This is one of my favorite pictures of the year I spent covering the 2012 presidential campaign. A good friend took a photo of Mitt Romney holding my iPhone looking at an amazing Instagram photo my friend Evan Vucci had taken earlier that day of Newt Gingrich campaigning at Space Camp. I had asked Romney if he planned to step up his game when it came to campaign events, and he made this face. I thought it was pretty funny, but I couldn’t report on it because the Romneys had come to the back of the plane for an off-the-record chat.
This wasn’t infrequent. Romney often talked to us off-the-record, and it was like watching a different person. He wasn’t stiff, as he often was on the stage. He had a great sense of humor about himself and the whole process. But his campaign staff almost always refused to allow any of what he said to be used on the record—which was incredibly frustrating. (There were some exceptions when Romney seemed to loosen up.)
That brings me to my preview of “Mitt,” the documentary premiering on Netflix Friday about Romney’s quest for the presidency. It’s a pretty candid look at what it is like to run for president and shows the more human side of Romney, which reporters often saw during off-the-record talks but couldn’t use.
No matter how you feel about his politics, it’s a film worth watching, if only to wonder why candidates are so scared to be themselves on the campaign trail. It’s the same question that was asked of Al Gore, when someone leaked a candid video that Spike Jonze shot of him during the 2000 campaign and last fall when the NY Times released its behind-the-scenes video of NYC mayoral candidate Christine Quinn. What is wrong with politics that candidates are so afraid to actually be human beings?
I asked Tagg Romney, the candidate’s son, how his dad felt about the film. “Bittersweet,” he said. (via Yahoo News)
I spent more than 200 days on a plane with Mitt Romney in 2012, and it was always surprising to me how different the candidate would act when he thought he was off-the-record. He was more at ease and had a goofy sense of humor—a different person than the guy who awkwardly stood on the stump and (I think) staked out policies based on what he thought would help him win versus what he actually believed. This documentary raises the same question that the NYT’s recent Christine Quinn mini-doc brought up: What does it say about our political system that candidates can only be themselves or “normal” when the footage is being held after the election?
Netflix has acquired the just-announced Sundance 2014 documentary Mitt, which follows Republican nominee Mitt Romney through the beginnings of his presidential aspirations in 2006 to his defeat to Barack Obama on Election Night 2012
"The candidate Mitt Romney on his campaign plane last November surrounded by young, digitally assimilated reporters."
Yes! I am still young! Caption aside, David Carr’s piece about Peter Hamby’s Harvard study on how campaign journalism has changed in the age of social media is a really important read. As someone who covered both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns on the road pretty much full time, I was struck by how different my experience was last year, and I wonder what future campaigns will be like.
Candidates have gotten a lot more guarded—in part because of how news coverage has changed. If Mitt Romney made a penis joke—and yes, he actually did do that once--you posted the quote on Twitter and filed as fast as you could because that’s the way news works now. But what’s lost in campaign journalism today is the idea of spending time with candidates and getting to see who they really are, to find perspective about their candidacies. That’s something I feel is an incredibly important part of being a political reporter.
But now candidates are “on” all the time, and maybe they were before, too. But last year Romney aides were so scared of the candidate doing or saying anything off-script that they kept him away from the press corps as much as possible. I think that was one of their biggest mistakes—not least because the candidate never seemed to find a comfort level when he spoke to reporters on-the-record and that nervousness led to a lot of mistakes.
In the end, the only people on the plane who got to spend any “real” time with Romney were photojournalists who got behind-the-scenes access to the candidate during the last weeks of the campaign. And it was only through those images where you got at least some hint that Romney wasn’t as boring and robotic or cold and uncaring as his public image often suggested. The writers on the plane enjoyed only rare glimpses of that—and the times Romney did actually talk to us, his campaign declared the most interesting parts off-the-record.
But it’s not only Mitt Romney who has limited his interactions with the press. Even Barack Obama kept the media at arm’s length during the campaign—and has gone a step further by limiting his interactions with photojournalists by releasing their own behind-the-scenes images, a move that’s being protested.
To me, these are all bad signs for coverage of future campaigns. Certainly all the potential 2016 candidates are watching and taking lessons about what their relationship will be with the media. And that worries me.
Apparently, leftover campaign shirts from Mitt Romney’s presidential run are being put to good use in Kenya. Philanthropist Cyndy Waters founded a charity, The Orbit Village Project, that provides clothes and housing to impoverished Kenyans, and it just so happens that Waters’ nephew worked for Romney’s campaign last year. After the election, the nephew had a bunch of shirts left over, and so Waters gave them to the Kenyan kids. “It was a big deal that they could pick between short or long sleeved and blue and white,” Waters said. “For an African youth from such an impoverished area to pick out something new is very rare.” (Image credit: Orbit Village Project) source