On Sunday, the front page of the New York Times contained a 2,300 word story exploring Ann Romney’s passion for horse-riding. Among the “revelations” unearthed by the Gray Lady’s crack investigative team was that Ann Romney took up dressage as therapy for her multiple sclerosis, and that Mitt helped select the music that his wife’s coach had ridden to in competitions. Explosive stuff.Not to be outdone, earlier this month the Washington Post caused a stir when it aired allegations that Mitt Romney had bullied a high school classmate fifty years ago. The story consumed most of the front page and left Romney looking like an insensitive jerk. Meanwhile, reports that Barack Obama had smoked copious amounts of marijuana during college (the story, by David Maraniss, included details that Obama was part of a “Choom Gang” that ensured not an ounce of pot ever went to waste) barely rated a mention in either the Post or the Times. The Obama-the-stoner story landed on page A6 of the Post; it was buried in A15 of the Times.It’s a double standard that has conservatives riled up, notes Politico:
No wonder Republicans are livid with the early coverage of the 2012 general election campaign. To them, reporters are scaring up stories to undermine the introduction of Mitt Romney to the general election audience—and once again downplaying ones that could hurt the president.“The New York Times has given Obama the longest wet kiss in political history, and they have done him a favor again,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said. “The New York Times does a huge expose that Ann Romney rides horses. Well, so does my wife, and a few million other people. Watch out for equine performers!”Republicans cry “bias” so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh—or Haley Barbour.
Of course, part of the harsh scrutiny Romney is now experiencing comes with the territory. As a challenger in a presidential campaign in the modern media environment, Romney—unlike Obama—has not yet had every aspect of his life exhumed in microscopic detail by a ravenous press corps. But this scrutiny is heightened for a Republican who does not get the benefit of the doubt that many in the press corps grant to his liberal opponent. It is a double standard, but one Romney must overcome if he is to win in November.And while the Romney campaign may have a legitimate case to cry foul—how his wife’s penchant for horse-riding is relevant to anything escapes the Via Meadia political unit—it also reflects Romney’s inability to explain to the American people who the man behind the perfect hair really is. In the absence of any clear definition of who Romney is from the campaign itself, a mainstream media already predisposed against Republican candidates will be left to fill the space with its own fears and fantasies.Some candidates for high office are more at ease with talking about themselves than others. Clearly, Romney is not one of them. As one of Romney’s friends recently told the Washington Post, “Mitt doesn’t have an instinct to be open in his personal life.” It is an instinct the former governor must develop, and soon. If Mitt Romney cannot find a way to talk about himself, the Obama campaign and cheerleaders in the media will gleefully fill the void.