"That's the Question."

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 12 2012 12:53 PM

"That's the Question."

The new-new outrage on the right today is this live mic video of the scene before Mitt Romney's presser. A TV recording picks up two reporters discussing the best way to get Romney to answer a question. The video, which can't be embedded, is less revealing than the headline ("Open mic captures press coordinating questions for Romney"). By "press," we're talking about two reporters talking like this:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

REPORTER 1: I would just say do you regret your question.
REPORTER 2: Your question? Your statement?
REPORTER 1: I mean "your statement." Not even the tone, because then he can go off on...
REPORTER 2: And then if he does, if we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound..

Back in 2010 I left a job at the Washington Post because I'd belonged to an email group -- JournoList -- consisting of reporters and academics, and I'd used it to snark hard on people I covered. That story went on to get ridiculous, with conservatives insisting that a list that included outwardly liberal columnists had some kind of control over what the media covered, even as the topics (like the Jeremiah Wright outbursts of 2008) centered around how powerless the Listers were to get the media in line on their issues.

On first listen this tape sounds like actual Journalistic Co-ordination. But consider how little we know, and consider the setting. Presidential candidates give few pressers. (The incumbent president hardly gives any.) Reporters covering Romney had no idea whether he'd take one, two, or twenty questions. They had no idea who he'd call on -- they'd certainly endured pressers where foreign reporters wasted time with existential questions.* And so, at best, what we're hearing are two members of one reporting team figuring out how to phrase something. At worst, we're hearing two reporters from different organizations figuring out the best way to ask a question they both want to lob, anyway.

So, unsurprisingly, I see no huge *ethical* story here. What I do see was described nicely here by Katrina Trinko.

Only the last question even addressed what Romney would have done if he was in office. None of the questions asked Romney to give details or be more specific about what he thinks the United States should do going forward.

That's the problem. Don't worry about "conspiracy." Worry about groupthink.

*Nothing against the foreign press! It's just that the traveling press are filing stories on fast-moving elements of the campaign, whereas some reporter who drops in to cover the wacky presidential race might just as something about why Romney's not more popular.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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