blasting Mr. Romney and his campaign team. If we keep falling for the trick, Lucy will keep pulling the football away.

jackkelly

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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